Gabe Leland says he's 'innocent until proven guilty' on bribery claims

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
Indicted City Councilman Gabe Leland vowed Tuesday that it'll be "business as usual for me" and he's "innocent until proven guilty" on federal allegations of bribery.

Detroit — Indicted City Councilman Gabe Leland vowed Tuesday that it'll be "business as usual for me" and he's "innocent until proven guilty" on federal allegations of bribery.

Leland, 35, made the remarks days after he was indicted by a federal grand jury on bribery charges and accused of agreeing to accept $15,000 and free car repairs from a local businessman.

"I'm innocent until proven guilty. That's my statement until further notice," Leland told reporters outside City Council chambers following Tuesday's formal session, which he attended.

Leland's indictment is the latest corruption scandal to hit the top levels of Detroit government since former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

The three-count indictment capped a tumultuous year for Leland who has lived under a cloud of suspicion since The Detroit News obtained sealed FBI wiretap affidavits that revealed he was the target of a federal bribery probe.

Leland told reporters that they should reach out to his legal counsel in regard to the bribery allegations, which he noted are "very serious charges." But he did make clear he intends to remain visible in his role representing the council's District 7.

"I'll be at meetings. I'll be responding to constituents as I have been doing the last five and a half years. I'll be at the council table," he said. "Any resident that has any concerns, please continue to contact me."

Leland, when asked if he had nothing to hide, responded "nothing at all."

"I have a lot of respect for the legal process, and that will play out the way it plays out," he said. "I have a lot of respect for my residents. I have a lot of respect for the city of Detroit. I love this city. I will commit to working as hard as I possibly can for residents in the 7th District and the city of Detroit as long as I'm able."

On May 16, 2017, Leland offered to help businessman Robert Carmack in exchange for $15,000 and free car repairs, the government claims.

“I should ask for thirty,” said Leland, according to the indictment, “but I’m nice to you.”

Leland was charged with bribery conspiracy and two counts of bribery one day after his campaign staffer, Elisa Grubbs, was charged and accused of delivering the bribe from Carmack.

If convicted, Leland faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each bribery count and five years for bribery conspiracy.

Last week, Mayor Mike Duggan, whose administration is embroiled in a separate federal grand jury investigation involving Detroit's demolition program, called the Leland allegations "deeply upsetting and disappointing."

The conspiracy described by prosecutors dates to spring 2017. That's when Leland and Carmack discussed land the businessman believed he owned that was going to be sold by the city.

Leland offered to vote and help Carmack delay or prevent the sale in exchange for $15,000 and free car repairs, prosecutors alleged.

Carmack agreed to provide free car repairs, prosecutors said.

The next month, Leland twice cast the sole vote against selling the property.

Two months later, in August 2017, Leland enlisted Grubbs to pick up the cash, prosecutors said.

On Aug. 4, 2017, Leland told the businessman he should give the money to Grubbs, and later that day, Grubbs received $7,500 and delivered the money to Leland, according to the government.

Four days later, Leland won the Aug. 8 primary.

Days later, Leland met the businessman at Caucus Club Detroit restaurant. Leland acknowledged receiving $7,500 but said Carmack never paid the balance of the $15,000 bribe, according to the indictment.

Leland's set to be arraigned Monday in U.S. District Court in Detroit. 

Staff writer Robert Snell contributed to this report.