Clarification: Bill Hults maintains the transformer that his crew was removing from a roof was not attached to a live wire.
The city of Detroit has shut down an illegal, brazen scrapping operation late Wednesday afternoon following our reports that Chicago-area investor Bill Hults has been illegally scavenging a commercial building that he recently purchased near the Packard Plant.
Hults, who was in line to buy the abandoned Packard late last year until he failed to come up with the $2 million price tag, hired scrappers with torches and a hydraulic lift to tear apart the building at 6431 E. Palmer. The scrappers caused at least two fires in the past week and tried to run down a Motor City Muckraker photographer for snapping pictures of the illegal activity.
After failing to respond to at least three 911 calls last week, police finally showed up after Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration got involved and ordered the scrapping to stop.
“We have to set the tone that this is absolutely unacceptable, and we are going to use our resources to go after scrapping,” mayoral spokeswoman Alexis Wiley said. “We will monitor the site for compliance.”
Not long after taking office this year, Duggan showed that he was serious about cracking down on scavengers who have been dismantling the city’s schools and neighborhoods. He successfully urged Lansing lawmakers, for example, to take action on an anti-scrapping bill that had been shelved.
Under a state-appointed emergency manager, though, Duggan has no control of the police department, despite his experience as a former prosecutor.
When police arrived Wednesday, they found potentially hazardous chemicals at the former Nicro Finishing plant, where scrappers propped up the unstable ceiling with chemical barrels.
“They were also told they could not return without the proper permits and certifications (due to the asbestos that may be on sight),” Detroit Police Sgt. Woody said this morning. “The supervisor advised me that he will have his officers monitoring this area to ensure they do not return without their proper paper work.”
The scrappers also used a torch to try to remove a transformer from the roof.
Hults, who has declined to return our calls for comment, purchased 17 commercial buildings and houses in the Wayne County auction last year and hasn’t paid a penny on his taxes, owing more than $29,000. Most of his properties are open to trespass and are strewn with garbage.
Hults paid $18,000 for the E. Palmer property as the top bidder in the auction. He owes $6,098 in delinquent taxes and fines.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality also is investigating following our reports.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.