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Synagro official pleads guilty to bribing Detroit Council member

Monday, June 15, 2009
Paul Egan and Leonard N. Fleming / The Detroit News

Detroit --A Detroit businessman pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to paying more than $6,000 in bribes to an unnamed Detroit City Council member in a plea deal that promises the government will not bring charges against his brother.

"I conspired with others to provide money to elected officials in exchange for favorable votes before the City of Detroit," Rayford W. Jackson, 44, of Detroit told U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn.

The council member Jackson admitted to bribing is not identified in court documents, which use the term "Council Member A."

However, federal agents have electronic surveillance evidence linking City Councilwoman Monica Conyers to receiving alleged payments in connection with a $1.2 billion Synagro Technologies Inc. sewage contract, persons familiar with the investigation have told The Detroit News.

A sentencing date for Jackson has not been set. As a term of Jackson's plea agreement, the government has agreed not to charge the courier Jackson used to pay the bribes.

The courier, described in court documents as "Courier A," has agreed to cooperate with federal authorities. The courier Jackson used was his brother, Lennie Jackson, 38, persons familiar with the investigation said. He was released from federal prison in 2006 after serving time for a drug-related charge.

Though Lennie Jackson will not be charged, "the government intends to bring to the court's attention Courier A's conduct ... so the court may take appropriate action in determining whether such conduct is a violation of the terms of Courier A's federal supervised release conditions ... and that such action may result in the revocation of supervised release and the incarceration of Courier A," the plea agreement said.

Rayford Jackson, who was the local partner of Synagro Technologies of Houston, Texas, on a sludge contract approved by the Detroit City Council in 2007, could face up to five years in prison under a plea agreement.

Unlike many plea agreements, Jackson's does not require him to testify against others; nor does it promise lenient treatment.

Jackson's plea agreement shows he has a prior criminal record, having been placed on probation for three years in 1988 for receiving stolen property.

His charging documents allege Jackson's involvement in four separate payments sent to the council member.

Jackson used a courier to deliver the first bribe to City Hall in the fall of 2007, the document alleges. The same courier delivered a second envelope containing cash to the council member in the parking lot of Mr. Fish restaurant in October 2007.

On Nov. 20, 2007, the courier delivered the council member an envelope containing $3,000 at the Butzel Family Center in Detroit, the charging document alleges.

And on Dec. 4, 2007, the courier delivered another envelope containing $3,000 in a McDonald's parking lot, the charging document alleges.

"All of the payments were made to Council Member A for the purpose of securing and maintaining Council Member A's support for the Synagro contract and for no other purpose," the plea deal states.

The value of the first two alleged bribes was not disclosed.

Steve Fishman, Conyers' attorney, said Monday he had no new information about any case involving Conyers.

Jackson told The News in an exclusive interview published Saturday that he planned to plead guilty to cut his losses in the Synagro case but did not intend to provide federal officials with information or testimony that could be used to indict others in the scandal.

Jackson declined comment as he entered federal court Monday morning surrounded by a large group of burly men.

His attorney, Richard H. Morgan Jr., said Jackson has signed a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, but it does not require him to testify against other defendants, despite the fact that to do so would likely help Jackson.

"Sometimes people take positions and decide they're not going to bring anyone but themselves down," Morgan told reporters. "That's what he's done."

Morgan said Jackson wasn't responsible for the downfall of former WJBK-TV (Channel 2) anchor Fanchon Stinger, who lost her job after her ties to Jackson were made public.

"The media took her down," Morgan said. "He didn't take her down at all. Fanchon got caught up in something she should have never got caught up in."

But Morgan also said Stinger did not do anything wrong.

James R. Rosendall Jr., a Grand Rapids businessman who was Synagro's Michigan vice president, earlier pleaded guilty to a similar bribery conspiracy charge. He is cooperating with federal officials and awaits sentencing.

Synagro, which terminated Rosendall after the bribery scandal was revealed, has not been charged.

pegan@detnews.com (313) 222-2069