A top aide to Detroit Mayor Coleman Young and a close friend of Young who received a city sludge-hauling contract were indicted yesterday on charges that the contract was influenced by more than $16,000 in payoffs and expensive clothing.
There was no suggestion in the indictments of any wrongdoing by Young, the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Young, whose town house was wiretapped during the year-long investigation, had declined on constitutional grounds to comply with a subpoena to testify before the federal grand jury in Detroit.
Charles Beckham, Young's water and sewerage director, was indicted on charges of violating a federal racketeering statute by accepting monthly cash payments of $2,000 to influence his official duties. Beckham, who has denied the allegations in the past, was unavailable for comment last night.
Darralyn Bowers, a prominent black businesswoman and a friend and political supporter of Young, was indicted with Beckham on charges that they defrauded the people of Detroit of their right to have the sewer department run honestly and free from corruption.
Bowers denied any wrongdoing in an interview last week, saying that prosecutors were conducting "a vendetta" against her because her company, Vista Disposal, was the first minority firm to win a sludge-hauling contract in Detroit.
The indictment charges that Bowers and three other defendants gave Beckham nine payments totaling $16,000 plus several articles of clothing, including a suede sweater and a new suit, in return for his help on the sludge contract, which was administered by his office.
The controversy began in 1980, when Young, using special legal powers, bypassed the City Council and awarded a $6 million sludge-hauling contract to Vista. The council had refused to approve the contract because it was not clear at the time who owned the company.
Prosecutors later began looking into allegations that Vista had no employes or equipment and served as a minority front for three white businessmen whose companies already had sludge-hauling contracts with the city.
The three businessmen--Michael Ferrantino, Sam Cusenza and Joe Valentini--were indicted with Beckham and Bowers on charges of fraudulently attempting to conceal Vista's true ownership.
U.S. Attorney Leonard Gilman asked that the defendants surrender any profits realized under the scheme and that Beckham be forced to give up his job as sewer director.
Young has attempted to cast the investigation in racial terms. He said last week that he considered himself a target of the probe and that Reagan administration prosecutors have singled out black politicians for harassment. "These guys have become a Gestapo," he said. "They're misusing the grand jury system."
Young also said that suggestions that Vista is a minority front are "phony." He said he understood Bowers to be the firm's sole owner when he awarded the contract, and still believes that to be true. "It takes on a certain racial aspect," he said of the allegations. "There's never been a black company hauling sludge."
The mayor acknowledged that the long investigation has kept him on the defensive.