Feds seek stiff sentence for ex-Detroit councilman Spivey in bribery scandal
Detroit — Former Detroit City Councilman André Spivey should spend more than three years in federal prison for pocketing more than $35,000 in bribes and sacrificing the best interests of city residents, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts to sentence Spivey to 40 months for receiving bribes from a towing industry official who was seeking favors and trying to buy the councilman's vote. Spivey received the money on eight separate occasions during a five-year period ending in 2020.
"Spivey’s criminal conduct was not a one-time slip or an isolated serious lapse of judgment," Assistant U.S. Attorneys David Gardey and Frances Carlson wrote. "The court’s sentence should reflect the seriousness of Spivey’s crimes, the betrayal of Detroit’s citizens who elected him, and the obvious need to deter other public officials from pocketing cash bribes while ostensibly serving the public interest."
Spivey, 47, is the highest-ranking person convicted in an ongoing crackdown on public corruption within city government and the police department involving municipal towing operations. Five people have been charged with crimes and more remain under investigation as part of a broader hunt for evidence of bribes, extorted contractors or illegal benefits funneled through nonprofits.
That investigation includes former Councilwoman Janeé Ayers and Councilman Scott Benson. Their homes and offices were raided by FBI agents in August as part of “Operation Northern Hook," which included searches at the homes of their chiefs of staff.
Spivey's lawyer is expected to file a sentencing recommendation by Jan. 12.
Spivey will be sentenced on Jan. 19, four months after pleading guilty to a federal bribery charge and admitting he and an unnamed aide received almost $36,000 in bribes. The Detroit News has identified the aide as his chief of staff, Keith Jones.
Spivey resigned after pleading guilty — politicians convicted of corruption-related crimes are prohibited from holding state or local office — and his conviction marked the second vacancy on the city's governing board last year since Councilman Gabe Leland quit in May after pleading guilty to a state misconduct charge.
The federal investigation of bribery, extortion, mail and wire fraud, meanwhile, remains ongoing. Ayers and Benson have not been charged with crimes.
The government’s sentencing recommendation provides new details about the roots of the corruption probe, furtive exchanges of money, as well as Spivey’s greed and paranoia about being outed as a corrupt politician.
Spivey, who represented a district on the east side of Detroit, demanded money from various businessmen as far back as 2016, according to the government.
The FBI approached one of the businessmen, an unidentified member of the city’s towing industry, in 2017 and asked for information. The businessman provided FBI agents texts from Spivey in 2016 in which the politician asked for money in exchange for boosting the value of his city towing contract.
The businessman eventually started working as an FBI informant, recording conversations and teaming with an undercover FBI agent to pay bribes to Spivey and others during recorded transactions.
The first recorded payment happened in February 2018 after Spivey expressed concern about needing money for a Las Vegas trip, according to the court filing.
“Spivey demanded and took $2,000 in cash,” prosecutors wrote. “This money was for Spivey’s personal use and enjoyment. … In exchange for the money, Spivey agreed to help the businessman get a towing contract with the city of Detroit.”
Spivey also directed his staffer to collect more than $20,000 in bribes from the businessman and undercover FBI agent, prosecutors wrote.
“Thus, Spivey was willing to corrupt another city employee and recruit him into the conspiracy, so that Spivey could collect more cash,” prosecutors said.
The staffer, Jones, has not been charged with a crime amid the ongoing investigation.
The sentencing memo describes how Spivey agreed to introduce the FBI confidential source to two other Detroit council members.
“Spivey’s open willingness to further corrupt other elected officials of the city of Detroit demonstrates and emphasizes the seriousness of Spivey’s criminal conduct,” prosecutors wrote.
Spivey pocketed the bribes despite a heightened sense of paranoia.
“For example, Spivey asked the confidential source to ‘make it look like a napkin’ in referencing a cash bribe payment sitting on a table at a restaurant,” according to the government filing. “Spivey also said, 'I don’t want to touch it (the bribe payment) right here' in fear that someone could be watching.”
In another recorded meeting, Spivey asked if he could trust the undercover FBI agent, who was posing as a businessman, because the councilman feared “we got feds everywhere,” according to prosecutors.
“Spivey’s actions here helped to shred that faith in democracy of the citizens of this city and district,” prosecutors wrote.
A 40-month sentence would be among the longest issued in a local public corruption case in recent years.
Former United Auto Workers President Gary Jones was sentenced to 28 months in prison last year for embezzling union money. His predecessor, retired UAW President Dennis Williams, is serving a 21-month sentence for stealing from union members.
Spivey’s former colleague, Leland, was sentenced last year to 2.5 years probation after pleading guilty to a state misconduct charge.
In 2010, former Councilwoman Monica Conyers was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison for accepting $16,000 in bribes, while another former Detroit councilman, Alonzo Bates, received a 33-month sentence in 2007 for stealing $91,000 from the city through a ghost employee scheme.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, noted Spivey’s hypocrisy, citing his 2017 campaign pledge “to be responsible and accountable to every citizen.”
“The citizens of this city had the right to expect that Spivey would use all of his skills, talents, and integrity to work for their best interests, rather than to undermine their trust in the government he was supposed to represent,” prosecutors wrote.