- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Rep. John Conyers Jr. reversed his opposition to a controversial hazardous waste project in his district, writing a letter of support to the federal government with the help of his wife, former Detroit City Council member Monica Conyers, whose aide later linked her to receiving money from the contractor in the project.

The letter, sent in July 2007, was written in support of permit transfers for a hazardous waste injection well project in the city of Romulus, Mich., which was operated by a company with ties to Mrs. Conyers, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery in a federal investigation unrelated to the hazardous waste project.

In his letter to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Michigan Democrat, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said many things had changed in favor of the project since he stood in opposition along with fellow Michigan congressman, Rep. John D. Dingell, in 2003. He also said Detroit’s pension funds, which were heavily invested in the project, could not afford to write off those investments.

Mr. Conyers’ spokeswoman, Karen Morgan, said in a statement to The Washington Times: “In the context of the congressmans representational duties to his constituents, including the Detroit pension board, he determined that this was something the EPA should reconsider.

“I also refer to the statement of the United States Attorney in which he said ‘I also want to make it equally clear that the evidence offered no suggestion that United States Representative John Conyers, Ms. Conyers husband, had any knowledge or role in Ms. Conyers illegal conduct, nor did the congressman attempt to influence this investigation in any way.’ ”

Mrs. Conyers, a former educator who served as mayor pro-tem and resigned from the City Council after accepting a plea deal in a federal corruption probe, had ties with the business owner, according to her former chief of staff, Sam Riddle, a longtime Detroit political consultant. Mr. Riddle has been under federal investigation for his role in the ongoing scandal but has maintained that his dealings have been above board.

Mr. Riddle said Tuesday that the congressman’s wife helped draft the letter to the EPA, after he was hired as an independent contractor and consultant for Detroit businessman Dimitrios Papas.

Mr. Riddle said Mrs. Conyers helped connect him with Mr. Papas, who hired him as an independent contractor, paying him $20,000 by check for consulting. Mrs. Conyers, however, later demanded half of Mr. Riddle’s consulting fees from Mr. Papas as a finder’s fee, he said.

Mr. Riddle said he believes that at the time the letter was written, Mr. Conyers had no knowledge that Mrs. Conyers had ongoing business ties to Mr. Papas, who has publicly denied any wrongdoing in the case.

“During the period in question, Mr. Papas had no business before the City Council, and he sought no special consideration in any matters of government,” said the statement published Monday in the Detroit News from his spokesman Walter Kraft.

“Furthermore, Mr. Papas was completely unaware of any financial impropriety on the part of Mr. Riddle and Ms. Conyers. He was contacted by federal authorities more than a year ago regarding Conyers and Riddle and fully cooperated with their investigation. At that time he was informed that he is not a target of any investigation.”

Mr. Riddle said his work has always been as an independent consultant.

“One clause in my contacts, if any of my other clients held elected office, such as Mrs. Conyers, who had to deliberate or vote on any matter that concerns a prospective or new client, I could not work with them to avoid an appearance of a conflict. In the case with Papas, I had an agreement in writing with the client and as far as I knew, Mrs. Conyers didn’t have to deliberate or veto any matter concerning his business.”

“I have no reason to believe that John Conyers himself was involved in any of the process with Papas and his wife,” Mr. Riddle said, calling the lawmaker a man of “unimpeachable integrity.”

“His wife appears to have helped generate the letter because they sent the draft of the congressman’s letter to her office for approval,” Mr. Riddle said of the deal. “The signed copy clearly showed there was some relationship beyond me that Papas and Mrs. Conyers had.”

Mr. Riddle’s lawyer, David Steingold, said his client has not been indicted and has neither been offered nor accepted a plea deal in the political scandal. Mr. Steingold said Mr. Riddle has told the truth about his business connections to Mrs. Conyers and is “bewildered” by any allegations that he acted improperly.

Mr. Steingold also defended the congressman, saying that Mr. Riddle “has absolutely no information that Congressman Conyers had any knowledge of or participation in any wrongdoing. My client believes that Rep. Conyers is beyond reproach, something I fully concur in. There has been nothing suggested by anyone including the government that suggests the congressman has done anything wrong.”

In a separate incident, Mr. Riddle confirmed that Mrs. Conyers took jewelry and money from a Southfield, Mich., pawnshop owner, who had also hired him as a consultant for crisis management after she had negotiated a deal on Mr. Riddle’s behalf. He said he received a five-figure fee and also a watch for his consulting work.

“This was not connected to the city of Detroit in any manner. I was given in addition to a five figure sum, a watch, and it appears that she left the store with some jewelry,” Mr. Riddle said of the deal. “I don’t know what prior arrangement she may have had with the owner. I know my watch was part of the retainer. But she did not work directly with me or indirectly on the project itself.”

• Andrea Billups can be reached at abillups@washingtontimes.com.

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