Backers defend Rep. Banks despite felony charges

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Detroit— State Rep. Brian Banks may be under fire for allegedly submitting phony pay stubs to get a personal loan, but his supporters said Friday they can bank on him.

At Bethany Christian Church, backers of the second-term Democratic lawmaker from Harper Woods united to say the felony charges dating back to a 2010 loan were unjust and that Banks was a savior for the community.

“He puts his heart in the job that he does but yet someone wants to tear him down,” Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones said. “That is a disgrace.”

The 39-year-old legislator 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. He was convicted of eight other felonies before winning election in 2012.

Jones, like the other leaders who spoke, praised Banks for standing up for Detroit residents and others in his district covering Harper Woods, Grosse Pointe Woods, Grosse Pointe Shores and a portion of northeast Detroit. Backers argued that the charges were politically driven by Republicans, including Attorney General Bill Schuette, in an attempt to stop Banks from being re-elected.

Banks is opposed by five challengers in the Aug. 2 primary in the heavily Democratic 1st House District.

The charges stemmed from an incident that occurred in 2010, but supporters said the loan was paid off.

Banks’ attorney Ben Gonek previously said Banks was targeted because of his vote on key issues such as the Detroit Public Schools’ state bailout and a controversial insurance program called D Insurance promoted by Mayor Mike Duggan.

Schuette on Thursday denied suggestions the charges or their timing were politically motivated.

“That’s just not true,” the Republican elected official said during an interview with The Detroit News Editorial Board and reporters. “The fact is the FBI worked on this, passed it to the U.S. Attorney and it came to the Department of Attorney General. That’s what happened.”

The administration of President Barack Obama, a Democrat, runs the Federal Bureau of Investigation. U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade is an Obama appointee.

Banks made a brief appearance at the church podium about 15 minutes into the rally as supporters in the pulpit chanted “Bank on Banks!” The legislative Detroit Caucus chairman thanked community members and civic leaders for backing him.

“I also want to let you know that I will continue to stand, fight and advocate for the people of the 1st District and the entire state of Michigan,” Banks said. “Our state depends on fighters, our people have suffered enough. No attack will sway me, I will not be moved.”

Banks quickly exited the sanctuary after making the remarks. Outside the church after the rally, Banks declined to comment on the case and referred all questions Gonek.

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon said it was “outrageous” that Schuette filed the charges against Banks. Dillon said Schuette should be more concerned with bigger issues, such as the Flint water crisis.

“Attorney General Schuette is wasting time and precious money going after something that happened six years ago when somebody was a private citizen,” Dillon said.

Schuette spokesman John Sellek said the Attorney General’s Office did not conduct the initial investigation and was first asked to prosecute the Banks case about 60 days ago, roughly two months before the six-year statute of limitations would have expired.

“As with all cases presented to our office, we put them through a thorough review by attorneys, make sure they’re appropriate, and then we go forward,” Sellek said.

The American Federation of Teachers Michigan is also standing behind Banks.

Julie Rowe, the AFT Michigan’s legislative coordinator, said Banks has advocated for working families, teachers and public education.

“Brian puts people over profits every time,” Rowe said. “He has our backs in Lansing and we are here to stand with Brian and show everyone that we have his back now.”

Thomas Stallworth III, a former state representative who served with Banks, said after Friday’s rally that the attorney general’s case is frivolous.

“I’m here because I think it’s a miscarriage of justice,” Stallworth said.



Staff Writer Jonathan Oosting contributed