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Ex-Metro Airport Official Charged In $5 Million Kickback Scheme

Feds say he ate the evidence

May 23, 2018 - 4:56 pm
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ROMULUS (WWJ) - Federal authorities say he once wrote a cash demand on a napkin, passed it to a contractor, and then ate it.

James Warner, who worked as a field inspector at the Wayne County Airport Authority -- which runs Detroit Metro Airport -- has been indicted in what prosecutors say is one of the largest bribery cases in Michigan's Eastern District.

The 51-year-old Commerce Township resident was charged Wednesday with conspiracy, bribery, money laundering and obstruction of justice, in connection with alleged crimes that took place while he worked for the airport from 2010 through 2014.

During that time, Warner is accused of receiving millions of dollars in kickbacks from contractors doing maintenance and repairs on airport runways and parking structures.

In one scheme, prosecutors say, Warner drafted and submitted fraudulently-inflated invoices for work which his co-defendant -- 69-year-old William Pritula, 69 of Romulus -- was contracted to perform at the airport.  Upon payment by the WCAA to Pritula, Pritula would kickback roughly half of the profits to Warner -- a total of over $5 million over four years.

The indictment alleges Warner told a contractor that kickbacks were the "cost of doing business" at the airport, adding, "You wouldn't be here if it weren't from me, your ass would be out."

[View a copy of the indictment]

“Today’s indictment shows our commitment to protect our citizens from corrupt public officials who steal money intended for the construction and maintenance of our runways, parking structures, and other public infrastructure to satisfy their own personal greed," said U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider "Our citizens are entitled to decisions based on the best interests of the public, not the best interests of corrupt public officials and bribe-paying contractors.”

The government so far has seized about $4 million from Warner, who made a brief court appearance Wednesday.  A not-guilty plea was entered on Warner's behalf and he was released on bond. 

He faces the possibility of decades in prison if convicted as charged.