Conyers’ Wife Focus of Bribery Probe

Andrea Billups and Jerry Seper, Washington Times, June 18, 2009

Councilwoman Monica Conyers, the wife of House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr., has been ensnared in a federal bribery investigation and is discussing a possible plea deal, The Washington Times has learned.

A federal law enforcement source, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk to the news media, confirmed media reports in Detroit that Mrs. Conyers was the person identified in court records as “Council Member A.”

Court papers say the council member accepted bribes from a consultant in connection with a City Council vote to approve a $1.2 billion sludge hauling contract.

The consultant, Rayford W. Jackson, has pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe a city official in connection with #the con#tract to Houston-based Synagro Technologies Inc.

In addition, federal authorities are talking to Sam Riddle Jr., a former aide of Mrs. Conyers, about his role in the matter, the law enforcement official said.

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Mr. Conyers, who has represented Detroit in Congress since 1964 and is chairman of one of Congress’ most influential committees, declined to comment Wednesday through his office in Washington.

Mrs. Conyers initially opposed the Synagro deal, saying the contract should have gone to a local firm, but she later switched positions and cast the deciding vote in a 5-4 tally in 2007. The city and Synagro eventually pulled out of the deal.

In the indictment against Jackson filed in May, federal authorities said the consultant sent a courier Oct. 4, 2007, to a restaurant parking lot to deliver an envelope containing a bribe payment of an unspecific amount to “Council Member A.” Another payment was picked up at a McDonald’s parking lot.

A month later, after Mrs. Conyers had voted in favor of the Synagro contract, Jackson again dispatched a courier to meet the council member and deliver a second envelope containing a $3,000 bribe payment, the indictment said. A third payment was delivered in December 2007, prosecutors said.

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Jackson, who pleaded guilty to a federal bribery conspiracy charge on Monday, admitted to federal investigators in his plea before U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn that he had offered money to elected officials including “Council Member A,” though he did not name Mrs. Conyers or anyone else as that person.

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Mr. Jackson’s former boss, Synagro Vice President James Rosendall Jr., pleaded guilty to bribery charges earlier this year.

Any deal or conviction likely would end Mrs. Conyers’ brief public service career and could become yet another political black eye for the Motor City just as it looks to move ahead after years of scandal and economic struggle. The 44-year-old Mrs. Conyers has had a brief but stormy tenure in Detroit politics, joining the council in 2005 after 16 years as a teacher and administrator in the Detroit Public Schools.

“She owes her political life to her husband. If her name was Monica Smith, she wouldn’t be on the Detroit City Council,” said Bill Ballenger, the longtime publisher of Inside Michigan Politics who has watched the city deal with scandals for years and is no fan of Mrs. Conyers.

Mrs. Conyers, the mother of two sons, who is more than three decades younger than her 80-year-old husband, graduated from the University of the District of Columbia School of Law.

She serves on the board of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, according to her Web site. Her husband is a founding CBC member and a fixture in Washington politics, having represented the Detroit area in Congress since 1965. He serves as chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee and was re-elected in November with 92 percent of the vote.

The councilwoman, whose aggressive political style often brought her public criticism, had sparred with fellow council members during meetings and had a frequently contentious relationship with local press. She also drew media scrutiny for using a police detail and city vehicle to drive her son to a private school in the suburbs, which her spokeswoman defended as necessary for her own protection and encouraged by law enforcement.

During one memorable April 2008 council discussion over disgraced former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s role in a police whistleblower scandal, Mrs. Conyers called City Council President Kenneth Cockrel Jr. “Shrek” after the green-hued Walt Disney movie character, an ogre.

The “Shrek” exchange is posted on YouTube along with another public exchange where Mrs. Conyers is chastised by a girl for her name-calling episode with Mr. Cockrel.

Mrs. Conyers also drew fire when it was discovered that she had helped her brother, who is a convicted felon, get a city job. When first confronted about suspected nepotism, she denied the man in question was her brother, but later changed her story. The brother eventually was fired over issues with absenteeism and earlier this year given a five-year-sentence on weapons charges involving pointing a shotgun at a group of people.

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Mrs. Conyers faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison if convicted in a case that analysts fear could further stain the city’s political landscape, just as it attempts to gain much-needed credibility under a new mayor, Pistons basketball legend Dave Bing, who took the helm of the city last month after a special election.

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