01 December 2015


Original Story: detroitnews.com

In some Michigan school districts, half or more of students are chronically absent, according to newly released state data.

In Detroit Public Schools, nearly two of three students (64.8 percent) missed at least 10 days in 2014-15, according to statistics issued Friday by the state Center for Educational Performance and Information. Michigan considers students who miss 10 or more days of school a year chronically absent.

Other districts with high rates include Benton Harbor (48.4 percent), Flint (54.2 percent), River Rouge (57.2 percent) and Pontiac (48.6 percent). All are in communities where more than a third of residents live below the poverty line, according to census data. A Harrisonburg education lawyer represents clients in education law matters.

Rural districts are not immune. The Whittemore-Prescott Area Schools in northeastern lower Michigan, where three-quarters of the students qualify for free and reduced lunches, has a chronically absent rate of 38.5 percent.

Even some districts with less poverty struggle with high absentee rates. More than half of the districts in Wayne and Macomb counties are at 25 percent or higher, including some in relatively prosperous communities such as Wyandotte (35.4 percent) and St. Clair Shores (Lakeview Public Schools, 30.1 percent).

By contrast, the district with the lowest rate in Metro Detroit is one of the state’s wealthiest, Birmingham, where 3.5 percent of residents live below the poverty line. Just 12 percent of Birmingham students were chronically absent during the last school year.

A new Michigan law that takes effect in June aims to encourage attendance by allowing the state to halt welfare benefits to families whose children are chronically absent.

Supporters say the measure will force parents to be sure their children go to school; advocates for the poor and some educators say the law is punitive and will end up hurting the children it’s trying to help.

“I do not see this as a big cost-saving measure for the state of Michigan; rather, a way to encourage attendance,” said Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, who sponsored the measure that became Public Act 56. “The best defense against poverty is a good education, and that only happens when a child is in class. It’s about opportunity.”

Rep. Alberta Tinsley-Talabi, D-Detroit, calls the law “punitive and wrong.”

“Public Act 56 ... deprives the other members of the family needed assistance based on the actions of just one member of the family,” she said.

Under the measure, a family would lose eligibility for cash aid if a child between 6 and 15 doesn’t meet attendance requirements. Dependent children 16 or older who haven’t graduated from high school would lose aid if they don’t meet the requirements.

Cash assistance would be restored if a student shows up for 21 straight school days. The law codifies a policy enforced since 2012 by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Officials with some of the districts with the highest absentee rates did not respond to requests for comment by The Detroit News, including Detroit, Flint and River Rouge.

District representatives interviewed by The News say they are trying to tackle problems that cause students to miss school. A Lexington education lawyer assist clients with grant applications, school funding matters, and in contract disputes.

Poverty can produce numerous factors that cause chronic absenteeism, said Kelley Williams, Pontiac schools superintendent.

“Some of the reasons we’ve heard are homelessness, lack of transportation, illness, not having clothes/uniforms or school supplies, parent illnesses and lack of employment,” said Williams.

“Our success coaches work with the families to identify and remove these barriers,” she said. “They can provide uniforms, or for example, if a family is homeless, they find out why, refer them to the homeless student liaison, and connect them with outside agencies that can assist.”

Staff members work with the parents of sick students to ensure children get healthy and return to classes sooner.

Chronic absenteeism in Pontiac has remained stubbornly high — its rate in 2012-13 was virtually identical, at 48.4 percent. A Boston education lawyer is following the details of this story.

In the Clintondale Community Schools, building administrators reach out to students and parents when attendance falls off. Once students returns, teachers help them get back up to speed.

“Today’s teachers are placing more resources online in order to better accommodate students who have difficult circumstances and are also spending time after school to catch students up,” Superintendent Greg Green said.

The approach seems to be paying off in the Macomb County district, where the rate of chronic absences fell from 53 percent in 2012-13 to 48.7 percent in 2014-15.

Joseph Perrera, Whittemore-Prescott superintendent, said the distance some students have to travel to the rural district’s two schools may contribute to its high rate of absenteeism. The district is south of Highway 55, between West Branch and Tawas City.

“This is a beautiful area of farmland, and all of our students are bused,” he said. “So if they miss a bus and the parents can’t bring them, that can be an issue.”

Perrera added that “both principals are actively trying to communicate with parents. I do know that they reach out.”

In the Ecorse Public Schools, the rate of chronic absence edged upward from 46.2 percent in 2011-12 to 48.1 percent in 2014-15, though it’s below that of neighboring River Rouge, a community with similar demographics.

Ecorse Superintendent Thomas Parker said the district is using a holistic approach to encourage regular class attendance. A Boston education lawyer has extensive experience in advising public and private educational institutions.

At Ecorse High School, each student meets daily with a “caring adult” who tracks attendance and helps set academic and cultural goals. In elementary schools, teachers watch attendance data and call parents to “identify how and why students are not in school,” Parker said.

The key, he added, is making students feel others care about them. “We do not do this in a negative way,” he said.

Many school officials and education experts argue that approach is more likely to boost attendance than cutting aid to the families of truant students.

“It is unfair to families with multiple children who may have one child who refuses to follow the attendance rules,” said Kevin M. Ivers, superintendent of the Berrien Regional Education Service Agency, which includes Benton Harbor schools. An Idaho education attorney assists clients with board governance, bylaw, and premises liability issues.

Kenneth Wong, chairman of the education department at Brown University, calls withholding payments a “fairly drastic measure.”

“I am not aware that many states are taking this approach,” he said. “If Michigan is implementing this strategy, perhaps local and state agencies can build in a multistage process, which may include warnings, home visitation, coaching, community partnership, and then ultimately withholding welfare payments.”

To Percy Bates, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Michigan, Public Act 56 is “misdirected.”

“... This proposal is not likely to encourage greater school attendance,” he said. “In fact, withholding welfare payments from these families is likely to increase truancy rather than produce the apparent desired consequence.” An Atlanta education lawyer is following this story closely.

Pscholka, the law’s sponsor, said he saw the need for state action during years of mentoring students in the Benton Harbor schools.

“Teachers complained constantly about truancy, and how they had no chance of educating the children when they were missing,” he said. “They thought this would be a great incentive for parents.”

Pscholka argues that some adults need to be persuaded to get their children to school each day: “Responsible parenting is the key to breaking this cycle.”


Original Story: mlive.com 

ROCKFORD, MI -- A favorite local shoe brand apparently has an image problem in the Big Apple.

Merrell's big deal with Tough Mudder is generating a bit of a yawn from the New York Post which described Wolverine Worldwide's biggest brand as "dull" in one headline.

"Merrell, the sleepy shoe company from Michigan, is getting down and dirty to lure millennials," wrote the New York Post. A Washington DC business lawyer provides professional legal counsel and extensive experience in many aspects of business law.

The footwear brand of "affluent" middle-agers is counting on "hipsterville" Tough Mudder to make Merrell cool with a younger generation.

The multi-year partnership deal is the brand's biggest investment so far, Jim Gabel, president of Wolverine's Performance Group, told Post reporter Lisa Fickenscher.

Gabel is now overseeing Merrell after jettisoning the brand's president in the spring. Gabel's taking over day-to-day leadership was the fastest way to capitalize on the global opportunity of the brand, the company spokesman said at the time.

"Tough Mudder shares our vision of wit and grit, and together we are committed to inspiring others to overcome obstacles by eliminating barriers to enjoying the outdoors," Gabel said in a statement announcing the deal. A Cleveland business lawyer is following this story closely.

Along with the sponsorship, Merrell will introduce a line of trail shoes in early 2016 targeted at Tough Mudder athletes. Unlike Merrell's traditional earth hues, this new generation of footwear will be brightly colored.

Merrell will be the main sponsor of more than 60 Tough Mudder events in 2016 that are expected to draw more than 2 million participants. Merrell will also be the presenting partner for Tough Mudder Half, a new five-mile obstacle course with a dozen obstacles being added in 2016.

"Tough Mudder is more than an event – it's a lifestyle based on teamwork, courage, personal accomplishment, and fun, and our partnership with Merrell reflects these shared values," said Will Dean, Tough Mudder's CEO and co-founder.

Another reason the collaboration makes sense: Participants often lose their shoes in the muddy obstacle courses, Dean told Fickenscher. A Maine business lawyer represents clients in business transactions.

Merrell will provide the apparel and outdoor gear given to obstacle course finishers.

"Wearing Merrell tells the world you love the outdoors," said Linda Brunzell, Merrell's chief marketing officer. "Our co-developed apparel will not only celebrate the accomplishment of becoming a Mudder, but will enhance the participant experience."

11 November 2015


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Wayne County suburbs increasingly are buying tax-foreclosed homes and selling them to developers who flip them for profits, prompting criticism that city officials are driving residents from their homes. A Rochester real estate lawyer is following this story closely.

In Lincoln Park, several former owners still living in their homes are pleading with city officials to stop the developers from evicting them. The city bought 90 tax-foreclosed homes this summer from the county treasurer before they could be sold at an annual auction open to the public.

