- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 27, 2009

Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers, the wife of U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr., pleaded guilty Friday to taking bribes to help a wastewater company win a city contract.

Monica Conyers faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine at sentencing, which has not been scheduled. She was released on personal recognizance after pleading guilty in U.S. District Court in Detroit to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery.

“This has been a trying time for the Conyers family. With hope and prayer, they will make it through this as a family. Public officials must expect to be held to the highest ethical and legal standards,” said a statement from the office of Mr. Conyers, a Michigan Democrat. “With this in mind, Mr. Conyers wants to work towards helping his family and the city recover from this serious matter.”

Monica Conyers’ lawyer, Steven Fishman, did not return a phone message and two e-mails left by The Washington Times, but the Associated Press reported he said he would ask that his client’s sentence not include prison time.

According to court records filed in the case, Monica Conyers, who joined the City Council in 2005, admitted she accepted bribes in 2007 from the Houston-based Synagro Technologies Inc. in exchange for voting in favor of giving the company a $1.2 billion sludge hauling contract.

She initially opposed the Synagro deal, saying the contract should have gone to a local firm, but she later switched positions and cast the deciding vote in a 5-4 tally in 2007. The city and Synagro eventually pulled out of the deal.

Authorities would not reveal the amount of bribes Monica Conyers accepted. Court records indicate that on two occasions she accepted envelopes stuffed with cash from a consultant working for Synagro. One of the meetings took place in the parking lot of a family recreation center, the other occurred outside a McDonald’s restaurant.

The consultant, Rayford W. Jackson, pleaded guilty last week to conspiring to bribe a city official.

That plea indicated the nearly two-year investigation into Monica Conyers was progressing quickly and led to speculation that she would soon be charged.

Court records filed in Jackson’s case indicated he had bribed a person identified as “Council Member A,” who subsequently was identified as Monica Conyers. The Times reported last week that plea negotiations were under way between prosecutors and Monica Conyers.

“I want to state that this investigation has not uncovered evidence sufficient to support charging any other elected members of the Detroit City Council with taking bribes or engaging in acts of corruption relating to the Synagro contract,” said a statement of Eastern Michigan U.S. Attorney Terrence Berg, whose office prosecuted the case. “I also want to make it equally clear that the evidence offered no suggestion that United States Representative John Conyers, Mrs. Conyers’ husband, had any knowledge or role in Mrs. Conyers’ illegal conduct, nor did the Congressman attempt to influence this investigation in any way.”

The guilty plea could end Monica Conyers’ brief public service career after working 16 years as a teacher and administrator in the Detroit Public Schools.

The 44-year-old mother of two sons, who is more than three decades younger than her 80-year-old husband, graduated from the University of the District of Columbia School of Law.

Her aggressive political style has brought criticism, and she had sparred with fellow council members during meetings and had a frequently contentious relationship with local press. She drew media scrutiny for using a police detail and city vehicle to drive her son to a private school in the suburbs, an action her spokeswoman defended as necessary for her own protection and encouraged by law enforcement.

• Ben Conery can be reached at bconery@washingtontimes.com.

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