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A Detroit City Council member invoked the 5th Amendment multiple times during a deposition Thursday for a civil lawsuit against him, the city and others.

Gabe Leland, a Detroit City Councilman, was deposed in the case of Detroit businessman Robert Carmack, who alleges in a lawsuit he delivered $7,500 cash in an envelope to a Leland campaign worker in late summer 2017.

According to 15-minute portion of Leland's deposition obtained by The Detroit News, Leland said he knew Carmack and was introduced to him in 2014.

But when Carmack's attorney Andrew Paterson asked Leland if he had ever spoken to Carmack about a property on Michigan Avenue or if he ever asked Carmack for $15,000, Leland declined to answer.

"In August of 2017 did you tell Robert Carmack that if he gave you $15,000 for your re-election campaign that the city of Detroit would not sell his property located at 8124 Michigan Avenue?" Paterson asked.

"I refuse to answer the question based on my 5th Amendment rights," Leland said.

Leland was advised by his attorney Steve Fishman not to answer questions related to Carmack. But Paterson continued to ask.

"Did you did at anytime in 2017 attempt to extort any money from Robert Carmack?" Paterson said.

"I refuse to answer the question based on my 5th Amendment rights," Leland said.

Carmack, who says he wore a secret recording device for the FBI as part of the investigation into Leland, filed a civil lawsuit in federal court in March against Leland, Mayor Mike Duggan, the Detroit Land Bank and Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree.

Carmack alleges Leland tried to extort $15,000 from him for his re-election campaign, according the lawsuit.

During the deposition, Paterson also asked Leland about Dennis Archer Jr.

"Have you received monetary or other bribes from Dennis Archer Jr. or your vote on any issue that came before the Detroit City Council pertaining to any business he was involved with or owned in city?" Paterson said.

Leland, who was not immediately available to answer questions about his testimony on Friday, asked Paterson to repeat the question. He did. Leland asked him to repeat it again. Paterson did.

Fishman objected to the question and then Leland asserted his constitutional right not to answer. Leland did not immediately respond Friday to messages seeking comment.

"Councilman Leland has done nothing wrong," Fishman said in a phone interview Friday. "The fact that this video was leaked to the media speaks volumes for the lack of integrity of the lawyer and the absurdity of his case. If anyone is complaining about the councilman asserting his privilege, blame me, not him."

Paterson, who declined to comment for this story, also asked Leland about his ties to towing titan Gasper Fiore, who was ensnared in a related corruption investigation. Leland asserted the 5th again.

Leland was included in a list of FBI targets named in a sealed wiretap affidavit obtained first by The Detroit News in December.

The full scope of the ongoing FBI investigation is unclear, but the affidavit indicates agents have focused on campaign finances and Leland’s ties to Fiore.

The lawsuit’s allegations date to a few weeks before the August 2017 primary election in Detroit. Leland was running for re-election and Carmack was trying to resolve a dispute involving property he owned at 8124 Michigan Ave. Carmack alleges the city illegally demolished his commercial building using federal funds and was trying to sell the property.

Leland, who chaired a City Council committee responsible for community development, promised not to sell the property in exchange for $15,000, Carmack alleges.

Carmack feared he was being extorted so he approached the FBI, according to the lawsuit. 

The day after Leland asked for $15,000, Leland called the businessman and said he would be sending someone to pick up the cash, according to the lawsuit.

That same day, a woman who Carmack believed to be a Leland campaign worker met him on a side street near a bank on East Jefferson Avenue in Detroit, the lawsuit alleges.

“During the exchange, (Carmack) explains to the female campaign worker that the cash in the envelope was for defendant Leland and the female campaign worker responds by (stating) that it was not for her and that she would be delivering the money to defendant Leland immediately,” the lawsuit alleges.

Carmack wants a federal judge to rule that Leland extorted him and that the city illegally took his property. Carmack wants at least $1.3 million.

The lawsuit describes Carmack’s attempts to secure a separate land deal during former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s administration. Carmack says former Kilpatrick aide Derrick Miller demanded a $50,000 payment to finalize a deal for the Revere Copper & Brass property near Historic Fort Wayne and the Riverfront.

In March 2015, Carmack complained during a City Council meeting that the Duggan administration was not honoring the deal.

Leland, meanwhile, was re-elected in November to his second four-year term on Detroit’s City Council. He first took office in January 2014 and formerly served six years in the state House.

The sealed wiretap affidavit obtained by The News last year outlined a broad corruption investigation by the FBI. Agents were interested in payments Fiore apparently made to Leland, and the councilman's interest in a separate FBI investigation involving towing companies and body shops.

jchambers@detroitnews.com

 

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