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Detroit Riverfront Conservancy CFO on leave amid financial investigation

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy has placed its chief financial officer on leave pending an investigation into potential financial mismanagement.

The conservancy’s CFO is William A. Smith. Conservancy Chairman Matt Cullen said Tuesday he will oversee the organization’s operations during the investigation.

Detroit Riverfront Conservancy CFO William Smith has been placed on leave, according to the organization's chairman.

“I recently became concerned about the accuracy of management reports and financial statements that had been provided to the Board of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy,” Cullen wrote in a statement Tuesday.

Cullen said that after consulting with board leadership, they immediately ordered an independent forensic audit by PwC. They also sought the counsel of the Honigman Law Firm and its lead partner for investigations, former U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider. Schneider, through a spokesperson, declined to comment beyond the statement the conservancy released Tuesday.

“Based on Honigman’s recommendation, we have placed the Conservancy's Chief Financial Officer on leave,” Cullen wrote.

Cullen said they forwarded financial records to the Michigan State Police and have requested a criminal investigation.

"While this investigation is underway, I will be stepping in to oversee the Conservancy operations," Cullen said.

Smith did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Mark Wallace, remains active in his role as the conservancy’s president and CEO, according to the organization.

Lt. Mike Shaw, a Michigan State Police spokesperson, said his agency received a request for an investigation on Tuesday.

"We're looking at the whole conservancy," Shaw said. "We would investigate it and turn those findings over to the prosecutor's office or the attorney general and they would make an assessment on any type of criminality involved."

Cullen declined further comment beyond his statement Tuesday.

“The riverfront is a beloved and important asset to the community, and we are committed to building a vibrant space for all metro Detroiters to enjoy,” Cullen wrote. “The project is moving ahead and will be stronger because of what we learn from the Board controlled internal review and the State Police investigation. We owe it to our donors, other key stakeholders, and the entire Detroit community to be transparent and accountable about this situation — and that’s exactly what we will be.”

The conservancy is a nonprofit that focuses on transforming the Detroit's riverfront.

cwilliams@detroitnews.com