September 2, 2014 at 6:29 pm

Activist Robert Davis pleads guilty to federal crimes

Robert Davis leaves federal court in Detroit after pleading guilty to two federal crimes Tuesday. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)

Detroit — Robert Davis, the controversial activist accused of stealing more than $125,000 from the cash-strapped Highland Park schools, pleaded guilty to two federal crimes Tuesday and could get 18 to 24 months in federal prison.

The development, outlined in a court filing, is a twist for Davis, who spent two years purportedly fighting government corruption and mounted serial lawsuits against the state and attempts to restructure Detroit’s finances. His guilty pleas came, coincidentally, before the start of Detroit’s bankruptcy trial.

Davis, 34, a Highland Park school board member, could spend two years or more in federal prison after pleading guilty to converting money from the school district for his own use and filing a false tax return, court records indicate. Sentencing is Dec. 9.

“I’m glad to put it behind me,” Davistold The News on Tuesday.

There is disagreement over how much time Davis should spend in prison. His lawyer, Douglas Mullkoff, thinks Davis should spend up to 18 months; the government, 24 months.

U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow ultimately will decide after considering whether Davis abused a position of public trust. He also could get hit with a $500,000 fine.

“As a public official, Mr. Davis used Highland Park school funds for his personal enrichment,” Jarod Koopman, acting special agent in charge of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, said in a statement.

The guilty pleas avert a high-profile Sept. 15 trial in federal court.

Davis wants to keep his job as a union staff representative even though the federal conversion charge prohibits someone convicted of embezzlement from working for a union. Davis works for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25.

He wants Tarnow to rule he can keep the union job.

Davis was charged in 2012 in a 16-count indictment alleging he stole more than $125,000 from Highland Park schools between 2004 and 2010.

According to the indictment, Davis told the IRS he never made more than $63,000 in a single year between 2006 and 2009.

Davis was accused of using some of the district’s cash on an $84,000 spending spree at car dealerships, hotels, bars and a custom-clothing store.

The plea deal focused on 2007 and far less money — $22,000. The money came from a Highland Park schools contractor hired to boost enrollment at the struggling district.

The contractor is labeled “Company Z” in court filings.

The $22,000 from “Company Z” that was included in the plea deal Tuesday was deposited into a bank account controlled by Davis, who is free on $10,000 unsecured bond.

rsnell@detroitnews.com

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