Detroit City Council members are rarely at a loss for words, but the only person Tuesday to address the latest criminal charge against Councilman Gabe Leland was a member of the public.
The woman called in during the public comment session of Leland’s first council meeting since he was charged with misconduct in office to say she was reserving judgment.
“But,” she added, “if you’ve done something to hurt the great City of Detroit, step down.”
Neither Leland nor his colleagues addressed the misconduct in office charge that prosecutors filed against Leland on Friday. The charge appears to be part of a negotiation to resolve three bribery counts brought against Leland in 2018 for allegedly demanding $15,000 from a Detroit businessman seeking help in a dispute with the city.
The City Council released a joint statement the day after Leland was indicted in 2018, saying it will not affect its work and that the body “will continue to do our jobs, as elected by the citizens of this city.”
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On Oct. 9, 2018, after the first full council meeting since his indictment, Leland met with reporters outside the council chambers on the 13th floor of City Hall.
“I’m innocent until proven guilty and that’s my statement until further comment,” he said.
Six days later, as he walked away from U.S. District Court after his arraignment, Leland said: “I’m innocent, and I’m looking forward to trial.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, council now meets virtually, connecting via Zoom, so there were no reporters waiting to speak with council members after the session ended. Neither City Council President Brenda Jones nor Leland responded to a reporter’s request for comment.
After Leland was indicted on the bribery charges in 2018, Mayor Mike Duggan called the allegations “deeply upsetting and disappointing.”
“This is a very unfortunate development for our city at a time when so many things have been going right,” Duggan said in a statement. “For now, we just have to let our justice system do its work.”
Duggan did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. The request was made hours before Leland cast a key vote in the council’s 5-4 decision to put the mayor’s demolition bond proposal before voters on Nov. 3.
The felony charge comes a month before Leland was scheduled to go to trial in federal court on three counts of bribery for allegedly demanding $15,000 from Bob Carmack to help the businessman in a dispute with the city.
The misconduct in office charge, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of $10,000, indicates that Leland’s fate will be decided in state court rather than U.S. District Court. The charge was brought by Monroe County Prosecutor Michael Roehrig after U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider asked Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy to take the case. Worthy cited a conflict of interest in any case involving Carmack, who is suing county officials, so the Michigan Attorney General’s office assigned the case to Monroe County.
The Free Press reported in May that Roehrig’s office was reviewing the case.
Roehrig would not discuss whether his office has been working with federal officials, beyond saying: “It’s fair to say we have had discussions with the U.S. Attorney’s office regarding this matter.”
Roehrig also would not discuss the details of the case, but the charging document alleges that Leland “did commit an indictable offense in common law, to wit: accepted payments of money to influence his vote on certain city matters over the course of his employment as a city councilman.”
The Monroe County Prosecutor alleges that Leland’s misconduct occurred between Jan. 1, 2017 and Jan. 31, 2018.
Leland was indicted on three counts of bribery on Oct. 4, 2018, after a federal grand jury determined he demanded $15,000 in May 2017 from Carmack. Leland, who represents District 7 on the city’s west side, continues to serve on the City Council without any restrictions.
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