Detroit councilman Gabe Leland's federal corruption trial reset for January

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — A federal judge has pushed the corruption trial for Councilman Gabe Leland to January, citing "unprecedented" challenges tied to the pandemic and discussions over a potential resolution in the case. 

U.S. District Judge Judith E. Levy moved Monday to postpone the proceedings to Jan. 25. The judge's filing sets a Sept. 1 deadline for motions in the case and a Jan. 11 cutoff for a final pretrial conference or plea hearing. 

Gabe Leland

The delay is the eighth in the 37-year-old Detroit councilman's case and comes after the Monroe County Prosecutor's Office amended felony charges in the state's case against Leland last week to clarify he's accused of taking a campaign contribution of $7,500 in cash.

The new charging document spelled out the alleged conduct that prompted a filing of misconduct in office charges against Leland earlier in July. Leland's attorney Steve Fishman has said the document was changed "to reflect what actually occurred."

Monroe County Prosecutor Michael Roehrig issued the charges against Leland after being assigned the case. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy had cited a conflict of interest and recused herself. 

It is alleged Leland "accepted a campaign contribution of $7,500 in cash," which isn't permitted under state law. 

The payments are alleged to have occurred between Jan. 1, 2017, and Jan. 31, 2018. The maximum penalty for the felony offense is five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. 

The original charging document from Monroe County said Leland "accepted payments of money to influence his vote on certain city matters over the course of his employment as a city councilman."

Roehrig has said the change to the complaint does not negate the facts detailed in the first document, which indicated Leland had bartered his City Council vote for money. But the amended complaint, Roehrig added, better reflects “the nature of the alleged criminal misconduct.”

Detroit Mayor mike Duggan last week said that Leland and any other public official under suspicion should be treated as innocent until proven guilty. But "if and when any individual is convicted they should be out immediately, he said. 

Leland was indicted by a federal grand jury in October 2018 on bribery charges and accused of agreeing to accept $15,000 and free car repairs from a businessman.

He originally was expected to stand trial that same year, but the case has been delayed numerous times due to its complexity and additional charges against a Leland staffer.

In the latest postponement approved Monday, the court sites scheduling conflicts with witnesses and discovery, discussions involving "a resolution of the matter," and the "widespread societal disruption" caused by COVID-19. 

The case had been set for trial on Aug. 17. 

The government alleges Leland and Detroit businessman Robert Carmack discussed land that Carmack believed he owned that was going to be sold by the city.

Leland offered to vote and help Carmack delay or prevent the sale in exchange for the money as well as free car repairs, authorities have alleged.

The next month, Leland twice cast the sole vote against selling the property.

Leland in August 2017 allegedly enlisted a campaign staffer to pick up and deliver him $7,500. Four days later, he won the Aug. 8 primary. 

Leland met Carmack at the Caucus Club Detroit restaurant afterward, acknowledging receipt of the $7,500 but said Carmack never paid the balance of the $15,000 bribe, according to Leland's federal indictment.

The bribery charges carry penalties up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.