February 13, 2014 at 6:45 pm

Monica Conyers initially refused to disclose Neiman Marcus debt

Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)

Washington — Former Detroit City Council President Monica Conyers initially refused to disclose her debts on financial statements her congressman husband must submit to the U.S. House of Representatives, according to a public filing by U.S. Rep. John Conyers.

In a letter dated July 31, John Conyers, D-Detroit, told the U.S. House Committee on Ethics, Monica does “not believe such information needs to be disclosed.”

But there appears to have been change of heart. In a new filing stamped Jan. 31, Conyers wrote to the House clerk saying he’d like to amend his disclosure form and include at least one debt from his wife: up to $50,000 owed to posh retailer Neiman Marcus.

It appears to be an old debt. In his 2012 report, Conyers disclosed Monica, 49, owes between $15,001 and $50,000 in a revolving charge account with Neiman Marcus, according to public records.

But the amended January filing did not mention her previously reported student loan debt from the 1990s that was as much as $100,000.

A spokesman for John Conyers said the congressman was not available for comment.

Monica Conyers’ refusal to disclose all of her debts could create problems for the longtime Detroit congressman, 84, who has consistently tried to distance himself from his wife’s bribery charges, prison sentence at “Camp Cupcake” and subsequent return to Detroit. Members of Congress are required to submit financial disclosure forms annually by May 15 explaining the income and liabilities for themselves, spouses and dependents in effort to bring greater transparency to government.

“It looks like Congressman Conyers needs to do a thorough review of the House rules to determine what he needs to disclose,” said Mary Boyle, vice president of communications at Common Cause, a public accountability advocacy group. “The standard is not what his wife thinks needs to be disclosed, it’s what the rules require.”

This isn’t the first time Conyers’ family has gotten the congressman in ethical hot water.

Over Thanksgiving 2010, Conyers’ son reported to police an SUV break-in where two laptops and $27,500 worth of concert tickets were stolen. It turned out John Conyers III drove his dad’s taxpayer-funded Cadillac Escalade, which is meant for official government purposes.

Rep. Conyers eventually reimbursed the U.S. Treasury $5,682 for his son’s unauthorized use.

Monica, the former one-term councilwoman, served a 37-month sentence for bribery at a federal women’s prison camp in Alderson, W.Va., completing the final five months of the sentence in home confinement last May while doing administrative work at a Corktown auto body shop. She is on probation until next year.

The only time Monica and John Conyers have made a public appearance together since her release from prison was in September, when political colleagues, civil rights leaders and hundreds of constituents held a celebration of his 50 years of public service.

It’s unusual for a spouse to say she won’t cooperate with the legal requirements, said Jock Friedly, founder of LegiStorm, a website publishing congressional disclosures. “There is no option not to disclosure what is legally required and this appears to be something that he should have disclosed,” he said.

A history of ethical issues would be taken into account during any potential House Ethics Committee investigation, Friedly said. But if the marriage is so strained that a House member legitimately has trouble getting the proper information from his spouse, the ethics committee may sympathize and not punish a member, he said.

“I really don’t think the Ethics Committee wants to be diving into the marriages of members of Congress,” Friedly said, noting it’s the House member, not the spouse, who bears the responsibility. “If (Monica) tells them to go jump off a pier into a lake, they can’t do much about that.”

In his initial 2013 financial disclosure report dated July 31, the congressman makes no mention of Monica’s shopping debts or her previously reported student loan debt from the late 1990s that’s between $50,000 and $100,000.

The congressman tries to explain in a letter dated the same day: “With respect to possible liabilities incurred by my wife, I have not been able to obtain that information from Mrs. Conyers as of the date of this letter, as she informs me that she does not believe such information needs to be disclosed.”

He added he has learned Monica Conyers gave her mother a house and needed to amend his 2011 financial disclosure form.

“I understand that my spouse conveyed her investment property located at 3351 Charlevoix St., Detroit MI 48207 to her mother, Alice Estes in September 2011,” Conyers wrote in the public document. “As a result, I am not listing that on the 2012 financial disclosure form and would like to treat this as an amendment to the 2011 form indicating such a transfer.”

mschultz@detroitnews.com
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