Ex-Detroit councilman André Spivey gets 2-year sentence in bribery case
Detroit — A federal judge Wednesday sentenced former Detroit city councilman André Spivey to two years in federal prison for receiving almost $36,000 in bribes, part of a sprawling corruption scandal engulfing City Hall and the police department.
The sentence by U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts capped a swift downfall for Spivey, part of the new generation of civic leaders who rose to prominence after former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison for racketeering conspiracy and other corruption crimes. Instead, like Kilpatrick, Spivey's political career ends with a federal conviction.
Spivey, 47, resigned from city council in September after pleading guilty to bribery conspiracy. Since then, prosecutors have charged four others with crimes and accused Spivey and unnamed city officials of a series of leaks that threatened to obstruct an ongoing investigation targeting at least two other politicians: Councilman Scott Benson and former councilwoman Janeé Ayers.
The judge faulted Spivey for “selling his soul” while accepting bribes eight times from a businessman in the towing industry.
“Those actions are a complete betrayal of the public trust that defendant’s constituents placed on him,” the judge said.
Spivey told the judge he took full responsibility for pocketing bribes and asked for a second chance.
"I come apologetic. I come humble. I come embarrassed and ashamed of my actions," Spivey said. "I never would have thought I would be in this predicament but here I am.”
Spivey’s corruption has gutted the public’s faith in elected leaders, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gardey told the judge.
“Detroit has taken great strides: back from bankruptcy, mismanagement, the corruption of the (former Mayor Kwame) Kilpatrick administration," Gardey told the judge. "Now because of Mr. Spivey … Detroiters have a sick and disgusted feeling that instead of a vibrant and growing city on the rise, corruption is somehow endemic in the city."
Spivey's lawyer Elliott Hall cited all the things the former councilman has lost: reputation, a job, a preaching career. A prison sentence would be piling on, he told the judge.
"It borders on cruelty," Hall said.
After the sentencing that imposed prison time, Hall said he hopes Spivey will be sentenced to a facility close by – preferably the Milan prison.
“We don’t want him in California or Arizona or that kind of deal,” Hall said.
Roberts said she hoped that by July 1 “the covid situation” will be better than it is now.
Hall said Spivey was “relieved” by the sentence, and beyond to have clarity on what will happen next.
“I felt he was going to get some time,” Hall said. “She had to make the sentence consistent with all the other people who came before him.”
Hall said it’s “fabulous” that Spivey will be allowed to see his daughter graduate from high school before reporting.
“Usually in a state court, when a defendant is sentenced to jail, they take them right to jail,” Hall said, noting the delayed reporting as one advantage of the federal system.
Spivey was greeted by dozens of supporters in the hallway after the sentence. He shook hands with several as he departed, but shared no thoughts with reporters.
Detroit City Council President James Tate, a longtime former council colleague of Spivey's, called the outcome "sad."
"I love and respect Andre and it hurts from a professional level, but also from a personal level," Tate told The Detroit News on Wednesday. "We always have to look at the other side of things. I'm glad he didn't get the recommended sentence. Those of us who know him and know his heart, what we were looking for... he has a chance to get out and help others and show again who he truly is. I'm hopeful he'll be able to do that."
Sitting on council for two terms together, Tate added, "we grow together, prayed together and this is certainly not what I had envisioned at the end of two terms."
In sentencing Spivey, the judge said his case was comparable to those involving former council members Monica Conyers and Alonzo Bates.
In 2010, Conyers was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison for accepting $16,000 in bribes. Bates, meanwhile, received a 33-month sentence in 2007 for stealing $91,000 from the city through a ghost employee scheme.
The broader FBI investigation emerged in August when agents raided City Hall and the homes of Benson, Ayers and their respective chiefs of staff, who have not been charged with a crime.
Unsealed search warrant records show investigators are focused on finding evidence of bribery, extortion, wire and mail fraud. They are looking into whether city officials and others personally benefited from campaign contributions or nonprofit donations and whether they extorted business people.
Spivey received about $36,000 in the scheme from a towing industry figure who was working undercover for the FBI, prosecutors said. Spivey received the money on eight separate occasions during a five-year period ending in 2020 -- including cash during a secret payoff at his 46th birthday party.
His chief of staff, Keith Jones, also received money, sources told The Detroit News.
Spivey has argued that the funds were loans, and not bribes, and that on 30 occasions he voted against the interests of one of the confidential informants who paid him.
Hall had sought a probation sentence. In one filing, Hall argued that Spivey was "not merely ‘sorry he got caught,’ he is sorry that he breached the trust of his position as a member of the City Council and dishonored his position as a member of the clergy.”
The defense also argued Spivey has learned his lesson, and that the odds of a similar crime are low, as he holds no office.
"The government knows Mr. Spivey does not need to be rehabilitated through incarceration," Hall wrote in his most recent briefing, a rebuttal to a government sentencing memo he called "vindictive."
The government sought a 40-month prison term.
"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 in a filing earlier this month.
"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."
Both sides filed briefs arguing their respective cases in the last week.
Along with the briefs, Spivey's friends and allies sent Judge Roberts hundreds of pages of letters in his support.
Dr. Hawa Hoff, 47, has known Spivey since they were members of the Class of 1992 at Cass Technical High School. She was one of the many who watched Spivey’s sentencing in an overflow courtroom.
“I believe that justice has been served,” Hoff said after the sentencing. “I know it’s going to be very hard for him and his family … but as the judge mentioned, there is a message that was brought forth. Of course, we wish it could have been a lighter sentence.”
Hoff said she spoke briefly with Spivey after the sentencing, and described him as “glad this day has come to an end.”
She said it was “commendable” that Spivey’s reporting will be delayed until his daughter graduates.
Staff writer Sarah Rahal contributed