Businessman sues Detroit councilman, claims extortion

Detroit Council Member Gabe Leland

A local businessman is suing City Councilman Gabe Leland, claiming he demanded more than $5,000 in free club access, drinks and food in exchange for help in a dispute with city officials.

Kenneth Scott Bridgewater, an owner of the Centre Park Bar in downtown Detroit’s Harmonie Park that closed in April, sued Leland on Monday for $75,000 in U.S. District Court. He accuses the District 7 councilman of extortion.

"Defendant Leland extorted Plaintiff out of free alcoholic drinks, food, and free entry into events held at Centre Park Bar in exchange for Defendant Leland providing Plaintiff with assistance...," Bridgewater asserts in his lawsuit, which was filed Monday. In addition, Bridgewater says he was subjected to harassment, was arrested and ticketed.

Leland said after Tuesday’s council meeting that he was the target of a “witch hunt.”

“I don’t really have an opinion other than the fact that these are all allegations,” Leland said. “Anybody in this city who thinks they can get some influence out of me for a taco and a tequila is greatly mistaken.”

The second-term councilman said he was invited to meet with the bar owners to discuss their lawsuit against the city. Leland did not deny accusations that he accepted free alcoholic drinks and food.

“I sat down in the bar to talk about city business,” Leland said. “And I probably had a drink, probably had some food, and there’s nothing legally wrong with that.” 

The lawsuit emerges after a two-year court battle between the city of Detroit and the owners of Centre Park Bar. They claim city officials and cops targeted their establishment because they are black.

In July 2017, police and the fire marshal shut the bar down because it was overcrowded. Bridgewater was arrested and ticketed. According to the lawsuit, the bar owners had invested $200,000 in "development and construction to bring the property up to code and to meet local ordinances occupancy codes."

Monday's lawsuit claims Leland approached Bridgewater with an offer to help him with the city officials if he provided the councilman and his guests with free access to the club, alcoholic drinks and food.

The lawsuit also claims that Leland "further advised Plaintiff Bridgewater that it was 'normal practice' for local restaurants and bars in the city of Detroit to provide members of the Detroit City Council and other elected and city officials with free alcoholic drinks and free food upon request."

It isn't the first time a Detroit businessman has accused Leland of demanding cash or goods in return for the councilman's help with city officials. Businessman Robert Carmack filed a lawsuit in March against Leland, claiming the councilman tried to extort $15,000 from him.

Read more: Leland's lawyer dangles deal amid corruption probe

Read more: Owners of closed downtown Detroit bar claim city, police harassment

Bridgewater also claims Detroit fire and police violated his 14th Amendment equal protection rights. He alleges they unfairly shut down Centre Park, resulting in his arrest and receiving misdemeanor ticket. For that, Bridgewater is requesting $1 million in compensatory and punitive damages.