Carmack headed to trial after losing bid to dismiss charges over land deal

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit businessman Robert Carmack is headed to trial next month after a  judge Thursday denied a motion to dismiss multiple felony charges involving a land deal in Detroit.

Robert Carmack speaks with attorney Lillian Diallo

During a pretrial hearing, Wayne County Circuit Judge Noah Hood said the case is one that "the jury will have to flesh out."

Hood told Carmack attorneys Lillian Diallo and Steve Haney that Judge Cylenthia Miller, then a 36th District judge, did not abuse her discretion in sending Carmack's case to trial in county court.

Last May, Miller sent the case over to Wayne County Circuit Court for trial, saying she had "serious concerns, serious concerns" with it.

Carmack of Woodhaven is facing trial on four felony counts in connection with the 2016 sale of a 10-acre parcel at 7751 Melville 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. 

If convicted, Carmack could spend up to 14 years in prison.

Also during the pretrial hearing, Hood granted the prosecution's request to question witnesses and present information about Carmack's bankruptcy and his tax records. Assistant Genesee County Prosecutor Patrick McCombs said during a previous pretrial hearing that Carmack did not list the Melville address in his bankruptcy filings.

The county judge is allowing Carmack's defense attorney to present arguments dealing with Michigan land laws and land purchases.

But Hood said Carmack's attorney cannot use a defense of "vindictive prosecution" during arguments at the trial, which is scheduled for Feb. 3. 

Carmack has contended that he was charged in connection with the land deal as a result of acrimony with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. Carmack has had banners bearing salacious and controversial messages about the mayor flown in the airspace around downtown including at sports events and court hearings related to his case.

"In my view, Mr. Carmack has not met the burden that vindictive prosecution has occurred," Hood said Thursday. "(Carmack) has not established a causal link between his protected speech and this case being charged." 

Hood also cautioned attorneys that he was not going to get into "this Duggan-Carmack feud" during the trial. Carmack had a banner flown outside the courthouse Thursday with a reference to a Detroit physician who is allegedly connected to Duggan and whose foundation, Make Your Date, is at the center of questions about how city officials have handled donations to the program aimed at reducing premature births.

McCombs complained to Hood about the banner being flown before the hearing. Hood said he would look into it. Haney said Carmack was practicing his constitutional rights. 

Hood also ruled in favor of a motion to excuse Duggan, his ex-wife Lori Maher and Detroit city inspector general Ellen Ha from testifying in the trial, saying, "it doesn't add anything to what we're here to do." 

McCombs asked Hood to remand Carmack to jail, saying he had violated his bond conditions connected to a drunken driving arrest in Woodhaven. The judge referred the prosecutor to 33rd District Court, where that case is being handled.

Carmack was charged last month in a Oct. 27 incident in Brownstown Township. In that case, he faces a penalty of up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $5,000.

A Jan. 22 hearing is scheduled to address discovery issues in the trial over the land deal ahead of jury selection.

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