Detroit — Two key witnesses in Turkia Mullin’s lawsuit seeking $700,000 from the Wayne County Airport Authority took the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer questions during arbitration depositions last month, The Detroit News has learned.
Former Wayne County Deputy Executive Azzam Elder and former Authority Chairwoman Renee Pipis Axt would not answer basic questions about Mullin’s controversial hiring and firing as CEO of the airport, two sources with firsthand knowledge of the case told The News.
Elder and Axt have come under scrutiny by the FBI in its ongoing investigation into Wayne County corruption. One legal expert said their silence is telling.
“Civil depositions can be used by U.S. attorneys as a road map to prosecution … and taking the Fifth insulates them against being used in any prosecution down the road,” said Arnold E. Reed, a Farmington Hills defense attorney.
Elder’s attorney, Nineveh S. Korkis, and Axt did not return phone calls seeking comment this week.
The revelations come as both sides await a ruling that could come in the next few weeks.
The case’s arbitrator, retired Wayne County Circuit Judge Paul Teranes, indicated in late February that he planned to deliver an opinion about 30-45 days after briefs are submitted in the case, the sources said.
“We’re not going to make any comment until the arbitration process is completed,” said Michael Conway, a spokesman for the airport.
Mullin’s attorney, Raymond Sterling, also declined comment.
Mullin worked for Elder as the county’s director of economic development before she got the CEO job that paid $250,000 to oversee Detroit Metropolitan and Willow Run airports.
Her selection was controversial because several authority members had ties to Wayne County, including Axt, a former county appointee who served on an economic development nonprofit that paid Mullin a $75,000 bonus atop her county salary.
Mullin was fired after less than two months at the airport on Oct. 31, 2011, a few weeks after the FBI served subpoenas on the county demanding emails from her and Elder, information about Mullin’s $200,000 severance from the county and contracts involving Axt’s lobbying firm, RCP Associates.
Mullin is suing for the duration of her three-year contract — about $700,000 — contending the authority lacked just cause for firing her. Authority members never publicly said why they did, but recordings of board meetings that have emerged since indicated they were upset she quarreled with unions and attempted to outsource airport workers to the county without board approval.
Mullin’s former boss, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, sat for a videotaped deposition on Feb. 15 for about 90 minutes, said his spokeswoman, June West. Elder resigned amid the scandal over Mullin’s severance but sued Ficano and others for $50 million.
Depositions in the case have yet to start. Axt resigned from the board a few weeks after Mullin’s firing, citing personal reasons.
They are two of the latest involved in the scandal to cite the Fifth in a civil case. A former assistant executive, Nader Fakhouri, repeatedly refused to answer questions about fundraising for Ficano during a deposition for a lawsuit from a former graphic artist who alleges he was fired for refusing to perform political work for the executive on county time.
Four former Ficano aides have been charged with bribery and obstruction-related offenses in the investigation. Two pleaded guilty, one was convicted of obstruction of justice last month and another is awaiting trial. A county contractor also pleaded guilty last year to a kickback scheme involving more than $750,000 in public funds.
From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20130323/METRO01/303230317#ixzz2OZB6DlRM