Detroit demolition contractors accused of altering photos

Three companies allegedly altered photographs of repaired sidewalks to receive payment.

August 24, 2017
CDR Staff
Demolition Legislation & Regulations
Three Detroit demolition contractors were caught submitting altered photographs of sidewalks to avoid making required repairs and to get paid from the city’s Hardest Hit funds, a report by Crain’s Detroit Business says. Rickman Enterprises LLC, Direct Construction Services and ABC Demolition Inc. are either suspended or barred from taking Hardest Hit contracts.

An investigation by Inspector General James Heath was conducted after the Detroit Land Bank Authority analysts noticed discrepancies in the photographs submitted by the companies, the report says. The Inspector General’s office began investigating Direct Construction and Rickman Enterprises in early December.

Demolition contractors working with the city’s blight removal program are required to repair any sidewalks damaged by heavy equipment in the demolition process, the report says. Direct Construction Services submitted photos that allegedly contained computer-generated grass to cover debris piles on-site. The piles were discovered after a site visit. The company is also accused of digitally adding hay to photographs.

Direct Construction owner Timothy Drakeford initially blamed a subcontractor and produced a canceled check to Dan Villarreal as evidence. When contracted by investigators, Villarreal said the check was from a private project. Drakeford eventually confessed to altering the photos. Direct Construction is barred from bidding on new demolition contracts until 2020, or when the city runs out of federal funds for blight removal.

Rickman Enterprises allegedly altered photos of a sidewalk from a $5,180 demolition project. CEO Roderick Rickman and controller Phil Yoder originally told investigators the photos were doctored as a joke and were accidentally submitted. A project accountant realized the mistake two days later and swapped it out with an unaltered photo. Inspectors say the timestamps on the photos show that the altered photos were uploaded before the sidewalk had been repaired. The company is appealing its 90-day suspension and is still doing demolition work in the city until a hearing in September.

ABC Demolition had a $1.4 million contract with the Detroit Land Bank Authority to demolish 134 properties, including two homes for $9,300 each. Investigators interviewed ABC Demolition Vice President Donald Wortham, who admitted to altering the photographs after metadata evidence was presented to him. He also confessed to altering other photos for five other properties. Because he admitted to the allegations, the Inspector General recommended unspecified sanctions against ABC Demolition.