Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Former Detroit Lead Inspector Sentenced to 46 Months in Prison

Former City of Detroit Health Department lead inspector Donald M. Patterson, age 50, was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison following his conviction on wire fraud charges, United States Attorney Barbara L. McQuade announced yesterday.

McQuade was joined in the announcement by Randall Ashe, EPA Special Agent in Charge, and Andrew Arena, FBI Special Agent in Charge.

Patterson was indicted by a federal grand jury on May 11, 2010 on charges of soliciting bribes, wire fraud, and making false statements concerning lead inspections. The four-count indictment charged that, as a result of his position as a lead inspector, Patterson would become aware of homes in the city of Detroit in which children had been identified with unsafe blood lead levels. His job was to ensure that all paint-based lead hazards were safely removed from those homes. Instead, on several occasions, Patterson used his position to obtain cash from the owners or the renters of these homes, in exchange for his falsely certifying that the homes were free of lead, or in exchange for his fraudulently pretending to provide instruction on how to safely remove the lead-based paint.

On several occasions, Patterson used threats of criminal prosecution, and even child neglect charges, to convince the tenants and landlords to pay these bribes and conceal the matter from state regulators. In particular, the indictment charges that between October 2008, and August 2009, Patterson demanded $1,350 in connection with fraudulent abatement of lead hazards to which children were being exposed at four separate properties.

On July 9, 2010, Patterson pled guilty to one count of wire fraud before the Honorable Patrick J. Duggan, United States District Court Judge. The facts underlying that charge established that Patterson was given the responsibility of inspecting a Detroit home where a 2-year-old child, who had been admitted to the hospital with high blood-lead levels, was residing. Patterson identified lead paint hazards, and then told the grandfather he needed to either pay a private training provider $500 to become certified to address the hazards, or pay Patterson $200 for this certification, which, in fact, Patterson was not qualified to provide.

Patterson’s “training,” or directions on how to abate the lead, in fact exacerbated the conditions in the home, and created additional lead emissions which were pervasive on the ground, floor and even on the toys in the home. In addition, to conceal his actions, Patterson instructed the grandfather not to speak with any state inspectors who might visit the residence, falsely insisting that the state would attempt to take the grandchild away from the family and fine the grandfather for child neglect.

The defendant then informed a hospital nurse, where the child was receiving treatment, and the child’s family that the home was “safe” for the child’s return. Upon the defendant’s assurances, the child was returned to the home, where he was exposed to additional lead contaminants until health inspectors with the Michigan Department of Community Health discovered that the home was still unsafe and the child could be relocated.

James Harvey, the child’s grandfather, spoke at the sentencing hearing, and detailed how his grandson has suffered as a result of the defendant’s actions.

“Lead paint poses a serious health risk, particularly to children," U.S. Attorney McQuade stated. "We hope that this conviction will deter others from putting residents at risk.”

“The protection of the public health depends on governmental health officials doing their jobs in an honest and competent manner,” said Randall Ashe, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Detroit. “So it is reprehensible that in this case a city health inspector, whose job was to identify lead-paint hazards in homes and ensure that these dangers were properly removed, instead solicited tenants and landlords to pay him bribes, in exchange for either providing improper lead paint abatement training, or creating false reports about the lead hazards in their homes. Actual harm was done as witnessed by a child who suffered elevated blood-lead levels. Today’s sentencing should serve notice to anyone who knowingly places the public at risk: you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

The case was investigated by special agents of the Environmental Protection Agency and FBI, with assistance from the city of Detroit, state of Michigan, and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Lynn Helland.

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