James Warner, former airport official convicted in record-setting bribe scheme, found dead after failing to report to prison

Author: CBS NEWS
James Warner
James Warner

A judge is defending how she handled the case of a former Detroit-area airport official who killed himself rather than report to prison for accepting more than $6 million in kickbacks in a record-setting corruption investigation.

James Warner’s body was discovered Friday, a day after he was supposed to turn himself in for a 10-year sentence. He was convicted in 2019 but allowed to remain free while pursuing appeals.

On Thursday, an emergency request for an arrest warrant was approved after prosecutors said Warner failed to surrender at 10 a.m.

“Mr. Warner agreed to continue mental health treatment, and his doctor certified he was not a danger to himself,” U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts said. “Mr. Warner abided by all conditions the court set for him. He did not appear to be any danger to himself.”

She said she was glad that Warner spent time with his family while many prisoners were vulnerable to COVID-19.

Warner was an infrastructure manager at the agency that runs Detroit Metropolitan Airport from 2010 through 2014. He was convicted of steering more than $43 million in contracts to people in exchange for more than $6 million in kickbacks — “the highest bribe totals in district history,” prosecutors said, referring to Detroit and eastern Michigan.

The Detroit News reported that the $6 million in bribes also marked the third-largest amount in U.S. history.

The newspaper reported that the government had warned the judge in 2019 that he might flee or harm himself if granted bond while filing appeals.

“It’s just a real shock, quite frankly,” defense attorney Harold Gurewitz said of Warner’s death. “I’m sorry that this has happened.”

If you or someone you know might be at risk of suicide, there is help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text a crisis counselor at 741741, or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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