Detroit contracted poll workers from firm owned by key figure in ex-mayor's corruption case

More than $1 million awarded to P.I.E. Management LLC, created by former Kwame Kilpatrick aide William A. Phillips.

Published: November 12, 2020 4:20pm

Updated: November 13, 2020 8:05am

When the city of Detroit needed workers to staff its election center this fall, it turned to a familiar figure in city politics: lawyer and entrepreneur William A. Phillips, whose name a few years earlier appeared often in the corruption case of disgraced and still-imprisoned ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

On Sept. 22, the city council approved a $1 million contract for Phillips' staffing firm P.I.E. Management, LLC to hire up to 2,000 workers to work the polls and staff the ballot counting machines. "They will provide up to 2,000 employees (Detroit Residents) the ability to operate election equipment on Election Day as poll workers under the MiDeal Cooperative Agreement with the State," the city council boasted about P.I.E.

Dominion Voting Systems, which provides voting equipment and software for the city, also got fresh money that day for additional machines to count absentee ballots.

A week later, Phillips' firm was advertising for Election Day workers, offering them a handsome sum for one day's work and some training. "Candidates must be 16 years or older," the firm's advertisement read. "Candidates are required to attend a 3 hour training session before the General Election. The position offers two shifts and pay-rates: 1) From 7am to 7pm at $600.00; and 2) From 10pm to 6am at $650."

For the advertised 8 or 12 hour shifts of work, the temporary employees were earning at least $50 per hour.

Outside Detroit, the arrangement was hardly noticed. But now, more than a week later, the city's election center — and those who worked and observed there — are coming under increased scrutiny amidst allegations of irregularities.

Poll observers claimed they were kept from observing ballots as allowed by law or witnessed unusual behavior that included piercing the secrecy of some ballots and unexplained additions and rejections of votes. And one longtime city worker, Jessy Jacob, swore out an affidavit saying she witnessed widespread tampering ordered by her supervisors that impacted thousands of ballots.

"On November 4, 2020, I was instructed to improperly pre-date the absentee ballots receive date that were not in the QVF as if they had been received on or before November 3, 2020," she stated in her affidavit. "I was told to alter the information in the QVF to falsely show that the absentee ballots had been received in time to be valid. I estimate that this was done to thousands of ballots.

Her declaration makes people who worked or observed at the election center potential witnesses should law enforcement, courts or legislative oversight committees begin investigating.

City election officials, Dominion Voting Systems, and Phillips did not respond to a message Thursday seeking comment.

P.I.E. Management, LLC, was incorporated in Detroit in 2002 by Phillips, a longtime Democratic operative who attended the same Cass Technical High School as Kilpatrick, the disgraced mayor currently serving a 28-year sentence on federal corruption-related charges. The firm's website lists Phillips as its founder and current CEO and President.

Phillips was celebrated in Crain's Detroit's "40 under 40" after serving as counsel to the underwriters for "Detroit's largest bond issue ever." According to Crain's, Phillips has served in numerous high-level positions, including as Kilpatrick's private lawyer, a director of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. and vice chairman of its executive committee. He also serves on the city's Local Development Finance Authority.

Phillips was never charged with any crimes, but emerged as a key figure in Kilpatrick's political operation. His name arose frequently during Kilpatrick's multiple court proceedings.

Phillips served as an attorney and the treasurer for the Kilpatrick Civic Fund, which was a nonprofit set up by Kilpatrick in 1999 for "voter education," among other purposes. The Kilpatrick fund became the focal point of Kilpatrick's corruption trial, and Phillips signed off on fund documents as early as July 23, 2001 in his capacity as "the Secretary for the Civic Fund board."

In 2010, the FBI announced Kilpatrick had been charged with multiple counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, and tax evasion, alleging that the mayor was corrupt and used the fund to illegally fund his 2001 and 2005 mayoral campaigns and pay for lavish personal expenses like private jet charters and family vacations to exotic resorts. 

The indictment also alleged Kilpatrick "used the Civic Fund to pay for campaign expenses, including polling, focus groups, public relations, and political consulting."

Court testimony shows that Phillips served as attorney for the Kilpatrick Civic Fund during the time in question. According to an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy publication, Phillips previously defended the legality of the fund activities that later led to Kilpatrick's indictment. Phillips was not charged with any crimes, despite questions over whether he "played a role in approving expenses."

Phillips currently serves on the board of First Independence Bank, which extended Kilpatrick a personal loan and issued him a credit card, according to court testimony. During Kilpatrick's trial, one First International Bank employee testified that Kilpatrick would pay off his debts in cash (paid in hundred dollar bills in increments of $3,000). In 2013, federal prosecutors slapped First Independence Bank with a $250,000 fine for failing to follow anti-money-laundering regulations in connection with Kilpatrick's activities.

During the 2016 election, the Michigan Secretary of State cited two political action committees (PACs) — Detroit Political Action Group and Generations Political Action Committee — and fined them for "Failure to Respond to Notice of Failure to File." Phillips was listed as the treasurer of both entities, which were used to fund Kilpatrick family political efforts, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The campaign finance tracking site Open Secrets reveals that Phillips funneled more than $50,000 of his own personal money into the Detroit Political Action Group.The Detroit Free Press reported that Phillips was nominated for a position on the Great Lakes Water Authority board, but in 2016 his nomination was rescinded after questions were raised about his ties to Kilpatrick.

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