Federal grand jury zeroes in on Detroit Councilman Leland

Robert Snell
The Detroit News
Detroit Council Member Gabe Leland

Detroit — A federal grand jury is investigating whether City Councilman Gabe Leland extorted cash, booze and food from a businessman, confirmation the Detroit politician is a target of a corruption investigation first revealed by The Detroit News last year.

The grand jury investigation is revealed in an Aug. 8 subpoena obtained by The News, which indicates federal investigators are seeking documents involving Leland and a shuttered Detroit bar. 

The assistant U.S. Attorney in charge of the investigation is Michael Bullotta, who successfully prosecuted former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick during the landmark racketeering conspiracy case.

The subpoena comes one month after Kenneth Scott Bridgewater, an owner of the Centre Park Bar in downtown Detroit’s Harmonie Park that closed in April, sued Leland in federal court. Bridgewater claimed the Detroit councilman demanded more than $5,000 in free club access, drinks and food in exchange for help in a dispute with city officials.

The subpoena seeks documents involving Centre Park Bar and Leland, including details about:

• Free entry into parties or events

• Free alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks

• Free food

• Any valuable items provided for free or at a discount

Leland's criminal defense lawyer, Steve Fishman, said in a statement Friday that "there are no 'details' about Gabe Leland and the former owner of Centre Park Bar nor will there be any documents that support the former owner's allegations."

"You would be better off looking into the background of the former owner rather than assuming there is any truth to what he claims in his lawsuit," Fishman said.

Leland, who has not been charged with a crime, could not be reached Friday.

The subpoena indicates that the grand jury investigation has been underway since at least last year.

"Unfortunately, Centre Park Bar was forced to close earlier this year due to the unethical and possibly illegal actions of certain elected and appointed officials of the City of Detroit and the Detroit Downtown Development Authority ...," the bar's attorney, Andrew Paterson, said in a statement Friday. "My clients are thankful for the opportunity the U.S. Attorney's office and the FBI have given them to help expose the unlawful and corrupt conduct of certain city officials and their associates.

"Accordingly, my clients are looking forward to assisting the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan and the FBI with their ongoing criminal investigation of certain elected and appointed officials of the city of Detroit, the (Downtown Development Authority) and their close associates," Paterson added.

Leland was among more than a dozen businessmen and politicians targeted in a series of FBI wiretaps two years ago that recorded conversations involving public officials and businessmen, including Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco and towing titan Gasper Fiore. Marrocco has not been charged with a crime.

The ongoing corruption investigation is focused on at least three fronts: Fiore’s towing empire, the Macomb County Public Works office and Leland. 

Fiore was sentenced earlier this month to 21 months in federal prison and is cooperating with federal investigators. The extent of Fiore's cooperation is a secret but is outlined in a sealed federal court filing that Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor Peter Henning said should concern Leland.

Earlier this year, prosecutors warned the investigation likely will lead to more people being charged with crimes in federal court. 

By 2016, the FBI was tapping Fiore's phone and FBI agents listened to conversations that focused on Leland. 

Leland, 35, was re-elected in November to his second, four-year term on Detroit’s City Council. He first took office in January 2014 after serving six years in the state House.

FBI agents were investigating conspiracy to distribute marijuana, bribery, extortion and other crimes in connection with Fiore or others, according to court records obtained by The News. The records included an application to continue wiretapping Fiore’s cellphone.

Leland was dating Fiore's daughter, Jennifer Marie Fiore.

According to the wiretap filing, FBI Special Agent Robert Beeckman wrote that Fiore claimed Detroit Police Chief James Craig had “briefed Gabe Leland about the towing case, and Leland has briefed the Fiore family about it.”

In an interview with The News last year, Craig insisted he never told Leland anything about the investigation. He said he contacted the FBI after a 2016 meeting with the Detroit city councilman.

“I was not comfortable with Leland’s questions, and I immediately contacted the FBI as soon as he left the room and told them he was asking me questions about the towing investigation.”

Fiore’s wiretapped conversations describe his distaste for Leland.

“He's another guy that — there with a tight suit on, with a cheap tie and got a hole in the side of his pants on the pocket cuz he don't want to buy a pair of pants,” Fiore said in one recorded conversation.

In another conversation, Fiore labeled the Detroit councilman a "mooch."

In a May 2016 conversation, Fiore complained about paying for unspecified items for Leland.

Separately, Leland has been accused in a civil lawsuit of trying to trying to extort $15,000 from a Detroit businessman.

That businessman, Robert Carmack, says he wore a secret recording device for the FBI after alleging Leland tried to extort the money.


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Twitter: @robertsnellnews