Robert Carmack arraigned on felonies tied to sale of $1M city property

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
Robert Carmack is arraigned Thursday in 36th District Court.  His attorney turned over his passport as he was considered a possible flight risk.

Detroit — A businessman locked in a legal battle with the city was arraigned Thursday on four felony charges connected to the alleged theft of a $1 million property from the city of Detroit.

Robert Carmack, 59, of Woodhaven, appeared via video before 36th District Court Magistrate Bari Blake Wood on charges of false pretenses with intent to defraud $100,000 or more, and three counts of uttering and publishing a document affecting real property tied to a decade-old land deal. The charges were filed on Tuesday. 

The false pretenses charge carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, according to state statute. Uttering and publishing carries a penalty of up to 14 years.

Carmack's attorney, Mike Rataj, argued Thursday that the charges against his client — who has been locked in a legal battle with Detroit and a public feud with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan — are retaliatory. 

Rataj turned over Carmack's passport to prosecutors during the hearing, noting that Carmack has three minor children, a business in the city and no plans to go anywhere. 

"Mr. Carmack has been in the news. He has obviously been at war, so to speak, with the mayor of Detroit," Rataj said. "He intends to vigorously defend these charges, which I deem as retaliatory."

The charges stem from the March 2, 2016, sale of property that's also the subject of a civil lawsuit filed by Detroit in June alleging the land was "fraudulently sold" by the auto shop owner.

"If you review the public record over the last couple of weeks there's a theme that's been developed in this town. That is, if you push back or you challenge this administration one of two things happen; you either end up charged with a crime or you are under criminal investigation," Rataj, who is also representing the city's fire union head in a criminal investigation being pursued by the Detroit Police Department, told reporters. "That's what's going on here. It's almost like you've got mob bosses running this town."

Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia noted Thursday that the case was sent to the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office a year ago.

Later, Wayne County asked the state Attorney General to appoint another agency due to a conflict of interest. It was then referred to the Genesee County Prosecutor's Office.

“We have full confidence in the professional ability of the Genesee County Prosecutor’s office to handle this matter appropriately," Garcia said in an emailed statement. 

In court Thursday, Genesee County Assistant Prosecutor Patrick McComb also denied the assertion of retaliation, saying that the felony claims against Carmack were "independently reviewed" by Genesee County.

"The Genesee County Prosecutor felt charges were in order and we can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt," he said. "Our belief is that he did a million-dollar deal on a piece of real estate that he never had title to."

Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said he determined just over a week ago that there was probable cause and a warrant should be issued. 

"Even though we're both elected officials, I don't even know Mike Duggan," Leyton said. 

Bond was set at $50,000, 10 percent. Carmack is due back in court on Dec. 28 for a probable cause conference. A preliminary examination is Jan. 4.

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 10-acre property on Melville for $1 million. 

Leyton said that the city uncovered the sale while researching Moby Dick Ventures, an out-of-state investor that wanted to purchase other land in Detroit.

Rataj said Carmack acquired the property from Detroit and that there are details that Genesee County isn't aware of. 

"There's a time and a place for that to come out," he said. 

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

The city contends Carmack in 2016 took the old draft documents from 2007 and used them to fraudulently represent that he owned the property before selling it to the investor.

Carmack made headlines in November after airing private investigator footage of the mayor's comings and goings on a billboard truck outside City Hall. The footage, obtained by a private investigator hired by Carmack, 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 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 its property lawsuit against him — have amounted to extortion.

State police on Thursday said that it does not have an active investigation.