Detroit’s only Jewish City Councilmember is charged with bribery and accepting improper gifts.
Detroit City Councilmember Gabe Leland is facing a new round of criminal misconduct charges, this time at the state level. Prosecutors in Monroe County allege that Leland, 37, accepted $7,500 in cash campaign payments between 2017 and 2018 to influence how he voted, according to the Associated Press.
The state’s mid-July felony charge came a month before Leland was scheduled to stand trial in federal court. Leland was previously indicted by a grand jury in 2018 on three counts of bribery, making him the highest-ranking Detroit politician to be charged on the federal level since former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Leland’s federal trial was delayed due to COVID-19 and is scheduled to begin Aug. 17.
“He did commit an indictable offense at 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,” Michael Roehrig, Monroe County Prosecuting Attorney, told WXYZ-TV.
Roehrig is taking lead of the case after it was re-assigned by the Michigan Attorney General’s office. The charges appear in the Criminal Division of the Wayne County Circuit Court. The case is being handled by Monroe County because Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy previously cited a conflict of interest due to her involvement in a separate case with Detroit businessman Bob Carmack, who is referred to in Leland’s indictment.
According to federal charges, Leland requested $15,000 in cash bribes from Carmack to delay a city sale of a disputed property. A staffer on Leland’s re-election campaign was also charged with bribery conspiracy.
The federal indictment could be dismissed with the recent allegations levied by the Monroe County prosecutor. Under the state’s misconduct charges, Leland faces up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Federal charges carry up to a 10-year sentence and a $250,000 penalty.
“Mr. Leland accepted a campaign contribution in cash, which is against Michigan law,” Steve Fishman, Leland’s attorney, told the Jewish News. “I am pleased that the case is being resolved in state court.”
According to Detroit’s city charter, an elected official must forfeit their position if they are convicted of, or plead to, a felony while holding office. Leland’s status on City Council has not been challenged by his colleagues or the city’s Board of Ethics.
Leland has not indicated if and when he’d resign. A plea deal has yet to be submitted.
“I believe no matter whether it’s a state legislator or a city councilman or somebody in Congress, people are innocent until proven guilty,” Mayor Mike Duggan said during a press conference last week. “And if and when any individuals are convicted, they should be out immediately.”
Leland’s newest allegations come amid a pivotal vote. Detroit City Council recently passed a bond question for the November ballot that, if approved by voters, would free up $250 million for demolition and rehabilitation work on thousands of the city’s vacant homes. Private companies awarded contracts by City Council would carry out the blight remediation. Leland’s vote for the blight bond measure took place within days of the new misconduct charges.
“The United States Constitution has us operate under a presumption of innocence,” City Councilmember Scott Benson added. “Mr. Leland is my colleague. I will continue to support him. He continues to support the residents of Detroit and his constituents. So until that time, I’m not going to speculate on his future.”
Leland is Detroit’s only Jewish, and only white, city councilmember. He was first elected in 2013 to represent District 7, which includes much of the city’s west side surrounding Grand River and I-96, and neighborhoods like Russell Woods and Warrendale. His move to city politics followed a five-year stint in Lansing representing Michigan’s 10th District in the State House.
Raised in northwest Detroit and the capital, Gabe Leland is the son of Burton Leland, a longtime Democratic politician who served on the Wayne County Commission and both houses of the Michigan Legislature. According to his city council website, Leland attends the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue in Detroit.