Detroit councilman Spivey arraigned on bribery conspiracy charge

Detroit City Councilman André L. Spivey was arraigned Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit on a charge of conspiracy to accept bribes. 

During the 10-minute proceeding before U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Stafford, Spivey appeared in handcuffs and stood mute to the charge. Stafford submitted a not-guilty plea on his behalf. 

He was released on a $10,000 unsecured bond with several conditions, including a requirement that he surrender his U.S. passport, his enhanced drivers license and his expired concealed weapons permit. Stafford restricted his travel to the continental U.S. and told him not to contact a member of his staff identified in filings as "Public Official A" or any witnesses.

Detroit councilman Andre Spivey walks toward his vehicle after being arraigned at the Theodore Levin Federal Courthouse, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021 in Detroit.  Spivey and a member of his staff are accused of accepting more than $35,000 in bribe payments to be "influenced and rewarded" for votes over several years.

The longtime city councilman and the member of his staff are accused of accepting more than $35,000 in bribe payments to be "influenced and rewarded" for votes on the council and in subcommittees from 2016 to 2020 "concerning an industry under review by the council," according to federal authorities.

"We'll be working with the U.S. Attorney's office as we deal with future court dates that will end up resolving this case," Spivey's attorney Elliott Hall told The Detroit News. "We expect that it will be resolved in the next 90-100 days or less."

Spivey was charged last week in a criminal information, which means he waived his right to a grand jury indictment. The case was assigned to Judge Linda V. Parker, though no hearing date has been set.

If found guilty, Spivey could serve up to five years in prison and pay a fine of up to $250,000. 

The U.S. attorney alleges that Spivey, 47, accepted a $1,000 cash bribe from an undercover law enforcement agent on Oct. 26, 2018.

The criminal information specifically notes Detroit received more than $10,000 in federal assistance during each year of the alleged conspiracy, with no other context given. The charge of theft or bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds carries a penalty of returning the funds and imprisonment of not more than five years, or both.

Spivey has been "fully cooperating with the federal authorities for over a year," Hall said. "At no time has he been combative or elusive. Mr. Spivey has a great deal of faith in the justice system and is hoping to have this issue resolved very soon."

Spivey declined to answer questions from reporters as he walked out of the federal courthouse.

Hall said Spivey did accept $35,000 over four years, "a little bit at a time from someone that he thought was a friend, but he did nothing in exchange for it."

"That's important," Hall continued. "The way the statute is drafted, is that he intends to be influenced, or he intended to use it as a quid pro quo — never happened."

Spivey is the second Detroit councilman this term accused of accepting bribes in favor of votes at the council table. This spring,  Councilman Gabe Leland resigned after pleading guilty to a state charge of misconduct in office and was sentenced to two-and-a-half years' probation.

Asked if Spivey hopes to plead guilty and receive that sort of sentence, Hall replied: "Well, if that's bottom line, if we have to enter a plea, he would hope to have a similar kind of situation."

Hall said Spivey is attending law school at Wayne State University and wants to practice with a firm.

Asked how his criminal case might affect those plans, Spivey's attorney answered, "Well, a lot of lawyers have been suspended for a period of time, and reinstated. So we've got to go through that process, if in fact, a guilty plea is going to be entered, or if he goes to a jury trial. And if he's found not guilty, of course, that deals with that issue."

More than $90,000 in tax liens have been filed against Spivey in the last six years, according to records obtained by The Detroit News. He also has nearly $8,000 outstanding in delinquent taxes on his home property from 2020-21.

A Wayne County Treasurer's Office spokeswoman did not respond to multiple requests on if Spivey was on a payment plan. The IRS office in Detroit declined to comment, saying it could not release taxpayer information. Hall declined to comment on the tax liens, saying he does "not know the validity of it" and has "not discussed it in any detail with the government or Mr. Spivey."

Hall said Spivey is not planning to resign his seat on the council: "His term comes to an end in November, plus he's on recess now for the entire month of August. So he wants to finish his term."

The arraignment came the same day Detroiters were voting in the primary election for city council. Spivey is among a handful of council members who announced earlier this year that they would not be seeking another four-year term in this year's election. President Brenda Jones and member Raquel Castañeda-López also aren't seeking re-election. 

Spivey was first elected citywide in 2009. He was subsequently elected to represent the council's District 4 in 2013 and 2017. He lives in the district's historic East English Village.

Asked last week whether Spivey should resign, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said it's "not my place" to weigh in.

"Just like everybody else in this country, he's entitled to be presumed innocent," he said. "We'll see how the criminal justice process plays out."

Earlier this year, Duggan said Leland's case had been a "negative cloud" over the city and that Leland's plea and resignation were allowing Detroit to move forward. 

The 38-year-old 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 state case came after Leland was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2018 on bribery conspiracy and two counts of bribery stemming from the allegations. The federal case against Leland was dismissed as part of his plea agreement.

Leland was the highest-ranking Detroit politician to be 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.

rbeggin@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @rbeggin