City Council approves District Detroit community benefits deal, brownfield plan

Robert Carmack's preliminary examination cut short

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Robert Carmack, left, makes a remark to Patrick McCombs, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Genesee County, during his pre-trial hearing Monday at 36th District Court in Detroit.

Detroit — An auto shop owner embroiled in a legal battle with the city will have to wait to learn whether he'll stand trial on four felony charges connected to the alleged theft of a $1 million property from the City of Detroit.

Robert Carmack, 59, of Woodhaven, is charged with 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. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison. 

Carmack's preliminary examination began Thursday in 36th District Court, but was cut short because there weren't enough security guards in the building to cover the courtroom during lunch break, and Judge Cylenthia LaToye Miller said union rules prevented her from denying breaks to staff.

Because the attorneys involved had other cases to attend to Thursday, Miller adjourned the hearing. She did not set a date for reconvening, although she told the attorneys to check their schedules and contact her.

Most of Thursday's hearing was spent wrangling over last-minute motions that had been filed. Wayne County prosecutors asked the state Attorney General to appoint another agency due to a conflict of interest. The case was referred to the Genesee County Prosecutor's Office.

Carmack's attorneys filed an emergency motion to have Genesee County prosecutors removed from the case, claiming there was no valid reason for Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy to recuse herself. Miller denied the motion.

Miller also said she'd rule March 13 on other motions, including motions filed by prosecutors to quash subpoenas involving Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Councilman Gabe Leland.

The charges against Carmack focus on the March 2, 2016, sale of property that is also the subject of a civil lawsuit filed by Detroit alleging the land was "fraudulently sold" by the auto shop owner.

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In a lawsuit filed in June, the city accused Carmack of filing a property transfer affidavit with the Detroit assessor's office listing his company, B & C Land Development Corp. as the property's taxpayer prior to a sale to another firm, Moby Dick Ventures LLC.

The city alleges on March 2, 2016, Carmack sold the 10-acre property on Melville for $1 million. City attorneys said the city uncovered the sale while researching Moby Dick Ventures, an out-of-state investor that wanted to purchase other land in Detroit.

The Detroit City Council on April 27, 2007, approved selling the site to Carmack for $250,000, but Carmack failed to complete the transaction by filing the proper paperwork and making payments, which is why the land remains under the city's ownership, Detroit officials have said.

City officials claim Carmack in 2016 used the old draft documents from 2007 to falsely represent that he owned the property before selling it to the investor.

During Thursday's exam, the only witness to take the stand was Bruce Goldman, an attorney for the city of Detroit who handles real estate law. His brief testimony was repeatedly interrupted by objections.

In 2017, Goldman says he was invited to a meeting with Carmack. "The meeting was to discuss a possible resolution of various disputes," he said. The meeting was about the possible sale of property at 7751 Mellville in southwest Detroit.

Goldman said he reviewed records prior to the meeting with Carmack that raised red flags. He said he found a quit claim deed for some property from the city of Detroit to B & C Land Development Corp. — Carmack’s company — for $250,000.  It was signed by the city's finance director and corporation counsel "indicating approval"

"I know that closing never occurred; that sale never happened," Goldman said.

Carmack made headlines in November after driving downtown with a billboard truck airing footage from a private investigator that showed Duggan visiting a condominium in Novi, which Carmack said indicated the mayor didn't live in Detroit.
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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN