Detroit City Councilman Gabe Leland pleads guilty to misconduct in office, resigns

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Gabe Leland on Monday admitted he "crossed a line" after pleading guilty to misconduct in office and resigning from Detroit's City Council.

Leland, 38, entered the plea before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Gregory Bill. He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 7. 

Leland, a Democrat, was accused of agreeing to accept $15,000 in cash and free car repairs from a Detroit businessman in exchange for his vote on a controversial land deal. The allegations resulted in an indictment on federal bribery charges in addition to the felony misconduct in office charge.

The son of the late former state Sen. Burton Leland, the councilman noted Monday that he came from a family that built its reputation on advocating for the less fortunate. Leland said he learned from his father that political power gives you the ability to do good things. But his own efforts fell short. 

"Unfortunately, I crossed a line. As my plea demonstrates, I violated my oath of office. I am truly sorry for this personal transgression," Leland said in a Monday statement. "It is costing me the ability to hold public office and, with it, the ability to do good things for others. I apologize to the Court, to my family and especially to my constituents who placed their electoral faith in me."

District 7 Councilman Gabe Leland addresses the media.

Leland's attorney, Steve Fishman, told the judge that Leland is expected under an agreement with the Monroe County Prosecutor's Office to face no jail time and a separate federal case against him will be dismissed.

Leland in making his plea told Bill that he accepted the contribution in cash.

"...I knew it was against the law to do so, which makes it misconduct in office," he said.

The Monroe County Prosecutor's Office charged Leland with misconduct in office in July after Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy cited a conflict of interest. 

Just after his indictment in 2018, Leland vowed it would be "business as usual" for him at City Hall and he was "innocent until proven guilty." Leland, who earned $89,546 a year for his role on the council, had continued to take part in council sessions, community events and meetings for more than two years.

Leland is the highest-ranking Detroit politician charged with a federal crime since former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was indicted a decade ago and subsequently sentenced to 28 years in federal prison. Kilpatrick was released in January after former President Donald Trump commuted his sentence. He served seven years. 

The resignation means the nine-member Detroit council is now down to eight members.

Detroit's council can, by a two-thirds vote, appoint a replacement to finish out Leland's term that ends at the finish of this year, according to the process laid out in the City Charter. An appointee, not already certified for 2021 race, would have to run as a write-in in the upcoming election for a chance to win a full, four-year term starting in January 2022.

As of Monday, Regina Ross, JoAnna Underwood, Angy Webb, Fred Durhal, John Bennett and William Davis have been certified for District 7 for the Aug. 3 primary. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Monday the plea and Leland's decision to step down bring to a close a distracting chapter. 

"The charges against Gabe Leland were a negative cloud hanging over the City of Detroit. With his decision to resign, we can now move forward and focus on the business of rebuilding the city." 

Leland was indicted by a federal grand jury in October 2018 on bribery conspiracy and two counts of bribery stemming from the allegations. 

The U.S. Department of Justice then intended to dismiss its indictment, a Feb. 14, 2020 letter to Wayne County prosecutors noted.

The government claimed Leland and Robert Carmack discussed land that Carmack believed he owned that was going to be sold by the city. Leland, authorities contend, offered to help Carmack delay or prevent the sale in exchange for the money as well as free car repairs.

The pair met at The Sting on Michigan Avenue on June 23, 2017, to discuss Leland's alleged efforts to stall the land deal. 

"So when do you want me to give you that money?" Carmack asked Leland during the meeting captured on a secret recording by Carmack and released by the Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office under the Freedom of Information Act.

Leland told Carmack he favored two checks for his campaign account to "do it by the book." But Carmack argued he wanted to hand the councilman the cash: "I’ll just give you the money. I don’t want to deal with nobody else."

"That’s probably a good thing. Deal on the low f------ low, low right now," said Leland, expressing worries over his close ties with indicted towing titan Gasper Fiore, who’d been charged that June in a widespread bribery conspiracy in Macomb County. Fiore later became an FBI witness, cooperating with government investigators targeting politicians, including Leland.

Leland in August 2017 enlisted a campaign staffer to pick up $7,500 from Carmack and bring it to him, prosecutors said. Four days later, he won the Aug. 8 primary. 

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

Last summer, he cast a tie-breaking vote on a contentious proposal to put a $250 million blight bond before Detroit voters last November. Voters ultimately approved the bond measure.