Macomb judge in running to lead U.S. Attorney's Office that once indicted him

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — A Macomb County judge has launched a bid to become the top federal prosecutor in Eastern Michigan and oversee an office that indicted him 17 years ago on corruption charges.

Carl Marlinga, 74, who is barred by age limits from running for re-election to the Macomb County Circuit Court bench, interviewed for the U.S. Attorney opening March 23 along with several others who have applied to oversee a team of approximately 120 federal prosecutors in Detroit, Flint and Bay City.


His name emerged as a committee is helping narrow the field of candidates to replace U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider, who resigned in January after President Donald Trump lost re-election. Acting U.S. Attorney Saima Mohsin, the first female, immigrant, Muslim U.S. attorney in American history, did not apply or interview for the nomination.

Marlinga’s candidacy comes 15 years after he was acquitted of federal corruption charges. The former Macomb County prosecutor had faced up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines for allegedly swapping favors in two rape cases for contributions to his failed 2002 congressional campaign. The charges prompted him to step down as Macomb County's prosecutor in 2004 after 20 years on the job. 

“I think it would be an awkward situation running an office that once charged him with a crime,” said former federal prosecutor Keith Corbett, who worked with Marlinga as chief of the federal Organized Crime Strike Force in Detroit.

“But he could say he knows the awesome power of the office and be particularly sensitive to people in that situation and make sure they are treated fairly."

Marlinga confirmed his candidacy Wednesday but declined additional comment.

The U.S. Attorney's Office has undergone considerable changes since Marlinga was acquitted. Stephen Murphy was U.S. Attorney at the time and now is a federal judge, and the prosecutors who handled the case have retired or left the office.

Michigan Democratic U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters eventually will recommend candidates to be the next U.S. attorneys in Detroit and Grand Rapids.

Mohsin, the acting U.S. Attorney, said it could be early next year before the permanent US attorney is in office.

The Eastern District of Michigan covers a wide geographic area, spanning 34 counties and serving 6.5 million people across the eastern half of the Lower Peninsula. The district has led a crackdown in recent years on public corruption, health care fraud and violent crimes, particularly in Detroit, one of the most violent big cities in the country.

A diverse field of current and former federal prosecutors has signaled interest in becoming the next U.S. attorney in Detroit. The group is emerging as President Joe Biden has signaled interest in fixing racial injustice at a time of heightened focus on disparities within the criminal justice system.

Three veteran federal prosecutors are perceived by area lawyers as leading contenders for the job: criminal division chief Mark Chutkow, corruption prosecutor Dawn Ison and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Doeh.

Clockwise, from left: Dawn Ison, Mark Chutkow and Eric Doeh.

Chutkow was one of two lead prosecutors who secured the landmark conviction of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, contractor Bobby Ferguson and others during a broad crackdown on City Hall corruption.

"He always tries to do the right thing," said Ferguson's lawyer, Mike Rataj. "He’s an excellent lawyer and a good person, and he has integrity and he understands a prosecutor's role is not to bury people in prison but to do justice."

Ison is assigned to the public corruption unit. Last fall, she was appointed to oversee how the U.S. Attorney's Office handled Election Day complaints about fraud and helped ensure voting was safe and secure amid concerns about voter intimidation and foreign interference. 

Death by Instagram

Doeh, meanwhile, is deputy CEO/chief operating officer of the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network. He served alongside Chutkow and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bullotta in the Kilpatrick case and previously worked in the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office handling homicide cases.

Other candidates who are pursuing the job include:

  • Christopher Graveline, director of professional standards and constitutional policing for the Detroit Police Department. He is a former assistant U.S. attorney who headed the violent and organized crime unit and prosecuted a large-scale racketeering case against the Seven Mile Bloods street gang, which was highlighted in the narrative series Death by Instagram in The News.
  • Louis Gabel, a partner with the Jones Day law firm in Detroit who handles white-collar defense work and government and civil investigations. He is a former assistant U.S. attorney.

Twitter: @robertsnellnews 

Staff Writer Christine Ferretti contributed.