The city’s goal was to stop blight and prevent absentee landlords from purchasing the homes. But former owners including Marvin Barski Jr. said they should have another chance to save their homes. He lost a brick ranch that his family has owned for 60 years because of an unpaid $1,200 bill.

He just recently got an eviction notice from the developer, JSR Funding, based in Warren.

“It has made me so sick,” said Barski, 58, an aircraft mechanic. “This house means everything to me. I grew up in this house. ... I don’t know where I will go.”

Similar stories are echoing throughout the county, as suburbs are taking advantage of a county policy that allows municipalities to buy properties before the online auction. Taylor purchased 106 properties, while Redford Township took 76, Dearborn, 35, and Garden City, 28.

After pleas to the City Council, Dearborn recently resold eight occupied tax-foreclosed homes to former owners with restrictions they maintain them, a city spokeswoman said.

Barski could have avoided foreclosure. By law, homes are foreclosed after taxes go unpaid for three years. A Rochester real estate lawyer assists clients with relations between owners, relations between owners and the community, and in landlord and tenant relations.

Barski missed several deadlines to make payments on 2012 taxes, but was current on 2013-2015 bills. He said he was confused, had surgery and didn’t realize paying the oldest debt would prevent foreclosure.

“I feel dumb, gullible and stupid,” said Barski.

Lincoln Park Emergency Manager Brad Coulter said he can’t help Barski or other homeowners who haven’t paid their tax bills because the city can’t go back on the contract with the developer, which was competitively bid.

“If they had gone through the tax auction, they’d be going through the same system,” Coulter said of the former homeowners. “We are in this tough spot of ‘Where have you been for the last six months?’”

“We could have helped point you toward assistance.”The city sold the 90 homes to JSR for the $836,000 in back taxes owed. That’s the amount Lincoln Park paid the county for the homes.

JSR paid the current summer taxes and water bills and will invest at least $15,000 per house rehabbing them. The company keeps any profit from the sale.

“The city’s housing stock is significantly improved and taxable values are increased,” Jim Budziak of JSR wrote in an email to The News. “Had the city not exercised its right of first refusal, the properties would have been sold at the Wayne County auction and the city would be subject to the whims of individual/investor auction purchasers.”

Garden City has a similar deal with JSR to rehab 17 homes. Mayor Randy Walker said he feels sympathy for homeowners but the program will help bring new residents in.

“We have to bring property values back up,” Walker said. “I don’t buy into these people saying they had no idea (about the foreclosure). ... There is a consequence for everything.”

Barski’s attorney Tarek Baydoun argues the developer’s contract should be voided because it doesn’t meet the law’s requirement that there be a “public purpose” when the city buys an owner-occupied tax foreclosure. Metro Detroit homeowners concerned about foreclosures should contact a Rochester real estate lawyer at the Rochester Law Center.

“That’s not good for the city to take houses from people who have equity in their houses,” said Baydoun, who also has clients in Garden City.

In Redford Township, Michael Dennis, the director of the community development department, said developers have helped displaced homeowners find new homes.

Brandy Gutierrez is waiting to see if JSR follows through evicting her from her Lincoln Park home. She said her estranged husband never told her he wasn’t paying the taxes until the unpaid bill accumulated to nearly $12,000. She was able to borrow enough to pay about $8,000 in December and got on a payment plan. A Tarpon Springs custom home builder offers portfolio plans that can be altered to suit your personal lifestyle.

County officials say she didn’t make those payments and Lincoln Park bought the home in July. Gutierrez said county staffers told her she had until October to pay and went to the city that month with a $4,000 cashier’s check hoping to save it.

She hasn’t told her two kids, 10 and 12, that they might soon lose the home.

“I am afraid tomorrow they could throw me out,” Gutierrez said. “I can’t sleep. I can’t eat.”

05 November 2015


Original Story: freep.com

The former director of the Detroit Land Bank Authority was fired from the job he’d held less than a year because he came to work drunk and had been accused of stalking and threatening a coworker, according to people familiar with the matter. A Memphis employment lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

The board of the land bank fired Kevin Simowski last month without explanation. But people familiar with the matter confirmed to the Free Press that Simowski had shown up intoxicated on the job and had  threatened the woman who would ultimately replace him, Carrie Lewand-Monroe, who sought a personal protection order against Simowski.

Lewand-Monroe, daughter of Mayor Mike Duggan’s Group Executive for Jobs and Economic Growth, Tom Lewand, filed the PPO the day before the land bank board called a special meeting to fire Simowski. A Denver employment attorney is following this story closely.

The revelation answers the mystery of why Simowski, a longtime Duggan friend, was fired summarily last month, with officials saying only that it was a personnel matter that would remain private.

His termination came amid intense scrutiny of the land bank as costs for demolition of blighted homes in Detroit rose to an average $16,400, up from $10,000 or less under former Mayor Dave Bing’s administration. Officials said Simowski’s firing was unrelated to news reports about the rising costs.

Simowski couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.

Lewand-Monroe was said to fear for her life because of the stalking and threats from Simowski, which included showing up at her Ann Arbor home. Once city and land bank officials learned of the threats, Simowski was fired without severance, one source said. A Memphis hostile workplace lawyer works with businesses and employers to address hostile work environments.

The land bank issued a statement late Wednesday from Erica Ward Gerson, the land bank's board chairwoman, who said that Simowski was placed on medical leave Sept. 1.

"He has not been on the premises since that date and was instructed by me to not  contact any land bank employees during that leave," Ward-Gerson said. "Based on Information provided me by an employee of the Land Bank relative to an incident on October 7th, the land bank terminated Simowski on October 8th.  Simowski was terminated for cause, and no severance was paid."

Ward- Gerson said that the board could not comment beyond that.

Simowski was credited with helping Duggan create the program Duggan started when he was Wayne County Prosecutor to file nuisance lawsuits against owners of homes that became blighted drug dens, forcing owners to clean them up or hand over deeds. It was the framework for Duggan’s program to clean up blighted homes in Detroit as mayor through the Detroit Land Bank. A Poughkeepsie labor and employment lawyer has experience defending clients in employment related matters.

Simowski followed Duggan to the Detroit Medical Center, where he was an executive under Duggan who was the medical center’s CEO in 2004-2012.

Duggan's office declined comment Wednesday night.


Original Story: freep.com

Peter Karmanos Jr., the Detroit businessman and longtime hockey supporter, will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Nov. 9.

Karmanos, 72, has been involved in the sport for four decades. He co-founded the Compuware youth program in the 1970s. It has produced 16 national championships, 34 state championships, more than 200 NCAA Division I scholarship players and 14 NHL first-round draft picks. He founded the first U.S.-based OHL franchise in 1989 and ultimately sold the Plymouth Whalers in 2015.

His Carolina Hurricanes won the 2006 Stanley Cup, and his Florida Everblades won the ECHL’s Kelly Cup in 2012. He is already a member of the U.S. Hockey and Michigan Sports halls of fame.

Among the honors he has received: the Lester Patrick Award (outstanding service to hockey in the U.S.), the Bill Long Award (outstanding contributions to the OHL) and the USA Hockey Distinguished Achievement Award.

Free Press sports writer George Sipple sat down with Karmanos and gathered his thoughts on several topics, including his unique hockey background, his pursuit of Sergei Fedorov and his rivalry with Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch.

On entering the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder: “When you look at the players going in, Fedorov and (Nicklas) Lidstrom especially, sort of feel a little insignificant from the hockey point of view. But, really along with Mike Ilitch, I think I was responsible for building the amateur hockey program in Michigan — something very unusual nationwide and that’s been going now for over 40 years, Compuware hockey. ... I plan to put a significant amount of money back into that to improve it even more.”

On what has kept him so passionate about hockey for so long: “It’s such a fast-moving game. It’s a very physical game. It’s also a very smart game, all right? The same plays that occur in soccer that have soccer fans loving the game occur in hockey, except it’s faster than soccer and it’s far more physical. We don’t have many players laying on the ice complaining that someone hit them too hard. I like the aspect of how creative the game is as it is going on. Sometimes a little two-foot pass creates a beautiful play. It’s always changing.”

On his mother’s influence on his love of hockey: “She came back (to Detroit after living in Greece) right at the start of the Depression in 1930, went to Central High School. She was a field hockey player, and she turned out to be a classic bowler as well. She was a pretty good athlete. I had stumbled downstairs one time back in the early ’50s. There was this game on TV that my mother was watching on an 11-inch round Zenith TV set. Quite sure it wasn’t HD back then. Just happened to be the Detroit Red Wings playing the Montreal Canadiens at Olympia. And right as I started watching the game, Ted Lindsay got into a fight with Maurice Richard, and I thought, ‘This is really cool.’ I just watched the game and was fascinated by it.”

On how much he reflects on winning the Stanley Cup: “Not much. I don’t live in the past. That’s what I keep telling our guys, too. That was 10 years ago.”

