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Detroit Riverfront Conservancy receives $35M in aid amidst fraud scandal

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(The Center Square) – The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy is underwater with its assets frozen due to an ongoing fraud investigation, but a $35 million gift could help the nonprofit complete its remaining projects.

The Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan recently it would give a $10 million Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation grant and a $25 million line of credit to the organization.

The donation comes after conservancy’s former CFO William Smith was arrested and accused of using up to $39 million in assets toward a home in Atlanta, a condo in Mexico and a 36-foot yacht. He faces charges of bank and wire fraud from a years-long scheme to allegedly embezzle conservancy funds for his own use, according to United States Attorney Dawn N. Ison.

The new money is expected be used to finish the 22-acre Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park. The property would stretch from the Ambassador Bridge to Belle Isle. The park is named after the former owner and founder of the Buffalo Bills and Detroit native. Any additional funding would be used toward finishing the work on the Uniroyal Promenade and Robert C. Valade Park.

According to the federal complaint, beginning as early as November 2012, Smith orchestrated a scheme to embezzle millions of dollars in funds belonging to the DRFC. The complaint alleges that, between November 2012 and March 2024, Smith stole nearly $40 million from the DRFC.

U.S. District Court Judge Linda Parker issued a temporary restraining order that would prevent the $39.3 million in property from being sold.

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