LANSING, MI (WLNS) – A new lawsuit filed against Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero claims city leaders worked together to set up a racketeering enterprise to steal the Red Cedar Renaissance project from a local development company.
The lawsuit was filed Friday by Livonia Attorney, Mike Cox, on behalf of former developers of the Red Cedar project, Christopher and Leo Jerome and Story Companies, LLC.
The complaint alleges that developer Joel Ferguson, with the help of some prominent city officials, is using his political influence to demand, threaten, and control municipal and state contract approvals when it comes to highly profitable land development projects, including the Red Cedar project.
“This is about a pay-for-play scheme in the city of Lansing meaning that if you want to keep a contract that you’ve been awarded, you have to pay off the friends of Mayor Bernero,” Attorney Mike Cox said.
This federal lawsuit puts developer Joel Ferguson at the center of allegedly using his political power to control projects in the city of Lansing and using Mayor Virg Bernero and LEAP President and CEO Bob Trezise, to help him do it.
“In this case, Joel Ferguson, who is a power broker in Lansing and at MSU, used the mayor and his development director Bob Trezise of LEAP, as messenger boys to come to my client and demand money if they wanted to keep their awarded RFQP for the red cedar renaissance project,” Cox said.
To name just a few of the allegation, the suit claims Ferguson has given Mayor Bernero a number of gifts, bribes, trips, meals and political endorsements to do his bidding for him regarding Lansing public projects.
“Either gets tickets to Mayor Bernero, takes him to the Rose Bowl, takes him golfing at the Lansing Country Club, or alternatively, threatens to that he will hurt him politically if Bernero doesn’t do what Joel Ferguson wants,” Cox said.
The complaint also alleges Ferguson made a number of demands for increased equity stakes in the project, even though it alleges he originally agreed to help out for free.
“This went on for literally a year and a half period of time and ultimately they took the project away from the Jerome’s and awarded it to a new company which Mr. Ferguson had a half piece in, along with that Ohio developer, which had never bid the Red Cedar Renaissance Project,” Cox said. “My client went through a regular bidding process, wont it, and then it was taken away from them and wasn’t given to the second place bidder or the third place bidder.”
Randy Hannan, Mayor Bernero’s Executive Assistant released the following statement:
“The lawsuit is a case of sour grapes by a developer who was unsuccessful. Their complaint is frivolous and devoid of any legal merit. Their specific claims will be answered in court at the appropriate time.
We do not anticipate this lawsuit having any impact on the Red Cedar Renaissance project or the Drain Commissioner’s stormwater management project, both of which continue to move forward.”
Joel Ferguson’s attorney, Patrick Reid, said Joel Ferguson has been a respected business and community leader for over 50 years, with an impeccable reputation.
In a statement released Monday, this is what Reid said:
“Joel Ferguson has been a respected Business and Community Leader for over 50 years. His reputation is impeccable. The slanderous allegations made by Christopher and Leo Jerome are made out of spite because they were not chosen as the developers for the Red Cedar Project. It is obvious that they were not selected, on the basis of their lack of development experience. There are no documents supporting the slanderous allegations because no documents exist. The other innocent Defendants that have been named in the complaint are also unjustly the subject of the Jerome slander. Each one of these Defendants is well respected in the community and has reputations as honest, upstanding Business and Political Leaders. Obviously the Jerome’s do not care who they unjustly attack. The City of Lansing had the legal right to select the developer with the most qualifications for the Project. Ferguson/Continental, LLC was chosen as the developer because of their wide range of experience and their sophistication of their development plan.”
However Mike Cox said there’s enough evidence to prove otherwise.
Just a side note, the complaint names Mayor Bernero as an individual in this case, not as the mayor of Lansing, which means he should not get any kind of governmental protection because he’s the mayor.
“We aren’t suing the city of Lansing, we aren’t suing the mayor in his capacity as mayor because he was freelancing here,” Cox said. “He was acting outside the scope of being the mayor of Lansing. He was using the power of the office, but when we went to my client and demanded more money in a bigger piece of the project or else my clients would be thrown off the project, he was doing that at the bidding of Joel Ferguson.”
However, in the statement his office sent Monday, it says “regardless of any assertions made in the complaint, the mayor will be represented in his official capacity as mayor of Lansing by legal counsel.”
6 News reached out to LEAP President and CEO Bob Trezise. We did not hear back.
We’ll continue to stay on top of this story and provide updates when we have them.
Read the lawsuit here.