On his quest to break the perception that a U.S.-born player couldn’t go far in hockey: “Oh, yeah, that was my main goal. I remember, very ironic, talking to a hockey parent back in 1978 or something like that, maybe 1979. There was a practice going on, and they said, ‘All these kids, the best they can hope for is maybe a college scholarship, maybe a partial one.’ I said, ‘Is that right?’ The team that was practicing had Alfie Turcotte, who ended up being a first-round NHL pick; Pat LaFontaine, who is in the Hockey Hall of Fame; Al Iafrate, who ended up being a first-round NHL draft pick. I said, ‘We’ll see about that.’ We had one after another and a whole slew of them that played for our Tier II junior team. We had hundreds of kids get scholarships.”

On what separates the Compuware program from others in the area: “I don’t think there’s anything to separate it. I’m glad there’s a lot of great programs. Caesars was going on when we built ours, and a lot of it was tailored after that. The difference — and we’re going to go back to it — is we didn’t have parents coaching. We had guys who were coaching because they love to do it. I went out and got some fellas who had played college hockey who were in their mid-20s to late-20s, didn’t have any kids involved, and they ran the program. We’re looking for people like that. Occasionally good fortunes fell, and you had a parent with a kid who was a good coach. You wouldn’t tell him to go away, either. The thing that really separated us is we tried to run the amateur hockey program so it was self-sufficient. We ran arenas and hockey schools and put it all back into the program, which was fairly novel at the time. People got excited I was paying coaches. I wasn’t paying coaches to coach. I was paying them to run a business, and, ‘Oh, by the way, in your spare time, coach a team.’”

On the process of strengthening Compuware program today: “I’m about to have a meeting sometime this fall, early winter, with all the coaches and talk about what we want to do with the program, where we want it to go. I don’t want to accept the status quo of picking your (next) team while your current year is still going on. I’d like to see kids try out. They change every year. They develop. It’d be really nice if they had to try out. Back when we started out, people had to try out. We’d have 50 kids at a tryout. But everyone is so PC today, you wouldn’t want your kid feeling hurt by having someone tell them, ‘Well, geez, you didn’t make the team.’ Which is a real mistake on the parents’ part because that’s how life really works — competition and the fact that, ‘Hey, you weren’t good enough. But if you work hard, maybe next year.’”

On his continued involvement in the program: “Most people thought that the minute my older boys got out of hockey that I would drop out. It was too much fun and too many good stories, so we just kept it going.”

On if he’s concerned with any aspect of youth hockey: “Yeah, it’s too expensive. Costs the parents an arm and a leg. When my older boy started skating, ice was $40 an hour. ... Today it’s $300 an hour. Hockey sticks were $4 or $5. Now they’re a hundred-some-odd bucks. Skates were $15 or $20 for the best kind of skates. Now they’re $200, $300. That’s what’s really holding the game back. You can’t get a lot of kids to play. Parents have to be fairly well off. There’s no easy solution. ... Right now the problem in the U.S. is the best athletes in the U.S. generally will go to other sports first. The best athletes in Canada play hockey first.”

On how confident he was of acquiring Fedorov in 1998 when he signed him to a six-year, $38 million offer sheet, which Ilitch ultimately had to match: “Well, I had talked to the Red Wings about if they are going to move Sergei, we’d like to trade. I knew they were shopping him — and hadn’t told us — to Philadelphia, who was in our division. Had a few conversations. I don’t want to get into old history. We decided we could put together that kind of offer and it would be tough for the Wings to match it. And there was a lot of questions about whether that was proper, but I knew we had followed the rules to the nth degree. The Wings’ argument was, ‘Carolina isn’t going to make the playoffs.’ I remember the arbitrator saying, ‘Oh, you know that now? Why do you guys play the season?’ We damn well could have made the playoffs with a player like Fedorov. We had Ronny Francis on the team. He’s the fourth-leading scorer in the history of hockey — did it very quietly. And we had Rod Brind’Amour on that team. It was a pretty good hockey team.”

On ruffling feathers back then: “I don’t care. I’m competitive as well. From growing up in Detroit.”

On his relationship with Ilitch: “His (amateur hockey) team was there long before anyone else. He doesn’t get enough credit for that. Grudging respect. ... We just have different philosophies. It’s like oil and water at times. It doesn’t mean it’s bad. We just don’t mix.”

On fans of the Hartford Whalers still being bitter at him for relocating the franchise to Carolina: “When we went into Hartford, the season before they averaged 6,000 people a game — and that includes games against New York or Boston, where most of the crowd was New York or Boston fans. Hartford’s not a big city. Today, if there was a team in Hartford, it would be the smallest market in the league by a mile. You competed for business with all the New York professional teams, all the Boston professional teams and even a little bit with the Flyers and Islanders. I don’t know why the people there are so upset. The team hadn’t ever won a thing. They had a celebration for a first-round playoff loss.”

On moving to Carolina: “From a business point of view, it’s the fastest-growing area in the country, and it’s continued that way for a long time. The metropolitan area of Raleigh is bigger than Charlotte. I have no other competition on a professional level. ... So we have the whole market to ourselves in Raleigh, and it’s a vibrant market.”

On how much longer he’ll own the Hurricanes: “I don’t know. It depends. I’m 72 years old. I’ve got young kids at home and trying to figure out what the right succession plan is. I’m looking for a partner. My original partner, Tom Thewes, was the greatest partner you could ever have. He passed away in 2008, and I made sure that we cleared everything up for him and his family. I’m really looking for a partner where I can ease out of it in the next three, four or five years.”

On watching an OHL season after selling the Whalers, which are now the Flint Firebirds: “I was up in Flint for their first game, and it was hard for me to even stay throughout the game, 30 years in the OHL. It was tough.”

On how difficult it was to be an American owner in the OHL, first with the Windsor Spitfires and then with the team that eventually became the Whalers: “Well, 30 years ago, Dave Branch and Sherry Bassin had to go to bat to even allow us as U.S. owners to buy the team in Windsor. They were, ‘No.’ An awful lot of work was done to buy the team. (Branch) wanted to make the league more dynamic, and they ended up with three (U.S.) teams now: Erie, Saginaw and Flint.”

On some of his favorite OHL players: “You go from Windsor to the Compuware Ambassadors to the Junior Red Wings to Plymouth. Start off with players like Adam Graves, and you had players like Pat Peake and Bryan Berard and coaches like (Peter) DeBoer and Paul Maurice, who are now top coaches in the NHL. There’s just been a ton of players. I don’t have a favorite. Paul Maurice is my favorite coach. Paul’s so smart and such a droll sense of humor.”

On the NCAA: “The worst representatives of the sport of hockey is the NCAA, because they talk out of both sides of their mouth. The average freshman is now 21 1/2 years old in college hockey. They say education is an important thing. There’s life after hockey, and you need an education. They have kids finish their high school, and they make them sit in Des Moines or some city (in juniors) for a couple years. And I’ve said, ‘What do you think those kids do when they’re out of school for two years?’ We ran a Tier II junior team, and we would put 10 kids a year at least into college hockey and the (college coaches) around here acted like they were doing us a favor by taking the kids. And I was spending $200,000 to $300,000 a year supporting that team. And when we ended it, they acted like, ‘Why are you doing that?’ Nobody from college hockey ever offered to help us, and we were developing players like crazy.”

On convincing fellow NHL owners to help support the U.S. National Team Development Program, which moved into the former Compuware Arena in Plymouth this year: “Developing those players are very important to us. … From an owner’s point of view in the NHL, I want the best athletes in the U.S. to play hockey. We want to the (Jack) Eichels and those kids to have a place to go. It’s very selfish on my part. It works. It’s been a very successful program. It means something to me as an owner in the National Hockey League. It helps us spread hockey through the U.S.”

On his Hall of Fame speech: “It’s hard, trying to figure out whether it’s one big series of thank yous. I think my introduction to hockey will be different than anyone else that’s being inducted with me. And it’s certainly different than most of the people sitting in the room and probably different than many of the people watching on TV. I don’t know many other people that lived and breathed for the third period of Red Wing home games in 1952.”

On the induction ceremony: “Very nervous. A lot of those hockey players are very poised, very good speakers, and they can talk about (their) career. I have to talk about things that are much different than what everyone else is talking about. My stats are pathetic — zero goals, zero assists, zero penalties.”

04 November 2015


Original Story: freep.com

Detroit's nearly 6,000 casino workers authorized union leaders to call a strike if necessary in what has been a difficult and complex round of contract discussions between the Detroit Casino Council and the city's three gambling halls. A Detroit employment lawyer defends small businesses, insurance companies, and large corporations in labor and employment law matters.

Strike authorization votes are often mere formalities designed for negotiating leverage, but the timing in this case has a more ominous feel. That's because the Detroit Casino Council — a consortium of four unions that bargains on behalf of Detroit's casino workers — asked its members for the permission to call a strike just three days after state and federal mediators told the two sides to break for a "cooling-off" period.

A strike at the three casinos would threaten to shut down one of Detroit's major tourist attractions and the city's No. 1 source of tax revenue. Taxes from casino gaming have lately represented about 16% of the City of Detroit's total revenues, or just under $170 million.

