Rep. Tinsley-Talabi linked to Detroit corruption case

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Federal officials are investigating state Rep. Alberta Tinsley-Talabi in a bribery and kickback scandal stemming from her time as a city councilwoman and a Detroit pension fund trustee, The Detroit News has learned.

Rep. Alberta Tinsley Talabi, D-Detroit

Tinsley-Talabi’s nonprofit group received at least one bribe from a businessman while she sat on a Detroit pension fund, and her City Council campaign got thousands more from businessmen involved in a widespread corruption case, federal prosecutors said.

Tinsley-Talabi is the fifth sitting state lawmaker to come under a legal cloud. State Rep. Todd Courser resigned under pressure and state Rep. Cindy Gamrat was expelled in the fallout from a House sex scandal; Sen. Virgil Smith faces criminal charges for allegedly firing shots into his ex-wife’s Mercedes outside his Detroit home; and Rep. Brian Banks is the target of a lawsuit filed by a former aide alleging workplace sexual harassment.

The allegations involving Tinsley-Talabi emerged amid the sentencing Wednesday of a businessman who paid bribes to several former city officials.

The Detroit Democrat has not been charged in a widespread, years-long federal probe of City Hall corruption and the city’s pension funds that has resulted in 38 convictions, including former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and ex-City Council President Monica Conyers.

The News learned on Wednesday that federal officials continue to investigate Tinsley-Talabi.

Federal court records obtained by The News for the first time clarify her alleged involvement in a criminal case that has ensnared her former chief of staff, George Stanton, who will be sentenced in federal court Thursday. Stanton struck a plea deal with prosecutors and agreed to secretly record conversations with Tinsley-Talabi and others, court records reveal.

“During these conversations, however, the participants were very circumspect and did not make any damaging admissions,” Stanton’s lawyer Mark Kriger wrote in a court filing.

Tinsley-Talabi declined to answer questions about the payment to her nonprofit Wednesday evening as she left her House office in Lansing. She said she never testified before a federal grand jury on the matter.

“I have no comment beyond that,” Tinsley-Talabi told The News.

Tinsley-Talabi served on Detroit City Council from 1993 to 2009 and sat on a city pension fund, helping select investments pitched by businessmen who were supposed to reap returns for retirees. She was elected to the state House in 2010 and won re-election in 2012.

She also founded a nonprofit group called Mack Alive that serves the east side of Detroit.

In late 2006 and 2007, Georgia businessman Roy Dixon Jr. sought pension fund money for his firm, Onyx Capital Advisers, and a real estate investment in the Turks and Caicos Islands on behalf of another company, PR Investment Group, according to court records.

On Dec. 21, 2006, Tinsley-Talabi and other Police & Fire pension board members conditionally approved lending $10 million.

The next month, the city’s general retirement board approved another $10 million.

Within months, Dixon was handing out cash to city officials, prosecutors allege.

“Evidence shows that Dixon gave the following things of value to Detroit and Pontiac pension trustees and staff in order to buy influence ...,” prosecutors wrote in a recent court filing, before listing more than $244,000 worth of bribes.

Included in the list: a $1,000 check from Dixon to Tinsley-Talabi’s nonprofit on Aug. 22, 2007.

The day after the $1,000 donation, Tinsley-Talabi successfully brought a motion to the Police & Fire pension fund to have PR Investment Group make a business pitch.

Though she is referred to in court records as “City Official B,” meeting minutes indicate the motion was introduced by Tinsley-Talabi.

And on Oct. 5, 2007, Dixon gave $3,400 to her re-election campaign, according to prosecutors. In a court filing, prosecutors again refer to her as “City Official B.”

Six days later, the Police & Fire pension fund granted Dixon's request to have $1.15 million wired to his company, Onyx Capital Advisors.

Among the yes votes: Tinsley-Talabi, according to meeting minutes.

Two months later, in December 2007, Dixon paid for “City Official B” to travel to the Turks and Caicos Islands, according to prosecutors.

Two months after the Tinsley-Talabi trip, in February 2008, pension trustees indicated there was support for a modified investment with PR Investment Group in the Turks and Caicos Islands, according to meeting minutes and court records.

Tinsley-Talabi did not vote on the proposed investment at the February meeting.

She had left the pension board in December 2007 — the same month she took the Caribbean trip.

Dixon’s former mansion

Businessman gets jail term

Dixon, who embezzled $3.1 million from Detroit and Pontiac pension funds and spent the cash building a mansion, screamed “Oh, Jesus!” and fell into a courtroom lectern Wednesday after being sentenced to 31/2 years in federal prison for his role in the scandal.

The Georgia businessman paid $244,500 in bribes to former pension trustees — including Tinsley-Talabi — while pitching a business deal that cost the three pension funds their entire investment of $23.8 million, prosecutors said.

Dixon, 52, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds, who presided over two Detroit corruption cases: the City Hall racketeering case against Kilpatrick and one involving the city’s pension funds.

Edmunds has handed out probation or minimum terms in halfway houses for several people who struck plea deals in the corruption cases, namely ex-Detroit water boss Victor Mercado and Kilpatrick aide Derrick Miller.

Dixon was different. He bribed at least seven Detroit and Pontiac pension officials, prosecutors said.

He was emotional; he was disappointed,” Dixon’s defense lawyer Edward Wishnow told The News. “He did kind of fall on the lectern.”

In all, Detroit’s pension fund lost more than $95 million in a series of corrupt deals awarded to businessmen who bribed officials with cash, trips, free drinks and other valuable items.

Stanton, who served as Tinsley-Talabi’s City Council chief of staff from 2005 to 2009, received $20,000 from Dixon, according to the government.

(313) 222-2028

Staff Writer Chad Livengood contributed.