Real estate attorney challenges validity of Carmack deed

Robert Carmack of Wyandotte during a March 13 hearing on his controversial sale of $1 million worth of land in the city of Detroit.

A real estate attorney testified Wednesday that a quit claim deed sent to Detroit businessman Robert Carmack for a property he later resold for $1 million wasn't necessarily valid.

Catherine LaMont, who has worked on numerous land deals for the city, said the deed, which Carmack received in the mail in 2007 for the site at 7751 Melville, was a copy.

Carmack, 59, of Woodhaven is charged with four felonies in connection with his 2016 sale of the 10-acre property. Authorities allege he never completed a $250,000 purchase of the site but used draft documents from 2007 to fraudulently represent that he owned the land before selling it.

During a preliminary hearing for Carmack in 36th District Court, LaMont said it is not unusual for buyers to receive copies of a land deed before a real estate closing.

"We have seen copies of deeds be transmitted in anticipation of a closing," she said.

LaMont, now owns her own title insurance company, worked on the Melville property title for the city. "I would not call this a valid deed," she said. "It's a record of a copy of a valid deed."

Carmack's co-counsel, Steve Haney, challenged LaMont's description of the paperwork sent to his client.

 "Where does it say a copy of the quit claim (deed)?" he asked, telling LaMont during his cross-examination that the document did not contain the words "copy," "sample" or "not a legal document."

Haney said the deed had the signatures of Roger Short, financial director for the city of Detroit; Douglass Diggs, then-director of planning and development for the city, in addition to an attorney for the city of Detroit's law department.

Haney said the deed also was approved by the Detroit City Council June 20, 2007.

"The document speaks for itself," he said.

Patrick McCombs, assistant prosecuting attorney for Genesee County, who is special prosecutor in the case, told Judge Cylenthia Miller that Haney was "mischaracterizing" the document.

Haney said Carmack received the deed in the mail, adding, "What's he supposed to think?"  

LaMont was asked by Haney during cross-examination what the $250,000 noted on the quit claim deed meant. She replied, "I read that as cash or some sort of monetary (value)."

Carmack was charged in December 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.

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.

During a separate hearing, Miller denied a motion by attorneys representing the city that former city attorney Melvin Hollowell, Diggs and Allen Hayner not be subpoenaed to testify about their recollections of land deals with Carmack, including his effort to buy a riverfront site in southwest Detroit.

"How do we know what Douglass Diggs, Melvin Hollowell or Allen Hayner know or what they don't know?" asked Miller. 

In a separate land dispute, Carmack filed suit over the riverfront Revere Copper & Brass property that he'd intended to gain ownership of and redevelop during the Kwame Kilpatrick administration.

Carmack claims ex-Kilpatrick aide Derrick Miller demanded a $50,000 payment to finalize an agreement for site near Historic Fort Wayne.

Haney said he plans to ask about a land deal involving the Revere Copper & Brass property and that city documents will show that $250,000 was pumped into it for redevelopment.

"I think it all ties in very nicely," said Haney.

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