The negotiations, which began Aug. 24, have dragged on longer than expected and have included the involvement of mediators from the start. Workers at Greektown Casino, MGM Grand Detroit, and MotorCity Casino are working under an extension of a contract that was originally set to expire Oct. 16. A Charleston labor attorney have experience defending clients in employment related matters involving instances of detrimental labor conditions or discriminatory employment practices.

On Oct. 30, "The mediators recommended that the parties take a 'cooling-off' period to allow time to review all open issues, formulate positions on those issues and prepare for bargaining on the important economic issues," MGM said in an update about the discussions to its workers on a Web site dedicated to the negotiations.

"I can tell you that health care has been the major stumbling block here," said Dave DeLong, secretary treasurer of Teamsters Local 372 and a member of the bargaining committee. "Our members would like to keep the current coverage that they have without any increased cost."

MGM says it expects health care costs for the three casinos will increase by $46 million, to almost $262 million, over the term of the next four-year contract. MGM has told unions workers that there will be very little money for wages or bonuses if the casino's health care costs are not reduced.

The two sides have explored a variety of ways to reduce health care costs that include the possibility of switching to TeamCare, a union-backed, multi-employer Taft-Hartley plan that uses the Blue Cross network. A Pittsburgh employment lawyer is following this story closely.

"It's up to the unions to decide what their priorities are," Marc Whitefield, a spokesman  for the casinos, said in a recent update for workers. "People need to make a decision of how they want to spend money in these contract negotiations."

"MGM Grand Detroit remains committed to the negotiation process," Steve Zanella, president and chief operating officer of MGM Grand Detroit, said in an e-mail to the Free Press. "Along with the other Detroit casinos and the unions representing our workers, we are eager to work toward a contract that works for everyone."

Gayle Joseph, a spokeswoman for Rock Gaming, which owns Greektown Casino, said, "We believe the parties are negotiating in good faith and are committed to reaching a fair and balanced agreement.”

A spokeswoman for MotorCity declined to comment on the contract talks.

Gaming revenue has been on a roll this year, reversing what had been a gradual decline in gambling revenue since 2012. A Maine labor and employment lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Total gambling revenues were up 4.8% during the first six months of this year compared with last year, according to the Michigan Gaming Control Board, which regulates the casinos.

What's next?

UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg said four negotiating sessions are scheduled in the coming weeks with the three casinos.

Nov. 9, 10, 16 and 17, according to MGM's website.

Unions involved

The Detroit Casino Council is a consortium of the four unions that bargain on behalf Detroit's casino workers. It includes employees represented by UAW Local 7777, Unite Here Local 24, Teamsters Local 372 and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324.

Casinos on a roll

Total gambling revenues were up 4.8% during the first six months of this year compared with last year, according to the Michigan Gaming Control Board, which regulates Detroit casinos.

Taxes from casino gaming have lately represented about 16% of the City of Detroit's total revenues, or just under $170 million.

The combined annual gambling revenue of the three casinos increased steadily from just over $1 billion in 2001 to $1.42 billion in 2011. In 2012, gambling revenue began to fall as four casinos opened in Ohio, including Hollywood Casino in Toledo.


Original Story: freep.com

Celebrity rehab guru Nicole Curtis wanted you to see the house she has renovated in Detroit's historic Brush Park, but she apparently didn't want you to see the 139-year-old Venetian Gothic home until "Rehab Addict" airs Thursday night on HGTV. A Rochester real estate lawyer is following this story closely.

The home is owned by Quicken Loans, and was restored by Curtis of HGTV's "Rehab Addict."

The Detroit Free Press and several local media companies were invited to tour the Ransom Gillis mansion on Sunday, but upon arrival media members were told by Curtis that they could not take pictures of the inside of the home.

Hit the drama button: Photographers standing there loaded with gear, with nothing to shoot.

In the midst of the awkward moment, a Quicken Loans rep announced that photographers could take as many photos as they wanted. Curtis was not pleased; the annoyed celeb huffed: "I'm going outside." A Los Angeles real estate lawyer provides professional legal counsel and extensive experience in many aspects of real estate law.

Monday morning, Curtis posted a Facebook message criticizing the media for taking photos of the house even though the media was invited to Sunday's open house, and told they could take photos.

"I woke up this morning and see interior pics of our latest project splashed on every news outlet. It's disappointing, to say the least. I asked media to stick to the exterior. I did not speak further with them as I had 2,000 people in line and a very excited Tessa in my company," the post said.

"My crew has worked day and night -we have missed 3 months of 'quality' life experiences to get this done ... and instead of setting a house for photographers we chose to focus on the purpose of our opens ---bringing communities together for a cause. Trust when I say these events are exhausting -we didn't get home til after midnight. While we appreciate everyone applauding our work when you come through, that wouldn't be enough to motivate us to dedicate the time ( smile emoticon)) however, knowing how much love we can send one family's way by doing so ????? So worth it." A Boston real estate lawyer are proficient in real property development transactions and in real estate zoning and regulation laws.

The post has been removed. Curtis could not be reached for comment.

Quicken's public relations manager could not be reached for comment.

20 October 2015


Original Story: crainsdetroit.com

LANSING — The House late Wednesday voted to allocate about $9.3 million in state funding to address Flint's drinking water crisis, including $6 million needed to help reconnect the city to a Detroit-area system through June. A Detroit environmental lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

The 105-0 vote occurred nearly a week after Gov. Rick Snyder called for Flint to switch back to Detroit. The Senate is expected to send the bill to the governor's desk today.

Since the city changed its supply source to the Flint River in April 2014 — an interim move while waiting for a new pipeline to Lake Huron — residents complained about the safety, smell, taste and appearance of the river water. The state recently corroborated findings of elevated lead levels in children and disclosed higher levels in three Flint schools, too.

"This is an important step necessary to fix the current crisis, and once this is complete, it's important that our next priority is getting to the bottom of how this happened," Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said in a statement. "We need to make sure this never happens again." A Cleveland environmental lawyer represents clients in many aspects of environmental law.

The Flint River is more corrosive and, because corrosion controls were not implemented like they are in the Detroit system, the water picked up lead from more than 15,000 aging pipes that connect water mains to houses.

The state, whose then-emergency financial manager decided to change Flint's water source, initially downplayed lead concerns, saying city-provided samples showed fewer than 10 percent had levels above the federal action level. But the Snyder administration officials later confirmed higher blood lead levels.

Flint will provide $2 million to return to Detroit's system and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation will give $4 million. A Virginia environmental lawyer is following this story closely.

The legislation also has:
  • $300,000 to hire two workers for home and school drinking water inspections;
  • $1 million for lab services to test water samples;
  • $1 million to buy water filters for residents;
  • $850,000 to screen for lead, coordinate follow-up care for children with elevated blood lead levels, and do related outreach; and
  • $200,000 for legally required inspections of plumbing fixtures and systems inside schools and health facilities.
The House voted at the end of a seven-hour session, during which lawmakers delayed expected votes on legislation that would hold back third-graders not proficient in reading and create a new state framework for evaluating teachers and school administrators. The House could try again Thursday.

A temporary reconnection with Flint could bring a revenue benefit of $8 million or more for the Great Lakes Water Authority next year.

16 October 2015


Original Story: crainsdetroit.com

Metro Detroit home and condominium sales jumped 11.2 percent year-over-year last month, a sharp increase from the 7.4 percent they increased by in August.

According to a report released today by Farmington Hills-based Realcomp Ltd. II, there were 5,282 sales last month in the four-county metro region, up from 4,729 in September 2014. There were 5,248 home and condo sales in August in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Livingston counties, up from 4,888 in August 2014.

Median sale prices also improved year-over-year in the region, rising 5 percent from $149,000 in September 2014 to $156,500 last month, according to Realcomp. That’s just shy of the 5.2 percent year-over-year increase in August, when median sale prices rose 5.2 percent from $153,000 in August 2014 to $161,000 two months ago. Macomb elder care services allow seniors to age in place and remain in their homes.

Livingston County led the way last month in home sale increases, jumping 14.6 percent from 295 in September 2014 to 338 last month. However, the county was the only one in the metro region in which median sale prices fell. The median Livingston home and condo sale price was $204,000 last month, down from $210,000 in September 2014, according to Realcomp.

There was a similar tale in Oakland County, where total sales increased 13.9 percent from 1,763 in September 2014 to 2,008 last month. But median sale prices were stuck in neutral, with homes and condos selling for $195,000 in both September 2014 and last month. A Rochester real estate lawyer is following this story closely.

But Macomb and Wayne counties were positive in both major categories.

Macomb County’s sales rose from 1,028 in September 2014 to 1,147 last month, an 11.6 percent increase, according to Realcomp. In addition, median sale prices rose 7.3 percent, from $130,500 in September 2014 to $140,000 last month.

And in Wayne County, sales rose 8.9 percent to 1,789 last month from 1,643 in September 2014. Median sale prices in Wayne posted the highest gains, rising 13.4 percent from $97,000 in September 2014 to $110,000 last month, according to Realcomp. A Michigan real estate lawyer represents clients in real estate transactions.

