More subpoenas swirl in Leland grand jury investigation
Detroit — A federal grand jury investigating whether Detroit City Councilman Gabe Leland extorted people for cash has issued more subpoenas and prosecutors are interested in businessman Dennis Archer Jr., according to a federal court filing Friday.
Details about the grand jury were revealed in a civil lawsuit between an owner of the shuttered Centre Park Bar and Archer, a prominent businessman and son of former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer.
Christopher Williams, an owner of the Centre Park Bar in Harmonie Park, has alleged city officials and Archer Jr. conspired to allow Archer Jr. to acquire the property near Randolph and Gratiot. The lawsuit also alleged Archer Jr. bribed local officials, including Mayor Mike Duggan and members of Detroit City Council.
Williams' attorney Andrew Paterson said in the filing Friday he has received multiple subpoenas for testimony and documents relating to an "ongoing federal criminal investigation" of Leland. Prosecutors also asked him to provide a copy of Archer's deposition in a related civil lawsuit, during which the businessman was questioned about Leland and the mayor, according to the filing Friday.
"It's sad when you have public officials conspiring to violate the law in an effort to unlawfully obtain and acquire public property on behalf of a political ally," Paterson wrote in an email to The News. "Accordingly, that is why my clients will continue to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney's office and the FBI as they continue to work toward rooting out public corruption in the City of Detroit."
The grand jury has issued at least six subpoenas during a corruption investigation first revealed by The Detroit News last year.
Archer Jr. said the latest claims were made after a federal judge dismissed most of the civil lawsuit.
“These are frivolous allegations made by disgruntled parties,” Archer Jr. said, noting the issue stemmed from a 2015 request for proposals put out by the city to bid on certain properties.
Archer Jr. said multiple individuals bid on the properties but he won the right to acquire two.
“The bottom line of it is these are bitter parties who are upset with me for, I guess, winning a competitive bidding process,” he said. “The whole thing was on the up-and-up. I had a great proposal. They were disqualified because they didn’t turn the proposal in in a timely fashion.”
Archer Jr. said he has a “stellar reputation” and “I did nothing wrong.”
“I’m clear about that,” he said, adding the “baseless” allegations are “an unfortunate distraction” for himself, his businesses and the media.
Archer Jr. denied that he’s a target of any pending investigations.
“I haven’t heard from anyone in the government and don’t think that I will,” he said, adding his attorneys haven’t heard from anyone either. “I work right downtown. They know where I am.”
Archer said the claims are “manufactured” by Paterson. "No one takes this guy seriously," he said.
“These plaintiffs are bitter and disgruntled and clearly have nothing else to do with their time,” Archer Jr. added.
The bulk of the Centre Park bar federal lawsuit was dismissed Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Sean Cox.
The only claim left intact by the judge is a First Amendment retaliation claim by the bar and Williams against Archer Jr.
Archer is unaware of any investigation and does not believe he has engaged in conduct warranting the government's attention, the businessman's lawyer Raymond Henney said in a statement to The News.
"In the civil case in which the motion was filed and in a related civil case, plaintiffs and their counsel have asserted various conspiracy theories and other actions that are without any basis in fact," Henney wrote. "At this point, we view plaintiffs’ effort as nothing more than another in a series of publicity stunts aimed at unjustifiably attempting to harm reputations."
A Duggan spokesman declined comment Friday.
An Aug. 8 subpoena obtained by The News indicated federal investigators also sought documents involving Leland, Centre Park Bar and whether the councilman had extorted cash, booze and food.
The Aug. 8 subpoena comes one month after Kenneth Scott Bridgewater, a co-owner of Centre Park Bar, 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 FBI investigation emerged publicly last year when The News exclusively obtained sealed federal court records that revealed Leland was among politicians and businessmen targeted in a public corruption probe involving wiretaps.
FBI agents were investigating conspiracy to distribute marijuana, bribery, extortion and other crimes in connection with Detroit towing mogul Gasper Fiore or others, according to court records obtained by The News. The records included an application to continue wiretapping Fiore’s cellphone.
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.
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.
Leland was deposed in connection with the lawsuit in June and repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment.
"Have you ever received a monetary or other bribe from Dennis Archer Jr. for your vote on any issue that came before Detroit City Council pertaining to any business that he was involved in?" Paterson asked.
Leland asked Paterson to repeat the question. He did. Leland asked him to repeat it again. Paterson did.
A lawyer representing the city objected to the question before Leland asserted his constitutional right not to answer.
"Did Detroit Mayor Duggan ever direct you to purposely block any agenda item pertaining to Robert Carmack and any property he owned?" Paterson asked.
"I refuse to answer the question based on my Fifth Amendment rights," Leland said.
"Have you ever received a monetary bribe from Mayor Duggan for your vote on any issue that's come before City Council?" Paterson asked the councilman.
"No," Leland said.
Prosecutors told Paterson they have reviewed the councilman's deposition transcript and were left ""with the same question of why Leland was taking [the 5th] on questions about Archer Jr. and Duggan,'" Paterson wrote in the court filing Friday.
Paterson gave prosecutors a copy of Archer's deposition transcript along with other records.
"Your information is helpful in providing a possible quid pro quo scenario," prosecutors told Paterson, according to the filing.