Detroit businessman Robert Carmack will go to trial over land deal

Robert Carmack speaks with his attorney Lillian Diallo Friday during his preliminary examination.

Detroit — Businessman Robert Carmack will go to trial on charges that he defrauded the city of Detroit in a land deal.

Judge Cylenthia Miller of the 36th District Court said Friday in her ruling that "the question this all turns on is what Mr. Carmack understood about the documents he received."

Miller said she is duty bound to bind the case over because of many questions surrounding the process in how the city of Detroit officials handled the deed obtained by Carmack. But the judge added "I have serious concerns, serious concerns" with the case.

Carmack, 59, of Woodhaven faces four felonies in connection with his 2016 sale of the 10-acre property at 7751 Melville Street in southwest Detroit. Authorities contend 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. Carmack could spend up to 14 years in prison.

Miller called the city's land deal practices in 2007 "outrageous and appalling" and created "an environment that was ripe for this type of confusion."

But it comes down to, said Miller, "can the city demonstrate that (Carmack) never paid for this property" or can Carmack demonstrate through documents, testimony or anything else that he was given the land free and clear.

Carmack is scheduled to be arraigned June 7 in Wayne Circuit Court.

In closing arguments Friday, Assistant Genesee County Prosecutor Patrick McCombs asked Miller to bind over Carmack on the criminal charges because he perpetuated a fraud when he failed to "consummate" the sale of the Melville property before selling it to an Illinois developer for a profit of $643,000.

"All the (criminal charges) flow from the failure to consummate the sale," said McCombs on Friday. "He never bought it."

McCombs added later in his arguments that "you cannot sell something you don't own." 

McCombs said Carmack never presented an original deed to the clerk's office but instead presented an affidavit that stated the original deed had been lost. Carmack, said McCombs, never followed up to find a replacement deed.

But Carmack's co-counsel, Steve Haney, said the businessman owned the Melville property fair and square, explaining his client got a quit claim deed that was approved by Detroit City Councilmembers in June 2007 and then signed by the city's top planning and development official, budget director and cooperation counsel, who signed and executed Carmack's deed to the property.

"Nowhere (on the deed) does it appear that says draft, copy sample, not a legal document ... nothing," said Haney on Friday.

Haney said emails between former city of Detroit employee Chidi Nyeche, who worked for the city of Detroit's real estate division, and Bruce Goldman, the city's attorney who handles real estate matters, showed that Carmack owns the property because they both said that he closed on the Melville land.

Haney said he didn't expect Carmack would get bound over but said he thought he and attorney Lillian Diallo did a great job of "poking holes" in the prosecution's case.

"They're going to be other issues that I think are going to help the defense, " said Haney after the preliminary hearing wrapped up Friday.

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