In the four-county region, the number of homes on the market rose by 0.9 percent, from 18,559 in September 2014 to 18,730 last month.

Homes spent an average of 37 days on the market in the four-county region last month, according to Realcomp.

15 October 2015


Original Story: freep.com

Police arrested two men suspected of shoplifting from a Home Depot in Auburn Hills from a Tuesday incident where a woman fired shots at them, police announced Friday.

The Flint men, ages 52 and 46, allegedly drove away in a black Kia as the 46-year-old Clarkston woman pulled her concealed pistol and opened fire in the parking lot, flattening a tire as they got away, Auburn Hills Police Department reports.The 52-year-old was arrested this morning, and the 46-year-old was arrested Thursday evening, both in Flint. A Westchester County criminal defense lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

The woman has not been arrested, and has been cooperative, but she could face charges once the investigation is complete, police said.

Officers responded to the business at about 2 p.m. Tuesday on a report of shots fired. They found that the woman, a concealed-pistol license holder, was trying to stop a man as he pushed a cart full of unpaid merchandise out of the store, according to police. A Westchester County burglary lawyer is following this story closely.

Both men could face charges of felony retail fraud because the items stolen were worth more than $1,000, police said. First-degree retail fraud is punishable by up to five years in prison and fines of up to $10,000 or three times the value of the stolen property.

The case against the men will be presented to the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office for possible charges, police said.


Original Story: freep.com

TRAVERSE CITY — Long a sought-after destination for summer tourists, Traverse City's year-round population, individual wealth and real estate prices have grown in recent years, squeezing out young professionals and others from living in downtown where some condos now top $1 million.

The burst of residential development to meet new demand includes a controversial, mixed-income plan for two 9-story buildings on Pine Street at the edge of the downtown's high-rent district of shops, restaurants and bars.  A Michigan real estate lawyer is following this story closely.

The housing debate is pitting some longtime residents against a newer, younger population as city leaders weigh the size and scope of extra tall downtown building projects. The height of the proposed towers is needed, developers say, to justify setting aside nearly half of the units for lower-income renters.

“It’s a challenge because it’s different and it’s change. And change is difficult always,” said Erik Falconer, one of the developers of the project.

Concern over the affordable housing crunch is emblematic of deeper tensions in northern Michigan's premier summer resort town, where incomes and housing prices have been on the rise but roads are clogged, retail prices are rising and some locals feel priced out and forced to leave, especially recent high school and college graduates. A St Petersburg custom home builder provides custom homes with a warm, comfortable living environment that is functional yet elegant.

Supporters of the housing projects say the kind of mixed-income development allows for more people to live and work in Traverse City despite their lower wages. But a vocal group of longtime residents say the Pine Street project is out of scale and harmful to Traverse City's reputation for quaint living.

Many see the conflict as between older retirees who moved to a laid-back Traverse City and up-and-coming professionals yearning to live and work in a more dynamic and economically diverse central city.

Add in a certain number of millionaire jet-setters who've moved to the area for its beauty and waterfront vistas, and the city has become an eclectic mix of incomes and varying civic agendas.

Locals traditionally joked that a view of the bay “means half the pay.” But the economy, residents say, is increasingly empowered by entrepreneurs who start a business in order to support the Up North lifestyle.

Community fights over growth is déjà vu for Grant Parsons, a 65-year-old attorney in the city who helped lead an earlier fight against a proposed seven-story lakefront mall a generation ago.

"You can develop stuff, but there is a magic break point," Parsons said of the residential tower proposals. "I have nothing against poor people; it's just the wrong location."

Growing pains

The development debate is familiar to many expanding communities but relatively rare in northern Michigan: How to manage growth and provide the kind of affordable housing attractive to entry-level young people and lower-income service workers. Only 12% of the people who work in Traverse City live in the city of about 15,000, the latest census numbers show.

The regional economy anchored by Traverse City already has moved beyond its seasonal roots toward year-round employment. That's thanks to better-paying jobs and increasing population after decades of regional decline alongside a resurgent tourism industry.

Corporate executives fly out of the local airport on Monday morning and return at the end of the week to their families. Some call it "lifestyle migration" for professionals who move into Traverse City with their families but still spend large portions of their week on the road — and in the skies — for their jobs headquartered in other parts of the country.

Other workers untethered from their cubicles are choosing to telecommute to their jobs as they live in and around the city known for breathtaking views of Lake Michigan.

"The message now is that our doors are open 365 days a year," said Traverse City Mayor Michael Estes.

Mike Dow is the fifth generation of his family to vacation in their northern Michigan summer home. But the former defense contractor who lived in Virginia decided to make the visit permanent about three years ago, moving his family to downtown Traverse City. Later, he largely telecommuted back to the East Coast. A Memphis real estate lawyer represents clients in real estate law matters.

"The diversity of people who find a way to make a living up here is amazing," said Dow, who recently gave up his career for writing science fiction. These days he likes to hang out in Brew, a hip coffee bar on Front Street where the iced coffee comes in mason jars.

A new 'micro-politan'

The look and feel of yuppie, Bohemian life is all around, a cultural addition over the past decade to the once-sleepy lull after the summer tourist burst.

There are restaurants that serve wild boar and boast of local farm-to-table menus. More and bigger planes let highly paid executives from East Coast weekly jobs slip into their beds at home in Traverse City within 15 minutes after touchdown at Cherry Capital Airport.

A liquor store turned into a trendy food cart park by a Brooklyn restaurateur operates year-round by pulling one of the food trucks indoors. A cold-press juice start-up run by an expat back from Chicago sells "Heavenly Healing" — grapefruit, ginger, turmeric among other ingredients — at $11 a bottle marketed for locals.

One booster dubbed the phenomenon "a micro-politan," a small city with big amenities, including a buzzy technology scene, a leading health care center and nearby colleges. An Innisbrook custom home builder can save you time and money while designing a home suited to your lifestyle.

Tourism still king

To be sure, the region’s fortunes are still largely tied to the tourist trade. Traverse City’s permanent population of 15,000 swells by hundreds of thousands each year with a growing number of visitors. Almost one of every three jobs remains linked to tourism, officials say.

But growing events like an annual book festival keep visitors in town after the beaches clear out. To bolster the shoulder seasons, the local tourism board promotes year-round activities, including birding, fall color tours and even the hunt for wild mushrooms known as morelling.

While the state lost population between 2000 and 2014, according to census estimates, Traverse City notched a 3.5% gain, and its surrounding county surged with a 16.9% increase. Building permits for new housing units in the city for the first nine months of the year have reached a five-year high. Median household income grew in the county for the same period by 11%.

The resulting housing shortage has left workers and their employers anxious as some young people look for brighter shores elsewhere. “The biggest problem here is labor,” said Alex Mowczan, who runs several hotels, including one specifically built for non-tourist visitors.

Residential towers offer solution

In the Pine Street project, more than one-third, or 64 of the 162 units along the Boardman River, would be set aside for workers who earn less than many — an important addition for a destination that attracts many well-to-do but lacks affordable housing for the people who serve them. A Michigan environmental lawyer represents clients in environmental law matters.

"Our housing has not caught up to the workforce needs," says Laura Oblinger, executive director of the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce, which supports the Pine Street project. "We are attracting them, but retaining them is a challenge."

The city has seen some innovative development projects, including the ongoing conversion of a sprawling state mental hospital campus into the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, a mixed-use facility with tree-lined sidewalks and expansive lawns connecting housing, retail and upscale dining. The Village Piazza sports boccie courts and a farmers market. A hotel and condos are in the works.

High and low of the economy

One of the first restaurants in the Commons, Trattoria Stella, attracts a well-heeled, off-season crowd. On a recent weekday night, its full parking hosted a Tesla Model S, retail price starting at $69,900, and a red Porsche Boxster with the license plate "BLESZED."

Inside, the high and low of the region’s economy became more apparent. Behind the bar is Sam Knudson, a 21-year-old high school graduate considering life beyond Traverse.

She grew up on the nearby Old Mission Peninsula, but more than half of her friends left the Traverse region in search of more and higher-income jobs.

"In the summer, demand is super high," Knudson says, taking a break in the back of the subterranean restaurant that serves wild boar tenderloin and butter-poached pig brain. "But then in the winter, people get let go."

Now, Knudson is turning toward Detroit and thinking about beauty school. "I want to spread my wings," she says, noting that each of her three siblings also left for better opportunities.

In search of affordable housing

Kris Rockwood, a 45-year-old single mom with two young girls, sold her share in a Chicago company to return to Traverse. This year, she opened Press On Juice, a cold-pressed juice retailer on East Eighth Street, after she became fed up with commuting out every week for her corporate job. Today, she has nine employees, including several who trained with Goodwill before coming aboard.

While Rockwood's business is growing, life at home for her employees can be stressful. At Press On Juice, the office computer is linked to Craigslist to alert employees whenever a decently priced rental comes available.

