Leland's lawyer dangles deal amid corruption probe

Robert Snell
The Detroit News
Detroit Council Member Gabe Leland

Detroit — The lawyer for Gabe Leland is willing to explain why the Detroit city councilman repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment when asked during a deposition if he extorted cash from businessmen.

But lawyer Steve Fishman wants to tell U.S. District Judge Matthew Leitman in private because he doesn't trust another lawyer representing businessman Robert Carmack, who is suing Leland in federal court.

The offer is the latest development in a lawsuit that appears to help explain why Leland was included in a list of public corruption targets named in a sealed FBI wiretap affidavit obtained first by The Detroit News in December. The city councilman's lawyer suggested in a court filing Sunday that Leland kept silent so his responses would not be used in a federal criminal investigation, but the exact reason is unclear.

In the civil lawsuit, Carmack says he wore a secret recording device for the FBI after Leland tried to extort $15,000 from him.

Leland sat for a deposition last month and the transcript showing he took the Fifth multiple times was obtained by The News within hours. For that reason, Fishman wants to explain in private why the councilman invoked the Fifth Amendment.

"By the time the ink was dry, the transcript and video of the deposition had been released by plaintiff’s counsel to both the print and television media," Fishman wrote in a federal court filing Sunday. "Defense counsel has every reason to think that the same thing would happen in this instance."

Carmack's lawyer Andrew Paterson said the proposal is unprecedented, unconstitutional and absurd. Leland improperly invoked his 5th Amendment right, Paterson said.

"Contrary to Mr. Fishman's assertions, because this case involves misconduct of an elected public official, the citizens of the city of Detroit have the right to know how Councilman Leland responds and answers certain pertinent questions concerning his conduct in office," Paterson wrote in an email to The News on Monday.

Fishman cited case law to explain why he advised the Detroit politician to assert his 5th Amendment privilege.

". . . the Supreme Court made it clear that the Fifth Amendment
privilege may also be asserted in any proceeding, civil or criminal, in which the
witness reasonably believes that the information sought, or discoverable as a result
of his testimony, could be used against him in a subsequent state or federal
criminal proceeding," Fishman wrote.

The lawsuit’s allegations date to a few weeks before the August 2017 primary election in Detroit. Leland was running for re-election and Carmack was trying to resolve a dispute involving property he owned at 8124 Michigan Ave. Carmack alleges the city illegally demolished his commercial building using federal funds and was trying to sell the property.

“Leland demanded and requested...$15,000 for his reelection campaign,” Paterson wrote in the lawsuit.

Carmack says he ignored the request.

Leland, who chaired a City Council committee responsible for community development, promised not to sell the property in exchange for $15,000, Carmack alleges.

Carmack feared he was being extorted so he approached the FBI, according to the lawsuit. The FBI is investigating widespread corruption involving politicians, police officers in Detroit, Macomb County and across southeast Michigan.

“The FBI asked (Carmack to) wear a recording device and to pay defendant Leland as defendant Leland demanded,” Carmack’s lawyer wrote in the lawsuit.

The day after Leland asked for $15,000, Leland called the businessman and said he would be sending someone to pick up the cash, according to the lawsuit.

That same day, a woman who Carmack believed to be a Leland campaign worker met him on a side street near a bank on East Jefferson Avenue in Detroit, the lawsuit alleges.

“During the exchange, (Carmack) explains to the female campaign worker that the cash in the envelope was for defendant Leland and the female campaign worker responds by (stating) that it was not for her and that she would be delivering the money to defendant Leland immediately,” the lawsuit alleges.

The next day, Carmack said he met with Leland.

“Leland responded that he had in fact received the money from the campaign worker,” Paterson wrote.

Carmack was free to do whatever he wanted with the commercial property, Leland said, according to the lawsuit.

After receiving the money, Leland made more demands, Carmack claims.

“Leland asked (Carmack) to fix his secretary’s car for free, and, in accordance with the FBI’s instructions, plaintiff obliged and fixed defendant Leland’s secretary’s car for free,” according to the lawsuit.

Then, Leland double-crossed Carmack, according to the lawsuit.

“A few weeks later, (Carmack) learned that defendant Leland had in fact placed on the (City Council) agenda the sale of plaintiff’s property,” Paterson wrote.

Carmack wants a federal judge to rule that Leland extorted him. Carmack wants at least $1.3 million.

The FBI has refused to comment on Carmack's claims or the wiretap.

In the weeks since The News published details about the sealed wiretap investigation, several politicians and public officials – including Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon and Wayne County Circuit Judge Vonda Evans – have received assurances that they are no longer considered targets of the FBI corruption probe.

Leland is notable among politicians on the list who have not been cleared by the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office.


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Twitter: @robertsnellnews