Originally posted by Joel Thurtell in the 1/5/05 Detroit Free PressThe director of a Detroit food bank wants to know what happened to 60 turkeys -- 720 pounds of frozen birds -- that his charity gave to members of U.S. Rep. John Conyers' local staff two days before Thanksgiving to give to needy people.
Conyers' Detroit office promised an accounting of any turkey distribution by Dec. 27, but the Gleaners Community Food Bank had received no paperwork as of Tuesday, said the charity's director, Agostinho Fernandes.
Fernandes said he became suspicious that the turkeys didn't get to poor people after hearing from a friend that a federal court worker had said he was offered free turkeys from a member of Conyers' staff.
Conyers' press secretary Karen Morgan said Tuesday that she was told that some of Conyers' staffers gave the turkeys to poor people whose names were provided by the state Family Independence Agency. A fax with those names, she said, was to be sent Tuesday or today to Gleaners.
Maureen Sorbet, a spokeswoman for the FIA, said Tuesday, "I spoke to the central FIA office in Wayne County, and they were unaware of the turkey situation.
"Normally, we don't provide names" of FIA clients, Sorbet added. "Sometimes at Christmastime we might if people self-disclose. It's remotely possible."
By mid-afternoon Tuesday, Fernandes said he had received nothing from Conyers' office.
"I've got to tell you that our mission of feeding hungry people has been violated by the people who should have been guardians of our mission," Fernandes said.
Fernandes said Conyers staffer Elisa Grubbs signed a Gleaners invoice Nov. 23 acknowledging she picked up the turkeys on the congressman's behalf. Fernandes sent the Free Press a copy of the invoice.
Morgan said the staffers who picked up the turkeys had promised to provide Gleaners with an accounting by Dec. 27. Morgan said she would ask Conyers to call the Free Press to answer questions about the turkeys, but he did not.
Morgan said Tuesday that she had been assured that a list of recipients exists, but added that she had not seen it.
"You can imagine how we feel," Fernandes said. "They didn't pay anything. This was donations to them to help the needy. We get calls from different representatives who want to put together food baskets for their needy constituents and you have faith that these people are going to bring the food to the people it's intended to go to."
A Conyers staff member who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal told the Free Press that Grubbs and her cousin, Conyers' Detroit deputy chief of staff Marion Brown, along with a former Conyers aide, DeWayne Boyd, picked up the turkeys and later gave contradictory accounts of what happened to the birds.
The unnamed staff member raised concerns in a memo sent to both the FBI and House ethics committee. Conyers was the target of an informal ethics committee inquiry last year following a Free Press investigation about use of staff members during work hours for political campaigns.