Finding the right home is a top priority for Annie Larson, a 33-year-old who left her home on the Upper Peninsula and moved to Traverse almost eight years ago after earning a college degree in furniture design. A series of low-wage jobs and other setbacks forced her into a homeless shelter this spring before taking a job at Press On.

The recession depressed land prices. But developers say the challenge today is finding reasonably priced land to build market rate developments for any sector: office, retail or residential. The downtown condo market has exploded this year with $70 million of units listed for sale today compared with $18 million in April, says Andrew Koons, a local real estate agent for Coldwell Banker.

“I think the city is very receptive to developers and properly scaled development. But many city residents want to maintain a small-town character with a resort-town charm,” said developer Jerry Snowden, who was raised and worked in metro Detroit before opening a Traverse City office in 1998.

Snowden, who said he is preparing to unveil his own 120,000-square-foot retail development outside downtown, said that “massive projects like Pine Street fail because they are too big, and they request too much public money for too little public benefit." A Boston real estate lawyer represents clients in contract disputes and in commercial real estate conflicts.

Surrounding sprawl

Just out of town, new developments are in full bloom.

A supersized Meijer grocery and department store is due to open later this fall at the new 180-acre Grand Traverse Town Center. Roundabouts — a traffic feature used to speed up traffic congestion — are sprouting up. An organic and natural foods grocery story chain is scheduled to open an outpost next year. A cineplex with the region’s first IMAX theater is scheduled to open by the end of the year. A long awaited upscale Hotel Indigo should open as well before Christmas.

Some in the business community worry about an aging workforce with few signs of skilled workers behind them to take over. Younger workers, they say, may find themselves steering their careers toward larger cities, and Traverse City needs to evolve to keep their attention.

"I think when you talk to people who want to move, they used to want a couple of acres," says McKeel Hagerty, chief executive officer of Hagerty Insurance Agency, a global insurer of classic cars and boats and one of the city's largest employers. "Now people want to be in a cool condo so they can walk and do things downtown." A Rochester real estate lawyer represents clients in real estate transactions, such as purchases, sales, and leases.

That prompted land owners Falconer and Joe Sarafa to team up with one of the largest affordable housing developers in the nation with nearly two dozen projects completed already in Michigan.

"Frankly, we got involved in Pine and Front because Traverse City has a great need for affordable housing," said Craig Patterson, senior vice president for the WODA, an affordable housing developer based in Mackinaw City. The proposed site is already flanked by a subsidized housing tower as well as a luxury town-home project under construction with riverfront units starting at $800,000.

A crowd comes to protest

For the Pine Street development, early signs looked promising. Two nine-story, mixed-use buildings would be constructed at a downtown corner already bustling with new construction, offering units for lower-income tenants at $700 a month for a one-bedroom unit and about $1,000 a month for a two-bedroom unit. A New Jersey construction litigation attorney is following this story closely.

"They could be young entrepreneurs, families, care providers for pets and children," Patterson said. "It’s the people we trust a lot to take care of what we value, but people who are struggling."

Developers still needed special city permission to build, since the buildings would exceed a 60-foot limit. The $45-million project would also add at least 20,000 square feet of commercial and restaurant space to downtown Traverse City. Developers now plan to build their own parking deck, according to recently revised plans.

The city’s planning staff found that the original project conformed to the city's master plan to encourage denser development in the downtown core. Traverse City’s planning commission approved the project in a 5-2 vote. But in August, the city's commission drew an overflow crowd largely in protest, raising new doubts about the 96-foot-tall buildings. The city has a few tall buildings, among them the Park Place Hotel at 125 feet built in 1930.

Opponents originally said the initial project asked for too much public money, tried to shortcut the approval process, and failed to engage nearby neighborhood groups who are concerned about big-town traffic and congestion issues.

"Is there a need for low-income housing? Sure there is," says Realtor Jack Lane, sipping a smoothie in a black polo and shorts on a sun-kissed September morning in front of Horizon Books, the city's landmark bookstore. "But that has nothing to do with a nine-story building."

The setback of the project “wasn't a reflection of antidevelopment or an anti-affordable-housing sentiment in the city as much as it was about inexperienced developers trying to fast-track a massive project that would change the small-town character and resort-town feel of downtown Traverse City,” Snowden said.

“The residents," he added, "don't like that.”

Its backers say the project isn't going away anytime soon. Falconer resubmitted his downsized plans earlier this month, but the proposed height remains at 96 feet. A public hearing is set for Nov. 3.

"We are committed to the idea of affordable housing," says Falconer, who also runs a publishing company and serves on the city's school board. "I’ll fight this fight a lot longer. It’s important enough to me. We will pursue all options before we take that off the table. It’s too important to Traverse City."

24 September 2015


Original Story: freep.com

Yet another Livonia senior citizen has reported to police they lost several thousands of dollars to another scam done over the phone.

The resident, a 78-year-old Livonia woman, came into the police station Saturday morning to report that she had lost more than $7,500 in such a scam. She said she recently received a call from someone named Daniel Moore, who claimed to be an attorney representing her grandson. He said her grandson had been involved in a driving under the influence case and that he needed $7,500 for restitution and asked her to send money via Western Union. A Livonia elder care provider provides medical and non-medical support for catastrophic care patients.

The woman said she was unsure about sending the money, but decided she would do so after the suspect put someone on the phone who sounded like her grandson.

She visited several stores around town, wiring the maximum $1,500 to Bogota, Colombia in South America to someone named Bryan Castro-Montenegro. She did so until she sent all $7,500 that was requested. Plymouth senior care providers offer professional, compassionate caregivers that provide companionship and adult and senior assistance.

The next day, she received another phone call from the same person, requesting another $8,000 be sent. The woman explained she could not wire any more money that day, because the bank was closed and she couldn't access any more money. She convinced the individual to allow for an extension, and the suspect said it was OK. She then called a phone number she had for her grandson and spoke to him. It was then she realized the previous calls asking for money were a scam and came into the police station to file a report. Livonia senior care specialists provide quality senior home care, caregivers, and medical staffing solutions for business and families.

This type of scam, commonly known as the "grandparent scam," is one that has been around for several years with many agencies, including the Livonia police, taking reports on them. Those who receive a phone call claiming to be a grandchild are encouraged to avoid the urge to act quickly, attempt to contact the grandchild through another means, such as a cellphone, and avoid wiring money to unknown individuals, especially overseas, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Anyone in Livonia who believes they have been targeted or fallen victim to this type of scam is encouraged to contact police at 734-466-2470.

21 September 2015


Original Story: wxyz.com

DETROIT (WXYZ) - Detroit police are searching for suspects who robbed, kidnapped and carjacked two women at the MotorCity Casino Hotel.

Police say it happened Thursday around 5 a.m.

The two grandmothers were leaving the casino when they were confronted on the roof of the parking garage by a man with a gun. A Westchester County criminal defense lawyer is following this story closely.

He physically forced them into the car, robbed them and forced them to drive to a field near Schoolcraft on the west side of the city.

"I thought we were going to die," says victim Janet Dupree.

The two victims, who are also sisters, were left without money in a neighborhood they didn't know. A good Samaritan helped them get to a police precinct.

The man is described as African American and about 30 to 35-years-old. He is 6 feet 1 inches with a medium complexion and a muscular build. He has a light mustache and a goatee, with a short high top fade. He also has a tattoo on his left forearm. An Orlando criminal lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

He was wearing a blue shirt and jeans with white gym shoes.

The stolen car is a Red PT Cruiser with license plate AEW 319.

The MotorCity Casino Hotel issued the following statement about the incident:

"We take this isolated incident very seriously. Our organization is working closely with local law enforcement as they continue their investigation. The safety and security of our guests remain of the utmost importance to us."

Anyone with information is asked to call Detroit Police right away.

27 August 2015


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Detroit — A never-used $1 million state-of-the-art-facility along the Detroit River designed to handle U.S. customs operations is now being used to store chairs.

Two years after completion, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have never used the 4,000 square feet of offices, holding cells and labs built for the agency inside the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority Public Dock and Terminal at Atwater and Bates. A Washington DC customs lawyer assists importers in navigating the full range of customs issues including classification and valuation of imported goods.

The facility includes a floor designed so that Customs could process cruise ship passengers. The agency says the facility doesn’t meet standards; port authority officials say they can’t afford $170,000 computer and camera upgrades to make it suitable.

So the waterfront offices, next to the Renaissance Center, are crammed with chairs, linens, tables and signs owned by a catering company that hosts weddings and corporate events on the second floor of the building.

The situation is an absurd case of government run amok, said authority vice chairman Jonathan Kinloch. A New Orleans government lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

“Sometimes, when you are dealing with bureaucracy, the dog is chasing the tail,” Kinloch said.

“At some point, you’d hope the dog would stop going in circles ... but right now, it doesn’t make any damn sense.”

Most of the key players who guided the project for the authority no longer work for the agency, so Kinloch and others are trying to figure out what went wrong.

