Detroit's tiny homes promised a path to ownership. It hasn't been fully paved

Robert Carmack locked in litigation over land deal faces felony charges

Detroit auto shop owner Robert Carmack

Detroit — Robert Carmack, a businessman engaged in a public feud with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and accused of stealing a million-dollar property from the city, has been charged with four felonies. 

Wayne County Circuit Court records show Carmack, 59, of Woodhaven, is facing one count of false pretenses with intent to defraud $100,000 or more, and three counts of uttering and publishing a document affecting real property. The false pretenses charge carries up to 20 years or fine of up to $35,000, according to state statute. Uttering and publishing carries a penalty of up to 14 years in prison.

The charges are tied to March 2, 2016, the same day that the city, in a civil lawsuit, has alleged the auto shop owner "fraudulently sold" city property that's been the subject of the litigation filed by Detroit in June.

Reached Wednesday, Carmack deferred comment to his attorney, Mike Rataj, who declined to comment but confirmed Carmack is set to be arraigned Thursday on the charges in Detroit's 36th District Court. 

Maria Miller, a spokeswoman with the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, said in an email to The Detroit News on Wednesday that the county in April asked the state Attorney General to "appoint another prosecutor's office to handle the matter due to a conflict of interest."

Miller noted Carmack has a federal lawsuit pending against Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree. The treasurer's office is the ultimate funding source for the prosecutor's office, therefore, it created the conflict, she said.

As a result, she said, the Genesee County Prosecutor's Office was appointed to handle the case. Officials with Genesee County could not be immediately reached Wednesday for comment about the charges. 

The mayor's office on Wednesday said officials would not be commenting on the charges.

In its June lawsuit, the city alleges Carmack had filed a property transfer affidavit with the Detroit assessor's office making a company he owns — B & C Land Development Corp. — the property's taxpayer ahead of a sale to another firm, Moby Dick Ventures LLC.

On March 2, 2016, the city contends, Carmack sold the property for $1 million. 

On April 27, 2007, Detroit's City Council approved the sale of the piece of land on Melville for $250,000, but Carmack failed to complete payment and sign the documents. As a result, the land has been in city ownership ever since, officials with the city have said. 

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 still owned 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.

Carmack, during a news conference with reporters last month, said the deeds were mistakenly sent to him for the Melville property. He didn't sign the deeds, but Carmack said he did ultimately sell the property.

In a separate land dispute, Carmack filed suit over riverfront property that he'd intended to gain ownership of and redevelop, dating back to the Kilpatrick era.

Carmack has said that he was first pursuing the land deal during former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's administration and claims ex-Kilpatrick aide Derrick Miller demanded a $50,000 payment to finalize an agreement for the Revere Copper & Brass property near Historic Fort Wayne.

Carmack, meanwhile, made headlines in November after airing footage of the mayor's comings and goings on a billboard truck outside City Hall. Carmack had said he'd hired a private investigator to trail Duggan over a series of months and has questioned whether Duggan resides in the city. 

The footage showed the mayor visiting a condominium in Novi and separately showed a woman arriving there on other occasions.

Late last month, Duggan convened a news conference to announce to the media that he'd asked the Michigan State Police to open an investigation into Carmack's actions — allegedly in retaliation for the city's refusal to drop property lawsuits against him — have amounted to extortion.