Detroit Councilman Scott Benson hires veteran criminal defense lawyer amid FBI corruption probe

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — City Councilman Scott Benson has hired one of the city's top criminal defense lawyers amid an ongoing corruption investigation into bribery and municipal towing operations.

Benson hired Detroit lawyer Steve Fishman on Friday, two days after FBI agents raided his home and City Hall as part of a broader series of searches that included the home of Councilwoman Janeé Ayers.

Scott Benson

The searches, including raids at the homes of the council members' chiefs of staff, represent the largest public corruption investigation in the eight years since former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was convicted of racketeering conspiracy and sentenced to 28 years in federal prison.

Benson is expected to appear at City Council's next formal session when it returns from recess on Sept. 7, his spokeswoman Kimberly Hayes Taylor said Tuesday. 

Benson has not been charged with wrongdoing and search warrant documents listing probable cause to search the locations remained sealed in court.

"Despite the local media's clamoring for a statement, Councilman Benson will rely on my advice and have nothing to say publicly about this situation," Fishman wrote in a statement to The Detroit News on Tuesday. "Suffice it to say that he has done nothing wrong, let alone criminal, and expects to be exonerated when the investigation is completed.  As Gladys Knight once said, 'believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear.'"

Fishman has a long history representing politicians and public officials accused of public corruption and wrongdoing. His client roster includes former Detroit City Council members Gabe Leland and Monica Conyers and former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Diana Hathaway.

Steve Fishman

The FBI raids came three weeks after Councilman André Spivey was arraigned in federal court on one count of conspiracy to commit bribery over claims he accepted more than $35,000 to be "influenced and rewarded" for votes.

In the Spivey case, federal authorities contend he and another unnamed official, identified in filings as "Public Official A," accepted bribes in exchange for votes on the Detroit City Council and in subcommittees from 2016 to 2020. 

Specifically, 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 "concerning an industry under review by the council," according to federal authorities.

He is expected to plead guilty Sept. 28 in federal court.

Shortly before heading on a two-week vacation Thursday, Mayor Mike Duggan vowed to overhaul the city's municipal towing system, which he contends is "fraught with potential for abuse."

The police department had been working toward eliminating a preferential rotation and "get this problem behind us for good," said Duggan, adding plans to move to an open competitive bid were paused earlier this year after the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners voted to extend current permits.

Duggan said he is withholding judgment on the city council probe until he "sees what develops" from the federal investigation.

Sarah Rahal contributed

rsnell@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @robertsnellnews