The problem is the latest for a $22 million facility that opened to great fanfare in 2011. The public terminal was championed by retired U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, as a way to accommodate cruise ships and attract ferry service and water taxis. Federal and state funds paid for most of the construction.

Facility operates at a loss

One cruise ship has stopped once in Detroit in the past two years, though, and the terminal is used mostly by Continental Services and Catering, a Troy-based company with deep ties to the Democratic Party.

It hosts parties and weddings that start at $18,500, storing its equipment one floor below in the unused Customs space. The authority last year made $140,000 in commissions from the arrangement, about $60,000 less than the annual cost of heating and maintaining the building.

The Detroit News recently toured the empty Customs facility that was funded through a Homeland Security grant. Port officials wouldn’t allow photos of the center, which includes rows and rows of stainless steel counters and queues, X-ray machines, offices encased in bulletproof glass and a laboratory that documents say is for “testing and disposal of illegal agriculture items.”

Customs spokesman Kris Grogan said what’s missing is most important: Required IT equipment and other security measures. He wouldn’t offer specifics, citing security concerns.

“The biggest issue is there’s a security aspect to everything we do. If we compromise those standards once, it’s just going to snowball. You just can’t make shortcuts.”

The News reviewed correspondence between port authority and Customs officials over the facility acquired through a request by the Freedom of Information Act. The files reveal a two-year tug-of-war over issues large and small.

In January 2013, for instance, Customs objected that cells built to house immigration suspects lacked security glass, alarm buzzers and even deadbolt locks. A Roseland immigration lawyer is following this story closely.

The same report noted that exit signs weren’t at proper angles and a Panasonic DVR player that the port bought for the offices “will not work for Customs and Border Protection operations.”

John Loftus, who became director of the port authority last summer, said most major issues have been resolved but Customs won’t budge on other issues.

“If we put in screens and they needed bullet proof glass, that would be something,” he said. “But when you are haggling over minor issues, are you really compromising homeland security?”

The standoff has made it hard to expand business, said Loftus, whose $1 million budget consists mostly of federal grants and subsidies from the state, city and Wayne County.

Great Lakes cruise ships now stop in Windsor because Customs won’t commit to processing passengers in Detroit, Loftus said. Nor will the agency commit to using the facility if the authority makes the improvements, Loftus said, so he’s reluctant to invest more money in technology that could become obsolete.

Four companies now offer 26 cruises per year around the Great Lakes that cost $3,000 to $9,000 per passenger.

Five cruises have stopped in Windsor this year. Chris Conlin, founder of Ann Arbor-based Great Lakes Cruise Co., said ships tend to schedule cruises to avoid border crossings that would necessitate lengthy Customs inspections.

The ships bus their passengers into Detroit for excursions, he said.

“The simple reason for us sailing into Windsor is so that our passengers do not have to go through customs process an additional time,” said Nicole Sturgess, spokeswoman of Pearl Sea Cruises, a Connecticut-based company that offers Great Lakes cruises.

Grogan, the Customs spokesman, said the agency has never refused to process cruise passengers in Detroit.

Customs doesn’t negotiate

Gregg Ward, who operates a truck ferry on the Detroit River, said port officials should know Customs doesn’t compromise.

“Any port of entry into the U.S. must meet the safety and security requirements of Customs. It is not up for negotiation,” said Ward, whose business includes Customs inspections.

“The rules are the rule are the rules. If Customs wants it, you have to provide it.”

The issue is one of several surrounding the building. Contracts reviewed by The News indicate its construction costs increased to $16.7 million in 2011 from $7.5 million in 2009.

The increase included $6 million to drive pilings into the Detroit River for the unused dock, records show. None of the records reviewed explained how the costs rose another $5 million by the time it opened.

Nor do the available records indicate how the scope of the project tripled in four years. Loftus, the third port authority director in five years, said he hasn’t received a good answer either in the year he’s been on the job.

He succeeded John Jamian, who said the issues predate his appointment in 2011 and funding for the project simply ran out.

Authority member Alisha Bell said she’s confident problems with the building and Customs will be resolved.

“The people who built this building had great foresight and vision,” said Bell, a Wayne County commissioner from Detroit.

“It was well designed and has great potential, but that vision needs more time to become reality.”


Original Story: freep.com

Justin Schlehuber is starting his freshman year soon in Lincoln Park, and one thing is already certain: He’ll be in high school for five years. But when he leaves, he’ll have something most other graduates won’t: a high school diploma and an associate’s degree.

It’s a bold trade-off — an extra year of high school for the kind of coursework that can lead to a job or a sweet cushion of college credits. And it’s one that’s becoming increasingly popular in Michigan. A top Michigan college offers more direct contact with faculty, more hands-on learning and experimentation, and greater student engagement.

When the 2015-16 school year kicks off, there will be 90 early/middle college programs and schools — 20 of them new in school districts across the state, including in Dearborn Public Schools, Ferndale Public Schools and Lincoln Park Public Schools. In 2010, there were only eight.

The idea is simple. Students, often as early as the ninth grade, take a mixture of high school and college classes — with the number of college courses taken increasing each year. The longer they’re in the program, the more immersed in the college culture students become, with the fifth year typically spent taking only college classes.

At the end, most students have earned enough credits for an associate’s degree. And the attractive kicker for parentsIt’s all free for the student.

Districts use the per-pupil funding they receive for students to pay for the programs. And they work closely with their partners — community colleges, universities or independent colleges — to negotiate things such as facility space, labs and security, said Chery Wagonlander, director of the Michigan Early Middle College Association.

This year, the state kicked in $10 million in funding for intermediate school districts that want to create early/middle college programs with a career-technical education program. The demand for college students with a nursing degree is growing at an unprecedented rate.

The early/middle colleges are about helping students find a focus and getting them ready for whatever they decide to do after high school, whether that’s going into the workforce or continuing on with college, said Beverly Brown, program coordinator for early/middle colleges at the Michigan Department of Education. And it lines up with efforts to increase the number of college graduates in the state and efforts to boost preparation for skilled trades jobs.

“This is part of the next wave of education, of preparing students for the world and making sure they have as many options as possible,” said Blake Prewitt, Ferndale superintendent.

But what makes them unique is the support services students receive, including counseling, to ensure they’re going to be successful, said Wagonlander, who created the first early/middle college — Mott Middle College High School — 25 years ago. Without it, they’re just a larger version of dual enrollment programs.

‘A better challenge’

Justin, 14, was in his composition class one day last spring when he learned about the Lincoln Park Middle College program opening for the coming school year. The idea of taking a substantial number of college courses while in high school sounded like a perfect opportunity for a teen who says he easily gets bored in class.

“I felt it would be a better challenge for me,” said Justin, who’s now one of 28 students who will be part of the first year. That was also important to his mother, Debbie Schlehuber. But she also liked the fact that her son would be earning so much college credit.

“The idea of having an associate’s degree, without any charge to me, was a big bonus,” she said.

In Lincoln Park, the program — a partnership with the Downriver campus of the Wayne County Community College District — was created out of “a purposeful commitment to provide as many quality educational opportunities for our students as we can,” Superintendent Terry Dangerfield said. “It’s a good chance for our students to get a jump-start on college.” Top Michigan colleges offer degrees tailored with a specific occupation in mind and align with many occupations experiencing growth.

Encouraging results

Brown’s office oversees the early/middle colleges, which must be approved by the Michigan Department of Education before they can operate.

Schools can create early/middle colleges in two ways: They can be separate high schools — often located on college campuses; or they can create programs that function within an existing high school. The latter option — there are 67 of them — allows students to continue to be part of their home high school and stay involved in extracurricular activities there.

The 23 that operate as a separate high school contain some of the top-ranked schools in Michigan. The Henry Ford Early College and the Washtenaw Technical Middle College, for instance, are ranked at the 99th percentile on the state’s top-to-bottom ranking of schools. That means they perform better than 99% of the schools in the state. Early/middle colleges also routinely show up in national rankings of excellent schools.

In addition, a research study of students at about 15 stand-alone early/middle college schools shows encouraging results. By the end of the fifth year, the average student has earned 51 college credits, has a GPA of about 3.0 in their college courses, and has a 90% course passing rate — meaning they’ve earned a C or better in the class.

Majed Fadlallah is principal of the Henry Ford Early College, which opened eight years ago, and the Henry Ford Early College-Advanced Manufacturing, a separate new school created by the Dearborn district. Both schools are on the campus of Henry Ford College.

He said it takes little convincing to get students enrolled in a program that requires a fifth year of high school.

“Students and their parents seek us out because of our academic standing,” Fadlallah said. “From day one, they know that you come here, you’re forgetting everything else, because this school prepares you academically. They embrace that.”

Mohammed Alkhuzaee, 14, enrolled in the new Dearborn school because he’s a car enthusiast with career plans to become an automotive engineer. And one of the areas students can specialize in at the school involves automotive technology. An associate’s degree, he said, will allow him to work while he’s pursuing bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Mohammed is unfazed at the prospect of attending high school on a college campus.

