Detroit Councilman Scott Benson says he does not 'engage in criminality'
Detroit — A month after a high-profile FBI raid at his home and City Hall offices, Councilman Scott Benson is insisting he doesn't "engage in criminality" or take his constituents for granted.
The councilman made the remarks in a Saturday interview with The Detroit News about his reelection campaign. He is uncontested on the Nov. 2 ballot for Detroit's District 3.
Benson, who is seeking a third term, said he's meeting residents and making his case as if it's a typical campaign season, with a named opponent on the ballot.
"I do not take my constituents for granted," he said. "I go out and ask for their votes."
The FBI late last month raided City Hall offices and the homes of Benson and at-large council member Janeé Ayers as well as their chiefs of staff, Carol Banks and Ricardo Silva, as part of a widening public corruption investigation focused on Detroit towing operations and bribery.
Benson, Ayers and their staff members have not been charged with any wrongdoing. A third Detroit council member, André Spivey, is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery. He's expected to plead guilty Tuesday in federal court.
When FBI agents raided Benson's and Ayers' offices on Aug. 25, they were hunting for bank records, check stubs, cash, campaign finance records and documents regarding 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations, according to search warrants obtained by The News. Documents show federal authorities seized electronics, towing paperwork, shredded documents and payroll records for an aide of Benson.
Sources have told The News that federal agents investigating several council members and their staff are looking into whether anyone personally benefited from campaign contributions or nonprofit donations and whether they extorted business people.
Benson on Saturday declined to further address the raids or federal investigation, adding "I have a very good attorney" and "on his advice, I can't comment."
The councilman is one of two incumbents running unopposed on the November ballot.
In District 5, covering Midtown, the east side and Belle Isle, Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield also runs unopposed. She faces one write-in challenger, Valeria Berry.
Benson, 52, will face a write-in challenge from at least two candidates, according to the Detroit City Clerk: Steven Shelton, 67, a Ford machinist, and Adam Mundy.
Benson said he was surprised that his rivals didn't get their names on the ballot and force a primary election.
Shelton said he submitted more than double the required 300 signatures for a district city council candidate, but that the Detroit City Clerk's Office disqualified many of them, so he was forced to run as a write-in, rather than appear by name.
Still, Shelton felt it was important to run. While Adam Mundy declared his write-in candidacy on Aug. 24, a day before the FBI raids, Shelton declared a month prior.
Mundy, 47, said he wasn't acting on any inside information when he filed. He was out knocking on doors when he got word from his campaign that Benson had been raided.
"I wasn't worried about Benson and whether he got raided or not," Mundy said. "I was ready to take him on."
Mundy's plan was not to run as a write-in, but to appear by name on the ballot.
"I didn't fall off," Mundy said, "and I didn't quit."
After filing in April, Mundy said he heard back from the Detroit City Clerk's Office that he would appear on the ballot.
After a successful challenge to his petition, Mundy's name was removed from the ballot. He chose to run as a write-in.
"This is voter suppression against the residents of District 3," Mundy said of being kicked off the ballot. "We have a councilman up under a corruption investigation."
For Shelton, his interest in seeking office "all started with Gabe Leland," the city's former District 7 councilman. Leland resigned in May after pleading guilty to a state charge of misconduct in office.
Leland 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. Leland first had been indicted on federal bribery charges. Those were dismissed after he pleaded guilty in the state case to accepting a campaign contribution in cash.
"He (Leland) was allowed to sit on the council while under federal indictment. ... Why?" Shelton said. "Detroit is not really a poor city. It's being starved. It's being robbed."
Benson said when he connects with voters in his district, his case for reelection is that the district has 1,000 more jobs than when he started and has seen a half-billion dollars of investment.
"My top three priorities are jobs, jobs, and more jobs," Benson said. "We have people who now work where they live; in the district. I'm seeing people swing hammers on their block. I'm seeing people buy investment properties."
Mundy believes Benson is too concerned with big businesses, such as Flex-N-Gate, and too little concerned with residents.
"We have someone championing big businesses, without community benefits for the neighborhood," Mundy said. "How many of those jobs go to our residents?"
Mundy, who used to be a senior policy advisor to the councilman, is in his second campaign against his former boss.
"There's an issue with apathy," Benson said. "There is no groundswell to unseat anyone. I took that to mean people thought we were doing a good job."
Benson, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran and former small business manager for Midtown Detroit Inc., first took office in January 2014.
While on council, the longtime resident of the city's Osborn community, has been an advocate for sustainability and the city's municipal airport. He has nearly two decades of experience in community development and served the Coast Guard for 24 years.
Benson's attorney Steve Fishman has also noted that he's advised Benson not to make any public comments about the ongoing federal probe.
"Suffice it to say that he has done nothing wrong, let alone criminal, and expects to be exonerated when the investigation is completed," Fishman formerly told The News. "As Gladys Knight once said, 'believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear.'"