Federal grand jury subpoenas text messages of Detroit councilman
Detroit — Text messages about parties and campaign donations are among the documents subpoenaed by a federal grand jury investigating whether Detroit City Councilman Gabe Leland extorted people for cash, according to the attorney who turned them over.
Attorney Andrew Paterson, who is representing the owners of a former Detroit bar in a civil lawsuit, confirmed his clients submitted nearly 100 pages of documents to the grand jury, including copies of text messages between Leland and Chris Williams, a co-operator of the shuttered Centre Park Bar.
Details of the grand jury were first revealed through the civil litigation that targets Dennis Archer Jr., a prominent businessman and son of Detroit's former Mayor Dennis Archer.
An Aug. 8 subpoena reviewed by The Detroit News indicated that federal authorities were seeking documents involving Leland, the bar and whether the councilman had extorted cash, booze and food.
"Despite Councilman Leland's public denials, the text messages and other documents my clients provided to the federal grand jury clearly show that Councilman Leland requested and demanded free food from and free entry into Centre Park Bar," Paterson wrote in an emailed statement. "In fact, the text messages provided to the federal grand jury clearly show that Councilman Leland not only requested free entry into an event held at Centre Park Bar for himself and a few others, but Councilman Leland also demanded and subsequently held a campaign event with free food at Centre Park Bar free of charge."
The U.S. Attorney's Office could not be immediately reached Wednesday for comment. Written verification reviewed by The News shows the documents were provided and received on Aug. 27.
Leland's criminal defense lawyer, Steve Fishman, has said the claims against his client are unsupported.
"Once again, Mr. Paterson's allegations are too ridiculous to deserve a response," Fishman said on Wednesday. "As the Four Tops once said, 'It's the Same Old Song.'"
Copies of text message exchanges provided to the grand jury and obtained by The News detail an April 4, 2016, conversation between Leland and another person, identified by Paterson as Williams.
The pair exchanged messages about a party Leland intended to hold at the bar.
“I’m looking at May 19th. No baseball that day,” Leland writes to Williams at 10:56 a.m. “5-7 pm”
Williams responds: “Ok great, I will lock it in for you. Did you come up with a food budget?”
"Not yet," Leland replies.
Later that day, Williams tells Leland: “Good news ... I got a food sponsor for your event!”
Leland replies: “Nice!!!” and tells Williams "figure 150" people "in and out," then follows up with "125."
In another conversation, Williams reached out to Leland at 10:38 a.m. April 7, 2016, asking “where u coming down tomorrow before 6 pm?,” in reference to the Detroit Tigers’ Opening Day.
Leland responds: “Leland plus 3.”
On Opening Day, Leland sent a text to Williams, asking “What time does party start today?”
Williams writes: “Now.”
Leland replies: “Nice.”
In a third exchange, Leland texts Williams a flyer at 10:33 a.m. on June 22, 2016, of a June 29, 2016, "summer reception" at Nick's Gaslight that's $250 per ticket and writes: “The city is on the move! And we’re all in this together – Pls consider coming out to show your support for my efforts.”
The grand jury documents also feature a check dated June 29, 2016, made out to Leland for the $250 cost, which is also accounted for in Leland's campaign finance records.
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.
Paterson last month said he received multiple subpoenas for testimony and documents relating to an "ongoing federal criminal investigation" of Leland. Prosecutors, he said, have also asked him to provide a copy of Archer Jr.'s deposition in the civil lawsuit, during which the businessman was questioned about Leland and the mayor.
The grand jury has issued at least six subpoenas during a corruption investigation first revealed by The News last year.
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.
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.
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 last 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.
The new documents turned over to the grand jury under the subpoena also include a Jan. 21, 2017, text chat between Williams and Leland that details a request from Williams to have Leland apparently enlist Fiore and his daughter, Jennifer Fiore, for help in retrieving an impounded black Chevy Tahoe that had been towed by the Detroit Police Department.
"...can u have Jennifer make a call for me," Williams writes to Leland, who responds "Yes."
Williams then sends Leland the plate number and other identifying information and says the vehicle had been towed from the bar the day prior. Leland agrees to help, later telling Williams "K" and “there all clear.”
Williams writes to Leland about having the fees waived and says “Jenifer or Gasper can’t call over a release the vehicle?"
Leland tells Williams to “hold tight” and instructs him to “have Laura (a dispatcher) call G.”
“Ask Laura to nicely call G. He will know,” Leland writes.
In July, Centre Park co-owner Kenneth Scott Bridgewater sued Leland in federal court, claiming the councilman demanded more than $5,000 in free club access, drinks and food in exchange for help in a dispute with city officials. The bar in Harmonie Park closed in April.
Separately, Leland was sued in March by Robert Carmack, another businessman, who claimed the councilman tried to extort $15,000 from him.
Staff writer Robert Snell contributed.