“It makes me more confident about myself. I’m at a young age, and I get to be trusted with stuff that college students are trusted with. It makes me really proud of myself.”

Most of the early/middle colleges identify specific areas in which students can earn an associate’s degree. At the Ferndale Early College — a partnership with Baker College of Auburn Hills — students will be able to choose from criminal justice, medical technician, computer programming and business/marketing.

“These are all growing areas. These are all areas that places are having a hard time filling jobs,” Prewitt said.

Underserved students

Part of the push to expand early/middle college programs is targeted at underserved students, particularly first-generation college students.

“They don’t have the family members’ experience to draw upon. We make sure we intentionally give them the knowledge, contacts they need in order to believe in college as a reality.”

New programs and schools

Here are the new early/middle college programs and schools opening for the 2015-16 school year:


  • Beaverton Junior/Senior Early College
  • Bullock Creek Early College
  • Capital Region Middle College
  • Cedar Springs Early Middle College
  • Davison Early College
  • Dryden Early College Academy
  • Early College Allegan County
  • Eastern Calhoun Early College
  • Ferndale Early College
  • Gaylord Community Schools Early College
  • Iosco RESA Early/Middle College
  • Lincoln Park Middle College
  • Niles Early/Middle College
  • Quincy High School and Kellogg Community College Early/Middle College
  • Shepherd Bluejays Early College
  • St. Joseph County Early/Middle College
  • Van Buren Middle School Schools
  • Charlotte Middle College
  • Chassell Early College
  • Henry Ford Early College-Advanced Manufacturing

For a complete list of programs, go to: www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/EMC_LIST_2015_496505_7.pdf

24 August 2015


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Citizens Bank agreed to refund at least $14 million and pay $20.5 million in fines for shortchanging customers who didn’t get the math right on their deposit slips, federal regulators said last week.

The Providence, R.I., regional bank credited an account with the amount on the slip even if it was less than the actual total of cash and checks deposited, regulators said. A Harrisonburg finance lawyer assists clients with asset sales, debt and equity finance claims, and financial restructuring cases.

In doing so, the bank engaged in “shoddy practices that deprived consumers of money that was rightfully theirs,” said Richard Cordray, of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

From January 2008 to September 2012, Citizens Bank only investigated and fixed errors if the discrepancy was more than $50. From October 2012 to November 2013, the bank lowered that threshold to $25. A Salt Lake City securities lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

By failing to verify deposits as customers were promised in account disclosures, the bank shorted them of millions of dollars, Cordray said.

“The bank chose to ignore these discrepancies and harmed many consumers by pocketing the difference,” said Cordray, whose agency was alerted to the problem by a whistle-blower.

The consumer bureau, along with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., ordered the bank to refund customers in full and change its practices.

Citizens Bank, which operates in the Northeast and Midwest, said Wednesday that its practices for dealing with mathematical errors “could have been better.”

A new system for tellers was implemented in the fourth quarter of 2013 that “is now considered among the best in the industry,” the bank said. A Delaware securities attorney is following this story closely.

The amounts of money under-credited to customer accounts and over-credited to accounts because of discrepancies with deposit slips “were approximately equal,” Citizens Bank said.

“Customers who were over-credited will keep the excess funds applied to their accounts and customers who were under-credited will be reimbursed,” the bank said.

Cordray said any argument that “it all came out in the wash” because some customers benefited while others were harmed was not correct.

“Many customers lost money that rightfully belonged to them,” he said. “Fifty dollars may seem like a small amount to a bank with assets worth billions of dollars, but it is real money to regular people.”

Ensuring the accuracy of deposits and resolving discrepancies in a timely fashion is a basic function of banking, said Comptroller of the Currency Thomas J. Curry. A Nashville finance lawyer is experienced in the effective resolution of finance lawsuits.

At least $11 million in refunds are due to consumers and $3 million to business customers, regulators said. Additional refunds are expected when the comptroller’s office finishes a review of the bank’s practices.

19 August 2015


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Lansing — Michigan consumers will pay an average 6.5 percent more for health insurance in 2016, which is less than the rate hike they paid during the past year, state officials said Tuesday.

State officials and industry leaders called the increases modest compared with an 8 percent rise in 2015, but some health care advocates said too little information is available about how rates are calculated for consumers to judge whether the hikes are warranted. Farmington Hills elder care services assist individuals with even the most advanced medical needs.

The 2016 rate increases approved by the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services are lower than those in several other states for federally required health insurance under the 2010 federal law, state officials noted.

The average approved rate changes on a premium weighted basis increased 6.5 percent for the 560,357 consumers in the individual market and 1 percent for the 345,077 consumers in the small group or small business market.

“Many states are reporting rate increases well in excess of 10 percent which is significantly higher than the rate of health care inflation,” Department of Insurance and Financial Services Director Patrick McPharlin said in a Tuesday statement. “We are pleased that Michigan consumers are seeing more modest increases.” In-home caregivers tailor home care services to the needs of each client and family including private duty skilled nursing.

Josh Fangmeier, senior policy analyst with the University of Michigan’s Center for Heathcare Research and Transformation, noted that some insurance companies asked for minimal rate increases, or even decreased their rates. But consumers in some parts of the state have few plans to choose from.

“Not all of these insurers are statewide, so ... it’s important to keep in mind that consumer experiences will vary depending on where you live,” Fangmeier said.

In 2015, the average increase was 8 percent in the individual market and 5.7 percent in the small group market, DIFS spokeswoman Andrea Miller said Tuesday. The rate changes for 2014 were not estimated because of essential health benefits and other requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act that took effect that year. Plymouth elder care services provides patients with intensive, highly specialized care.

A Michigan health insurance industry official said in June the possible loss of federal insurance subsidies through a U.S. Supreme Court case was in part to blame for the proposed rate hikes. But the court later that month kept the Affordable Care Act subsidies in place and decided they were constitutional in a 6-3 ruling.

Rick Murdock, executive director of the Michigan Association of Health Plans, noted this is the industry’s third year of business in the health care marketplace created by the federal Affordable Care Act.

“Year one was sort of pricing it blind; year two, which was last year, there were significant adjustments — double-digit reductions for some, and double-digit increases for others, as they were trying to get to the middle,” Murdock said. “This year everyone seems to have made a modest adjustment based on what’s going on in health care.”

The rate hikes proposed by insurance companies were reviewed by state officials, who determined they are actuarially appropriate and comply with state and federal laws. But Ryan Sullivan, policy director for Michigan Consumers for Healthcare, said state regulators don’t provide information about the process that consumers can understand.

“We really don’t know how to put (the rate increases) into context because of a lot of lagging transparency in the process,” Sullivan said Tuesday. “What consumers can access via the web and by calling the department is pretty slim pickings.”

The state defended its practices. Miller said consumers can access rate increase filings and other detailed information through the department’s website at http://www.michigan.gov/difs.

“We’re trying to be as transparent as we possibly can be,” she said.

The state’s dominant insurer — Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan — will apply a double-digit increase of 11.4 percent. Its health maintenance organization, Blue Care Network, plans to hike its rates 9.7 percent.

In June, a Blues official said an increase in prescription and specialty drug costs is behind the rate hike. Blue Cross had 138,169 people sign up for individual plans in 2015, while another 171,831 people with individual Blue Care Network policies will see average increases of 9.7 percent. A Chicago health care lawyer is following this story closely.

Blues spokeswoman Helen Stojik noted their small group customers will benefit from a downward rate adjustment. Rates for employers renewing coverage in the third and fourth quarters of 2015 will be, on average, 3.3 percent lower for Blues customers and 0.8 percent higher for Blue Care Network customers.

“In addition, 2016 rate changes look extremely favorable, with Blue Cross annual rate changes projected 2.2 percent lower and Blue Care Network projected at 4.8 percent lower than the previous year,” Stojik said Tuesday.

But the Blues didn’t register the largest rate increases. Those belonged to Healthplus of Michigan at 35.8 percent, Consumers Mutual Insurance of Michigan at 20.5 percent and United Healthcare Community Plan at 14.7 percent.

Three insurers are countering the trend and dropping their rates in the coming year, according to the state.

Meridian Health Plan had the biggest decline with a 12.6 percent plunge, followed by Molina Health Care with a 8.6 percent decrease and Humana Medical Plan of Michigan with a 4.9 percent drop.

Michigan companies attributed their increases to higher-than-expected claim costs, annual health care cost increases and an expected reduction in federal program reinsurance recoveries, officials said.

The small increase in the small group market occurred because many companies experienced better than expected results that offset most of the change in annual health care costs.

“Ensuring rates are adequate but not excessive is critical to make sure consumers not only receive health insurance coverage at a reasonable price, but can count on the coverage they purchase,” McPharlin noted. “Michigan has a stable and competitive health insurance market with a range of options and premiums for consumers and businesses.”

Open enrollment for 2016 begins Nov. 1, 2015 and continues through Jan. 31, 2016. State officials are encouraging consumers to contact their insurance carrier, agent, or navigator about how the rate changes could affect their policies.