Ann Arbor, MI – The Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office today announced the launch of an Economic Justice Unit. Among other things, the new unit will focus on wage theft, employee misclassification, labor trafficking, and consumer scams and fraud.
“Economic harm is real harm,” said Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit. “Whether it’s employers intentionally shorting their workers, fraudsters ripping off consumers, or unscrupulous actors engaged in labor trafficking, we’re committed to doing all we can to hold perpetrators accountable.”
The new unit was created in partnership with the Public Rights Project, a national nonprofit that places fellows in local government offices for a two-year period to protect public rights. Todd Pierce-Ryan, the Public Rights Fellow placed in the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office, will lead the new unit.
Prior to joining the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office, Pierce-Ryan served as a staff attorney in the Systemic Advocacy Unit at Lakeshore Legal Aid in Detroit. There, he spearheaded a series of successful lawsuits against landlords whose housing conditions were causing lead poisoning in children. Pierce-Ryan has also worked at a private law firm litigating civil-rights and employee-rights cases. A graduate of the University of Michigan and Harvard Law School, Pierce-Ryan worked in the construction industry and was the Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Ingham County prior to attending law school.
“Americans are losing billions of dollars to wage theft and consumer frauds every year,” said Pierce-Ryan. “I am honored to have this unique opportunity to serve my neighbors in Washtenaw County – to stand up for workers’ and consumers’ rights and to combat corporate abuses.”
Because the new unit is initially being funded through the Public Rights Project fellowship, it will allow the Prosecutor’s Office to bolster its focus on economic harm without re-assigning any existing prosecutors.
The new unit is the culmination of several collaborative working groups. Among other organizations, the Human Trafficking Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School and the Huron Valley Area Labor Federation have worked collaboratively with the Prosecutor’s Office to stand up the new unit.
“Economic exploitation is the core of human trafficking and too often victims have no access to the criminal legal system,” said Bridgette Carr, the Founding Director of the University of Michigan Law School’s Human Trafficking Clinic. “My hope is this unit will be a model for Michigan and beyond to help victims of economic exploitation access justice.”
Ian Robinson, President of the Huron Valley Area Labor Federation (AFL-CIO), welcomed the new unit.
“The labor movement of Washtenaw County is proud to stand behind this new Economic Justice Unit, which will benefit all working people in the county – those fortunate enough to have a union and even more so those who do not,” Robinson said.
The Public Rights Project also expressed excitement about the new initiative.
“We are so excited to support the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office in launching this crucial initiative,” said Public Rights Project Legal Director Jonathan Miller. “When enforcement offices direct their resources at addressing the problems confronting underserved communities, the work of government becomes more equitable. We hope this unit’s launch serves as a model that other prosecutors nationwide can and will replicate.”
As part of the new unit’s launch, the Prosecutor’s Office unveiled a new website Monday with information about wage theft, employee misclassification, labor trafficking, and consumer scams and fraud. The website can be found at https://www.washtenaw.org/3487/Economic-Justice-Unit.
Washtenaw County residents may inform the Economic Justice Unit about potential economic harm by filling out a form on the site. The Economic Justice Unit will follow up and take action as appropriate. Residents are reminded, however, to contact law enforcement to report any crimes, and to call 9-1-1 in case of an emergency.