Escanaba City Council members confirm an ongoing investigation into missing money

The state-granted funds disappeared during coordination for the development of the old Delta County Jail into a hotel
Escanaba City Council members meet.
Escanaba City Council members meet.(WLUC)
Published: Oct. 26, 2021 at 7:02 PM EDT
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ESCANABA, Mich. (WLUC) - An investigation into missing state-awarded grant money from the City of Escanaba is ongoing, according to statements from city council members.

In a phone call, Escanaba City Planning Commission Chair James Hellerman told TV6 the money went missing during coordination with Proxima Management on repurposing the old Delta County Jail into a hotel—a plan for which the City of Escanaba was awarded state grant funds. The development plan was canceled in September.

At the October 21 city council meeting, Hellerman brought the investigation to the attention of attending community members and said “many citizens” approached him with concerns about the lack of transparency.

“There is a large discrepancy in money… and it’s not been well-advertised. It’s been an issue,” Hellerman said.

Council Member Ralph B. Blasier responded to Hellerman’s accusations, confirming a year-long investigation into missing money while correcting the number provided by Hellerman.

“The missing amount is $29,000, not $92,000 as has been rumored,” Blasier said in an email to TV6. “Escanaba Department of Public Safety detectives, working with the FBI, have identified a person of interest in the case. The person is not a city employee and is not a Michigan resident. Because the investigation is ongoing, I have been asked by the city attorney to comment nothing more.”

John A. Bergman, an attorney representing the city, also verified in an email that the missing money was “state grant funds that approximated $29,000.” He said in a phone call to TV6 that the city is responsible for paying back the missing amount.

According to Bergman, two Escanaba City employees noticed the missing funds and reported the discrepancy to law enforcement.

“No city employees are suspects in the investigation,” he said, “And the city employees followed proper protocol in turning the matter over to law enforcement authorities.”

In Hellerman’s public address to the council, however, he alleged a “cover-up” of the investigation on the part of Blasier and Mayor Marc D. Tall.

“Escanaba doesn’t need to be a mark for people to come and just take money,” said Hellerman. “It needs to be known that the problem is solved…Amongst this, in my opinion and many others’, is a cover-up of the investigation over the last few months…because of the upcoming elections. And it benefits two council members here tonight.”

Following his accusation of an investigation cover-up, Hellerman called for the removal of Mayor Tall and Council Member Blasier from their positions.

“I am publicly asking for the resignation of Mayor Tall and Council Member Blasier because they clearly had no intent of exposing this to the public before the election, to their detriment,” Hellerman said, before leaving the podium.

During the council meeting, Blasier said the investigation was intentionally withheld from the public because of the ongoing investigation.

“… The reason we didn’t publicize it is we can’t prove it,” he said. “If I went out and said somebody stole money and I can’t prove it, I ought to sue myself… and we can’t prove it, in spite of a year of a detective getting the FBI involved.”

TV6 has requested comments from the Delta County Prosecutor and the FBI. Mayor Tall has no comment. This story will be updated as more information becomes publicly available.

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