André Spivey resigns from Detroit City Council after pleading guilty to bribery

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — André Spivey resigned from Detroit City Council Wednesday, one day after pleading guilty to accepting bribes from a contractor, and becoming the second councilman to be convicted of a felony this year amid an ongoing FBI probe.

Spivey, 47, resigned through a letter sent to City Council President Brenda Jones Wednesday morning saying "it has been a pleasure to serve" the city for nearly 12 years and that he's "praying for an even brighter future for Detroit."

Spivey, in the letter obtained Wednesday by The Detroit News, did not reference the bribery case but instead stressed representing District 4 and "working to move our city past bankruptcy into financial solvency" was challenging and rewarding. The resignation is effective immediately. 

Detroit City Councilman Andre Spivey, 47, resigned Wednesday through a letter sent to City Council President Brenda Jones saying "it has been a pleasure to serve" the city for nearly 12 years and that he's "praying for an even brighter future for Detroit." Spivey pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to bribery.

Spivey will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts Jan. 19 and advisory sentencing guidelines call for 37-46 months in federal prison.

Spivey pleaded guilty Tuesday to a bribery conspiracy charge punishable by up to five years in federal prison after he and an unidentified staffer were accused of pocketing more than $35,000 in bribes in exchange for supporting a vote involving what sources have said is the towing industry. The conspiracy lasted from 2016-20 and Spivey has spent the last year secretly cooperating with investigators, his lawyer Elliott Hall said.

"Over the course of four years, I received payments in hopes to help an individual retain a city contract," Spivey told Roberts on Tuesday. 

The councilman 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 neighborhood and serves as an executive minister at Oak Grove AME Church.

Spivey, a Wayne State University law student, will no longer be allowed to practice as a minister and his felony charge will "prevent him from working," Hall told The News Wednesday.

Spivey will continue pursuing his law degree, "but it's going to take some time. This will prevent him from many goals. It will take time for us to restore and build his character but we could do that by requesting a pardon. It's not impossible," Hall said.

Oak Grove AME Church Senior Pastor Cindy Rudolph told The News Wednesday that Spivey is "a member of the family of faith" there.

"During challenging times, families rally around each other," she said. "Therefore, we offer our prayers and support to him and his family." 

Politicians convicted of corruption-related crimes are prohibited from holding state or local office. Spivey's departure marks the second vacancy on the city's governing board this year since Councilman Gabe Leland quit in May after pleading guilty to a state misconduct in office charge. Meanwhile, a federal investigation of bribery, extortion, mail and wire fraud that is intensifying against the backdrop of a fall reelection race for two FBI targets, Councilmembers Janeé Ayers and Scott Benson, has not resulted in criminal charges.

Spivey is the first to be charged as part of the federal corruption investigation known as "Operation Northern Hook," targeting corruption within Detroit City Hall and the police department related to towing and other matters.

"The people of Detroit deserve a city government free of corruption and pay-to-play politics," Acting United States Attorney Saima Mohsin said in a statement Tuesday.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Wednesday that he spoke with Spivey and his family late Tuesday and knows it's a "terribly difficult time" for the resigned councilman and the city. The mayor also reiterated his concerns over the municipal towing practices in Detroit and plans underway to revise them. 

"I do not have a good thing to say about the towing system in this city. It has created a situation that is rife for people to be approaching our elected officials," Duggan said during an unrelated afternoon news conference. "I have no idea whether there is or is not a case against the other council members but we have to create a situation where we don't have this going on."

The FBI investigation is the broadest probe of Detroit City Hall corruption in the eight years since former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was convicted of racketeering conspiracy and replaced by a new generation of leaders. In the last 12 years, more than 110 labor leaders, politicians, police officers and bureaucrats have been charged with federal corruption-related crimes locally, according to a database built by The Detroit News.

In the Spivey case, on eight separate occasions between February 2018 and February 2020, the councilman, or a member of his staff identified as "Public Official A," accepted bribe payments amounting to more than $1,000 in each transaction, federal authorities said Tuesday. The payments were given to an undercover agent or a confidential source, all in connection with towing issues pending before the City Council. 

On Oct. 26, 2018, Spivey met with an undercover agent at Side Street Diner in Grosse Pointe and was asked to help two people with regards to towing. Spivey accepted $1,000 cash from the agent and another $1,000 cash from a confidential source.

He met with the towing source to receive payments at the Dearborn Meat Market, and on Jan. 22, 2020, he received additional funds for an annual campaign fundraiser in return to help with towing. Spivey was given $10,000 with an additional $4,000 to a staff member.

He was given another $4,000 to help with contracts on Jan. 27, 2020, and on Feb. 21, 2020, his staff member was given an additional $12,000 by the towing source, Roberts laid out in court.

Hall emphasized, "Mr. Spivey ... had an intent but never issued a vote."

Jones in a Wednesday statement following Spivey's resignation said that she is resolute to continue the business of the city, despite setbacks.

"The City Council has encountered many hardships in my last 16 years. But like most Detroiters, we have always bounced back and gotten through difficult times," she said. 

During Spivey's vacancy, residents of District 4 will be represented by both City Council at-large members, Jones and Ayers. Voters will decide in November whether to elect Latisha Johnson or M.L. Elrick in the race for District 4. 

"I will continue to pray for the Spivey family and for the citizens of Detroit."

Detroit Councilwman Raquel Castañeda-López in a Wednesday morning Facebook live post also addressed the guilty pleas and resignations of both Spivey and Leland. 

She encouraged residents to stay engaged and stressed that the remaining seven members will continue their work.

"Yes, we’ve lost two members and unfortunately this is not the first time the city has dealt with city officials involved in corruption,” she said. “It’s really frustrating, saddening and disappointing that we see corruption at all levels of government.It speaks to the lack of awareness and understanding of what it means to be a public servant and how to lead with integrity.”

Castañeda-López said residents deserve elected officials who are transparent.

"… bad actors should be held accountable and that’s what has happened with the two members that have been charged and resigned from council, she added. "It’s easy to just throw your hands up in the air and say ‘politicians are corrupt.’ It’s super important to vote in local elections. Local elections matter so much, they impact your everyday quality of life. Don’t lose faith, Detroiters."

Spivey, in his Wednesday letter, concluded by touting accomplishments he'd made while serving on the council, including workforce development programs and city ordinances. 

"It was a privilege to work with such committed colleagues on the Council and I pray for an even brighter future for Detroit," he said.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_