Rep. Banks facing new felony charges

Jonathan Oosting, and Chad Livengood

Lansing — Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office on Tuesday filed felony charges against state Rep. Brian Banks of Harper Woods for alleged crimes dating back more than two years before he won election to the House of Representatives.

Banks is accused of submitting fake pay stubs while seeking a personal loan from the Detroit Metropolitan Credit Union on June 29, 2010.

He is charged with two felony counts of uttering and publishing each punishable by up to 14 years in prison — one felony count of using a false pretense to defraud or cheat, and one misdemeanor count of making false statements of financial condition.

Banks could face up to life in prison as a “habitual offender,” according to a court filing by Assistant Attorney General Michael Frezza, head of Schuette’s criminal section in Detroit. The 39-year-old Democratic lawmaker was convicted of eight other felonies before winning election in 2012.

Banks did not immediately return a call from The Detroit News, but an attorney for the legislator accused the Republican attorney general of playing politics.

“Based on the facts, the ridiculous nature of the charges and timing, it is clear that the charges are politically motivated,” Detroit attorney Ben Gonek said in a statement. “There is no other logical explanation.”

House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, said he could not comment on the charges because they involve allegations before Banks joined the state House.

But Greimel said Banks has proven himself a “hard-working advocate” for his district and expressed confidence he will “continue that work for his constituents.”

The Tuesday filing includes an affidavit from Peter Ackerly, a special agent investigator with the attorney general’s office, who said Banks applied for a $7,500 loan using pay statements from IHI Attorneys + Consultants of Farmington Hills.

Banks said the loan was to pay for a course as he prepared for the Michigan Bar Exam.

An unidentified witness told Ackerly he or she created the pay statements for Banks, at his request, but said the future state legislator never worked for the company, which had never issued paychecks or used a payroll service.

The bank ended up suing Banks for non-payment on the loan. He agreed to repay 90 percent plus interest and eventually repaid the reduced amount, according to the charging documents.

Banks is running for re-election in the heavily Democratic 1st House District, where he is facing five primary challengers in the Aug. 2 primary. The district includes parts of northeast Detroit, Harper Woods and Grosse Pointe Woods and Grosse Pointe Shores.

Attorney Pamela Sossi of Harper Woods has been running the most aggressive campaign to deny Banks a third term in the House.

Ed Sarpolus, a political consultant and pollster not involved in the race, said it’s unlikely the new criminal charges against Banks will have much of an impact on the race.

Absentee ballots have already been distributed, Sarpolus said, and turnout in the suburban areas around Detroit is always lower than the voter participation in the city during primaries.

“The attorney general coming after him is not going to make a big difference because it’s so close to the election,” said Sarpolus, who works for Democratic and Republican candidates. “In order for (Banks) to lose, Detroit turnout has to be down and the Pointes’ (turnout) has to be high.”

Banks’ eight felony convictions from 1998 to 2004 were for credit card fraud and writing bad checks. He was evicted from his home in 2012 for not paying his rent.

Some of Banks’ 2014 Democratic primary opponents made an issue of the convictions, but he was endorsed by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

Banks defended his legislative record and said it was unfair for his opponents to bring up his past because he is a changed man who pays his bills on time now. He was re-elected with 39 percent of the vote to 38 percent for political newcomer Rebecca Thompson, who was endorsed by the United Auto Workers’ union.

In addition, the Michigan House of Representatives last fall quietly settled a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a former aide against Banks for $11,950. Former House aide Tramaine Cotton sued Banks in May 2013, claiming the Democratic lawmaker wrongfully fired him after he rejected Banks’ sexual advances.

Banks ultimately argued for legal immunity because Cotton’s job involved official legislative duties. The House ended paying more than $80,000 on attorneys to defend Banks.

Banks’ attorney disclosed the new charges to reporters about an hour after Schuette concluded a 38-minute sit down interview with Capitol reporters inside his Lansing office.

Schuette addressed multiple questions about his ongoing investigation of the Flint water crisis, the presidential election, gun control and other issues, including the ongoing criminal prosecution of former state Rep. Todd Courser for allegedly forcing staff to forge his signature on draft legislation and then lying about it to a House of Representatives committee.

But Schuette did not mention the felony charges his office was filing that day against Banks, a sitting member of the House of Representatives.