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Lawsuit accuses two high-profile government officials of bribery, conspiracy and extortion

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero (foreground), developers Frank Kass and Joel Ferguson sign an agreement in November 2014.

A federal lawsuit alleges the chairman of Michigan State University’s Board of Trustees is running a “racketeering enterprise” in Lansing. The suit targets Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and MSU Board of Trustees Chairman Joel Ferguson, among others.

“This is about an elaborate extortion scheme over a project that some say is worth as much at $380 million,” attorney Mike Cox said.

Cox filed the suit on behalf of two businessmen who pitched the development project in 2012. But he says Ferguson used his political influence to win the project instead.

“Joel Ferguson tried to shake them down for ownership of the project and then used, disturbingly, the Mayor of Lansing, Mayor Bernero, as his messenger boy,” Cox said.

Cox alleges Bernero took gifts and bribes in exchange for influence over public projects.

Requests for comment to both Bernero and Ferguson were not immediately returned.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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