Land Bank defends hiring of $760-an-hour attorney in federal investigation

A Detroit Land Bank demolition. Photos By Steve Neavling.
A Detroit Land Bank demolition. Photos By Steve Neavling.

By Steve Neavling
Motor City Muckraker

The Detroit Land Bank will spend up to $760 an hour for outside legal counsel during the federal investigation into the city’s massive demolition program, according to records obtained by Motor City Muckraker under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Land Bank hired two outside law firms that will charge between $300 and $760 an hour. The top attorney, Jeannie Rhee, of Washington D.C.-based WilmerHale, will be paid $760 an hour, a 20% discount from her normal fees.

Rhee is a former assistant attorney general, veteran trial attorney and expert in handling government-related investigations and white-collar crime.

The Land Bank defended the hourly rate, saying it was critical for experienced lawyers to help assemble and review documents that are requested by the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP). The FBI is assisting in the investigation.

“In my 30 years of the practice of law in Washington, I always had the best possible counsel who specialized in dealing with each federal agency,” said Erica Ward Gerson, chairwoman of the Land Bank Board of Directors. “It’s essential to make sure that we comply fully and seamlessly with whatever that agency is seeking.”

What remains unclear is how the Land Bank, which uses federal funds to demolish houses, will pay for the legal fees.

In a letter to Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, Detroit Corporation Counsel Melvin “Butch” Hollowell said it’s his “understanding that funding for the legal services will be paid from the Detroit Land Bank General Operating Account which includes Hardest Hit Fund allocations, proceeds from real estate sales, and foundation grants.”

The Land Bank is prohibited from using federal demolition funds on legal bills.

Federal investigators haven’t revealed what they are looking into, but questions have been raised about the rising cost of demolitions.

The Land Bank, which has received more than $170 million in federal funds in the past 30 months, has demolished nearly 9,000 houses since Mayor Duggan took office.

Steve Neavling

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.

  • dirtydog1776

    Almost $20,000 apiece to demolish houses that are already falling down. Looks like it ain’t just the lawyers who are bellying up to the trough.

  • dirtydog1776

    Who says there ain’t nothing worth stealing left in Detroit? Plenty of pork barrel for the liberal elite who say, “Thanks chumps for the taxes you pay and the handouts given to a decaying city.”

  • Dean Henry

    What a deal! Detroit tax payers are wonderful citizens, so willing to underwrite the defense of scumbags feeding from the public trough.

  • javierjuanmanuel

    The firm charges $760, she does not makes $760, though she probably does make 250k-350k per year, but bills thousands of hours.

    This is not unlike a DPS teacher making 50k, or 75k and that money is made up with 6-7 kids at 16,000 per kid spending.

    If a class room has 30 kid times 15-16k thats 450k, if its 35 kids its 525k for a teacher to stand in a cinderblock room with bad lighting that has not been painted in 20 years. Teachers teack 1200 hours. Thats 440 bucks per hour, for many people who are slacking off, many are young people with little experience, and no advanced degree, teaching kids who drop out 75 % of the time.

    440 bucks per hour.

    But you realize teachers do not make 440 bucks per hour.

    • Trexinmichigan

      Put the bottle down.

  • Karen Winston

    There was…is…so much undercover catch me if you can management in the high ranks of City operations!!! NO the incarceration of KK and a few of his ppl…did nothing to end the undercover deals at CAMAC!! JMO

  • Third World Detroit

    So, the Detroit Land Bank’s activity cannot withstand scrutiny. Shut it down. Lock the doors. Let the feds examine every transaction. Drag the criminals off to prison. This isn’t about protecting the Detroit Land Bank. It’s about shielding criminals from prosecution.

    • javierjuanmanuel

      How is this any different than guys driving street sweepers that screw around, or janitors sleeping in the break room, or water dept people drinking on the job etc.

      Unions regularly spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, and years keeping bad employees on the pay roll.

      Why would white collar government workers be any different ?

      • That’s quite a stretch to use this article as a basis to slam collective bargaining. It’s also stupid.

  • nolimitdetroiter

    I knew from the very beginning this would come about. Anything, anything at all that charley beckham is involved in is going to be corrupt.
    I can’t for the life of me figure what he has on all of our mayors, why would anyone in their right mind have anything to do with that old outlaw.

  • Tanner Boyle

    “I” and “my personal experience” conflict with “our” and “collective good” in these quasi public agencies. Got to stop.