Mayor Duggan asking State Police to investigate businessman's actions

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan is asking the Michigan State Police to investigate whether the actions of a city businessman — allegedly in retaliation for the city's refusal to drop property lawsuits against him — have amounted to extortion.

Duggan made the remarks Monday after Detroit auto body shop owner Robert Carmack earlier this month broadcast video footage captured of Duggan's comings and goings by a private investigator on a video billboard truck outside City Hall. The footage showed the mayor visiting a condominium in Novi and separately showed a woman arriving there on other occasions.

The mayor contends the efforts are retaliatory by Carmack tied to lawsuits the city has filed against him. The effort "to embarrass me" also comes with a promise from Carmack, Duggan claims, to release more information on Wednesday.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan holds a press conference Monday inside his press studio at his office to address the situation with businessman Robert Carmack.

"This is a terrible situation. I have to choose between protecting the interests of the city or protecting my family," the mayor told reporters during a Monday news conference. "No matter how painful the consequences may be, I am not going to give in to these threats."

Duggan said Carmack has allegedly promised that the next round of information expected would "cause my wife, Lori, great pain."

Duggan said he has no idea what other information Carmack might be releasing this week. He said he’ll leave it up to the police whether this is considered extortion.

“I feel like I am being pressured to modify a case by threats to embarrass me or my family,” Duggan said. “But it is the state police, and ultimately, the attorney general, that will determine whether there was any law broken or whether it rises to that level.”

Shanon Banner, a spokeswoman for the State Police, said in an email to The Detroit News that state investigators were meeting with Duggan on Monday "to hear about the allegations" and begin an investigation. 

Authorities then will turn over their findings to a prosecutor.

Earlier this month, Duggan and his wife, Lori Maher, released a statement that defended their marriage after Carmack made the recordings public.

Carmack on Monday called Duggan "scared" and "desperate," saying he only convened the news conference to beat Carmack to the punch.

Carmack denied any assertion that he's threatened Duggan. 

"He thinks he's being attacked by what? By me putting a video on a truck? I don't think that's attacking him," Carmack said. "Guess what, he's a public figure. He works 24-7 for the City of Detroit. He's driving a city car, he's driving city gas. We need to know where he's at. He's got to answer to the people of Detroit."

Duggan on Monday said that in 2007, a company owned by Carmack proposed buying a parcel of land in the city for $250,000. On June 20, 2007, Detroit's City Council approved the sale, the mayor noted. 

The law department sent him notification that the sale was complete and that he needed to complete payment and sign the documents. Instead, Duggan said "he walked away from the deal. He never paid the $250,000."

"The purchase never happened. The city never sold him the land. It has been in city ownership ever since," Duggan told reporters. 

A lawsuit filed by the city contends that Carmack in 2016 took the old draft documents from 2007 and used them to fraudulently represent that he did own the property. He then sold the property to an out-of-state investor and pocketed $1 million, the city contends in its June lawsuit against Carmack.

"Just days later, Carmack's private investigators began following my every move, looking for embarrassing information to use against me," the mayor said. 

The mayor said when the city filed the case in June, he wasn't even aware of it. He contends it was five months later in early November when an acquaintance of Carmack's told his management team that the businessman was "angry about the litigation" and "blamed me for it."

Duggan said Carmack intended to use the video "to embarrass me."

Earlier this month, Carmack contacted Detroit's Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia and demanded the city settle its outstanding $1 million lawsuit, the mayor said Monday.

Carmack also allegedly demanded the city settle a second suit related to land where his auto shop is located on Michigan Avenue.

"Carmack demanded the city agree to settle both suits in his favor and not require Carmack to pay a single dollar," said Duggan, noting Garcia declined. 

He then responded, Duggan claims, 'Well, you better do something. I'm going to make some noise. I'm going to drop a bomb,'" the mayor said. 

Carmack also filed a lawsuit one week ago in Wayne County Circuit Court alleging that the city has denied his request for security tapes at the Manoogian Mansion that he has said will show that the mayor does not reside in the city. 

Carmack contends the city is trying to overcharge him to obtain the footage he's seeking under the Freedom of Information Act.

Duggan said of all the claims "the most bizarre" is that he hasn't always lived at the Manoogian Mansion. 

"I sold my old house in Livonia five years ago. I have no other property. Lori and I have lived in the mansion since Jan. 1, 2014," he said. "The dog is there. The cats are there. All of our clothes, our furniture, everything in our entire life is at the Manoogian Mansion."

According to the lawsuit, Carmack claims the mayor "is intentionally providing false information with respect to the hours and days that the security cameras record at the Manoogian Mansion," citing that the private investigator whom he hired allegedly found that Duggan does not live there full time.

The filing claims the city is "intentionally charging an exorbitant amount of money to produce the security videos in order to prevent the Plaintiff" from obtaining them.

In October, an attorney from the city's law department sent Carmack a supplemental response to an August FOIA request about the security video at the mansion as well as information on the mayor's executive protection staff.

The law department letter noted if 30 days' worth of footage from 13 cameras was turned over, it would equate to approximately 3,200 hours of video and cost $20,749. But if Carmack wanted all available video, it would be approximately 6,500 hours and $41,609. 

The lawsuit doesn't say why Carmack believes Duggan doesn't live in the city.

Duggan's chief of staff, Alexis Wiley, has said Carmack requested video for 30 days from 13 cameras that record 24 hours a day. He was offered the opportunity to limit his Freedom of Information Act request to one camera at the entrance of the mansion to lower the cost, she said. 

Carmack's suit alleges he initially sought all security footage from January 2014 through August 2018 but the city said it was only recorded on a DVR in a 30-day video. His lawyers dispute the claim and want a judge to determine the city has the recordings.

The lawsuit was filed after Carmack earlier this month displayed footage of Duggan that had been captured over a series of months.

The video shows Duggan driving himself without his personal protection unit after work hours to a home in Novi, where he spends between a few minutes to a few hours on numerous occasions over the summer. A woman seen on the video is present at the home at least two different times.

"It speaks for itself," Carmack previously said of the footage. "This shows the character that I feel that this mayor is."

Duggan on Monday noted that he first encountered Carmack shortly after being elected mayor and his initial experiences with him had been positive.

Carmack, Duggan said, participated in a work group about lowering car insurance for Detroiters. 

"My initial interactions with him were not negative. But apparently, he had some bad results dealing with the real estate department," he said. "I don't know if I've ever had a bad conversation with him." 

Carmack is also a central figure in a federal bribery case against Detroit City Councilman Gabe Leland.

The businessman also filed his own suit this spring against Leland, claiming the councilman attempted to extort him.

Carmack wore a recording device during conversations with Leland in which the councilman allegedly agreed to accept $15,000 and free car repairs from Carmack in exchange for Leland's efforts to delay or prevent the sale of property. 

Carmack said he hired the private investigator to "find out what Mike Duggan does at night," and added that he's attempting to have specific people, including Duggan, participate in depositions in his lawsuit.