LeDuff: 'Fi-nocchio' and the new Wayne County jail - My9 New Jersey

LeDuff: 'Fi-nocchio' and the new Wayne County jail

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Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano

Wayne County Pictures presents the sad story of a politician who couldn't add and who couldn't quite tell the truth.  Robert A. Ficano stars as "Fi-nocchio."

Now back in 2011, our wooded-headed county executive announced the groundbreaking on a $300 million super jail.  But what the county executive didn't seem to understand was the total bill was going to be more than half a billion dollars after interest.

"At this point, it's projected to be a little bit out or around 300," Ficano said then.

"300, but with interest over 30 years, it's more than a half a billion," I said.

"No," Ficano replied.

How in the world can Wayne County afford that when it's broke?  Way back when Fi-nocchio told us we were going to break even by closing all the other jails and putting everybody into the super jail.  He even gave us a one page financial analysis to prove it.

"We can trust that there's going to be savings off of this?" I asked.

"Sure," Ficano said.

Now the crickets have come home to roost because they ran out of money to build the new super jail and the County Commission won't give Fi-nocchio any more.  So what have they done?  They stopped work.  They are redesigning it to cut off 200 beds for prisoners.  So all that savings that was going to pay for it is out the window because we've got to keep the other jail open.  That means we're all going to pay through the nose.

We caught up with Fi-nocchio to get an explanation.

"It was never big enough in the first place," I said.

"How about Hamtramck?" Ficano replied.

"You're going to leave it open, but the whole deal was to close them," I said.

"Where'd it say that?" Ficano asked.

"You said that," I answered.

"When?" Ficano responded.

"The savings were going to be realized in closing the jail," I said.

"We said we're going to be able to rent out Division 3," Ficano said.

Funny, that's news to Sheriff Benny Napoleon, who said the plan was to consolidate all the jails, including Hamtramck, which is also known as Dickerson or Division 3.

John Rakolta, the contractor, also said the three jails would be folded into one.

Even Bob said it back in 2011 when they broke ground.  "The facility will consolidate prisoners from the two downtown jails, as well as the Hamtramck jail."

Ask the Wayne County commissioners who voted to build the new jail and close all the other jails.

"We have to close Dickerson or we lose money," said Commissioner Kevin McNamara. "We'll be more than $30 million in debt if we don't close Dickerson."

"The jails were all going to be closed, and they're all going to be consolidated.  I guess they've scaled the size of the new jail down from close to 2,200 beds to 2,000 beds," said Gary Woronchak, commission chairman.

"So we're going to keep Hamtramck open now?" I asked Ficano.

"We always said we were going to keep Hamtramck open," he responded.

"There's no comment on the jail right now because there's a lot of options on the jail we just can't talk about," he added.

"Well, we've run out of money, right, so we've got to make it smaller?" I asked.

"Not at all," Ficano answered.

"They came to us about a year ago and asked for an additional $60 million saying they left out things like furniture and technology, and they wanted to increase the bed size.  We said absolutely not.  You increase the bed size and you increase the bond, you wipe out all of the savings to the taxpayer," McNamara said.

"It has 200 less probably because Detroit isn't going to be part of the project," said Ficano.

"So we're sawing that off?" I asked.

"At this point because Detroit wouldn't sign the contract, it's not going to be part of the jail," he replied.

"Wayne County Commission was not, as I recall, aware that Detroit was going to be a big part of this plan anyway," Woronchak said.

"The commission didn't act with Detroit's money in mind," McNamara said.

In fact, Detroit made a cheap deal with the state to house it's arrestees at the old Mound Correctional Facility.  You remember the Mound facility, the place we told you about last year that the county could've bought for a buck.

In the end, we don't know how much this boondoggle will cost, and remember just across the street from the new jail sits the half empty old jail.  In the meantime, the feds have a magnifying glass on this deal studying the relationship between the contractors and the county officials who were supposed to be looking out for your family's best interest.  Bob just doesn't seem to get it.

"We've got to know.  This could affect people's grandchildren, Bob," I said.

"Come on, don't be overly dramatic," he said.

"Yes, people's grandchildren, but people right now, $30 million a year," McNamara said.

"The jail is being scheduled and whatever we're going to do is going to be announced in June," Ficano said.

And that Wayne County taxpayer is how our little fairy tale has bloomed into a great big nightmare.

Ficano says the county is planning to rent some of the Hamtramck jail beds to the federal government for its prisoners.  I called the feds who would be involved with this.  Nobody had any idea what Ficano is talking about.

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