The south wing of the Detroit Public Library was recently renovated. (Courtesy: Kimberly Mitchell/Detroit Free Press)
DETROIT (Det. Free Press) -- This time, it's about scamming the Detroit Public Library.
The federal government's ongoing probes into public corruption landed today on the doorsteps of the city's main library branch, where FBI agents raided the historic landmark over allegations of contract fraud.
"There may be an individual who awarded contracts for personal gain. And if that is the case, it is a total violation of the public trust," Jonathan Kinloch, president of the Detroit Library Commission, told the Free Press.
According to Kinloch, the contracts involve two technology firms that were hired for at least $2 million to update the library's computer systems. A library official allegedly had ties to at least one of the contractors, and benefited personally from the million-dollar deals, he said.
Kinloch would not name the individual.
Kinloch, meanwhile, said that allegations of contract fraud have been a longstanding issue at the library, and that the FBI raid was long overdue.
"These issues were lingering for so long that it was most appropriate for external agencies to take notice of what was going on," Kinloch said.
Kinloch also noted today's raid, conducted before the library opened at noon, had nothing to do with the $1,000-a-piece trash cans that were purchased for a library wing renovation project in 2010.
While the pricey trash cans raised eyebrows - given the layoffs and continued financial woes of the library - Kinloch said the stainless steel garbage bins do not appear to be under federal scrutiny.
Kinloch did say, however, that the the garbage cans, along with the library's new $1,000-a-piece designer lounge chairs, have triggered the need for more oversight of library management. While the general contractor purchased both items without any permission, he said, library officials ultimately signed off on the expense.
"That, unfortunately, is one of the waters that is under the bridge," Kinloch said. "It continues to stand out as it relates to reasons why we need to have a total review of management at the library."
The Library Commission is scheduled to meet at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.
In recent years, the library has been embroiled in controversy over alleged misspending and possible contract fraud, even as the library has laid off dozens of employees and struggled with a $10 million budget deficit in what officials called an unprecedented fiscal crisis. Last year, the library closed two of its 23 branches and cut its staff by 20%, or 83 employees.
Public reaction to the raid was mixed Tuesday. One man said he was outraged by all the spending he has seen at the library, and was glad the FBI was investigating.
"This is our money here," said retiree Bruce Wood, who said he visits the library four days a week. "Buying new garbage cans. Buying new chairs - if this was their money, they wouldn't be doing it."
Another library patron said she saw no reason for an investigation, and that there's nothing extravagant about the main library branch. "I don't see where there's overspending," said Marquett Emory, 30, of Detroit.
Another woman who brought her children, grandchildren and husband to the library to celebrate her 57th birthday Tuesday was saddened and stunned.
"It's just sad and a big disappointment, but we still love Detroit and we still love the library," said Harriet Mall, a psychologist from West Bloomfield who considers the library a beloved landmark.
Despite what the FBI raid reveals or doesn't reveal, Mall said, "we all need to support Detroit."
By Tresa Baldas and Eric Lawrence, Detroit Free Press staff writers