New corruption scandal hits Detroit Metro Airport

Detroit — Federal prosecutors charged a Detroit Metropolitan Airport contractor Monday in a conspiracy that defrauded the Wayne County Airport Authority out of $1.5 million, the first public indication of a broader corruption conspiracy.

Gary Tenaglia, 64, of Rochester, was charged with wire fraud conspiracy and is expected to plead guilty. The court filing describes a year-long conspiracy involving a multimillionaire businessman with a checkered past who gained notoriety two years ago by buying the landmark Big Buck Brewery in Auburn Hills.

The conspiracy involves Tenaglia’s firm, Envision Engineering & Maintenance, and a $1.5 million contract to remove snow and ice from the Blue Deck parking structure at the airport.

Envision charged the Wayne County Airport Authority approximately $1.5 million to remove snow and ice from the parking structure from May 2011 through June 2014. An internal audit revealed Tenaglia fraudulently charged the authority for applying a deicing substance that was never applied, according to federal court records.

A Wayne County Airport Authority spokeswoman said the agency is cooperating with the FBI investigation.

“However, we cannot comment further at this time given the pending proceedings,” spokeswoman Erica Donerson wrote in an email.

According to court records, Tenaglia, who could not be reached for comment immediately Monday, conspired with at least two other people who are not named in the court filing.

Tenaglia’s company bought Big Buck Brewery two years ago, sold the giant beer bottle visible from alongside southbound I-75 and converted the cavernous building into a called HUB Stadium.

His past includes a 2009 misdemeanor conviction after being accused of stealing $7,811 in electricity to power his $1.6 million mansion in Washington Township. His criminal conviction and $15,000 fine was chronicled in the Wall Street Journal.

Tenaglia now lives in a $5 million mansion in Rochester. He recently listed the 9,150-square-foot home for sale. The French country manor estate features a helipad, six bedrooms and eight bathrooms.

Prosecutors are eying Tenaglia’s assets. The criminal charge filed Monday includes a forfeiture provision that would let prosecutors seize assets linked to proceeds from the alleged conspiracy.

The case against Tenaglia is unrelated to a separate corruption scandal involving Macomb County politicians that has since spread to Detroit.

The airport authority manages and operates Detroit Metro and Willow Run airports. The authority is managed by a seven-member board that includes four people appointed by Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, two appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder and one by the county commission.

There was no immediate comment from a Wayne County spokesman.

The airport has periodically been embroiled in corruption investigations.

Airport authority CEO Turkia Mullin, a former Wayne County economic development chief, was fired in 2011 after the FBI served subpoenas demanding information about a nonprofit she ran and deals she engineered for the county.

Mullin was never charged with a crime.

The investigation coincided with a probe of then-Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, who lost re-election in August 2014.

The FBI spent three years investigating county government before declining to pursue criminal charges against Ficano and two former high-ranking deputies.

In 2004, former top airport official Wilbourne Kelley III and his wife, Barbara, were convicted of accepting cash, home improvements and other gifts from former airport contractor Frank Vallecorsa. They were sentenced to 44 months and 41 months in prison, respectively.

Kelley was the only official sent to prison as a result of an FBI investigation of Wayne County government under Edward H. McNamara, the late political boss.

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