Vendor admits bribing Madison Heights school leader to win millions in contracts

A contractor pleaded guilty Thursday to funneling thousands of dollars in bribes to a Madison Heights school board president who used his ill-gotten gains on Florida trips and a boat slip — perks he got for helping his businessman friend secure $3.1 million worth of school contracts, the government said.

Prosecutors allege the businessman paid $561,000 in bribes to the board president, though the vendor did not admit to that amount — not in his plea agreement, or in court.

Rather, John David, 65, who now faces up to 10 years in prison for his crime, admitted that he was part of a pay-to-play scheme in which he "corruptly gave, offered, and agreed to give cash" to former school board President Albert Morrison "with the intent to influence and reward him" with contracts. He said the bribes were at least $5,000, and that he received "substantial income" through this arrangement, though he did not specify how much that was.

Prosecutors say David benefited to the tune of $3.1 million worth of contracts he secured with the help of his school board friend, whom he met in the mid-1980s.

How the half-million-dollar scheme worked

According to court records, David and Morrison frequently hung out at a bar owned by Morrison, but lost touch for several years. It wasn't until 2014 that they reconnected. David was working with excavators on a frozen pipe under a Madison Heights school when Morrison appeared.

Shortly after, the pay-to-play scheme was born, said prosecutors, who allege the two friends spent the next four years running secret, crooked deals, with David giving Morrison money for favors.

According to the indictment, the scheme ran from 2014-18.

According to court records, here's how the yearslong scheme worked:

Both friends had companies.

The vendor co-owned a maintenance and construction company. The school board president owned Comfort Consulting.

Over the years, David wrote checks totaling more than $561,000 from his company to his school-board friend's company. And the school board president would then deposit the checks into his own bank account, using it for personal luxuries, including Florida vacations and a boat slip.

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Prosecutors say the men tried to be careful not to get caught.

For example, Morrison, when publicly confronted at a school board meeting, denied having any financial ties to David or his company, Emergency Restoration.

Former school leader also faces charges

Morrison and David also hid from state auditors the payments David was sending Morrison, who was also charged for his role in the scheme. According to court records, he has a plea hearing scheduled for April 25.

“Our community deserves school systems free of corruption,” U.S. Attorney Ison Dawn Ison said in announcing the guilty plea, adding that the case "demonstrates our commitment to ensure that public officials in our educational systems put the interests of our children first.”

Detroit's FBI chief James Tarasca also weighed in.

“Mr. David guaranteed he would receive work funded by Madison District Public Schools not by participating in a fair and transparent process, but by bribing those in positions of power,” Tarasca said. “Public corruption isone of the FBI’s top investigative priorities because of the negative impact corruption has on the public’s faith in government agencies."

David is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 14 before U.S. District Judge Laurie Michelson.

David's lawyer, Robert Morgan, declined comment.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Vendor admits bribing Madison Heights school leader to win contracts