(WJBK) - Detroit City Councilman Gabe Leland was just indicted on bribery charges, raising the specter that the "culture of corruption" many hoped had left City Hall with Kwame Kilpatrick is alive and well.
Leland, a second-term councilman from Detroit's west side, allegedly accepted thousands of dollars from a Detroit businessman seeking his help resolving a dispute with city officials. Seven months ago, I revealed that Robert Carmack claimed Leland demanded $15,000 to help Carmack in a land dispute with city officials. Carmack said later he met with a woman who worked for Leland and handed over $7,500 for the councilman. Carmack said the FBI supplied the money and that he wore a wire to record the conversations with Leland and payoff to Leland's aide.
Leland campaign consultant Elisa Grubbs was charged Wednesday with bribery conspiracy for allegedly picking up thousands of dollars in a payoff to someone federal prosecutors described only as "City Official X." Carmack confirmed that Grubbs was the woman he gave the money to for Leland. Grubbs was charged in an information, which is generally a way prosecutors charge someone who has agreed to plead guilty.
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Months after I revealed Carmack's allegations against Leland, a second businessman came forward to accuse the councilman of extortion. Scott Bridgewater said Leland demanded free drinks, food and admission to Bridgewater's Centre Park Bar in return for Leland's help in a dispute with city hall. After my story aired, Bridgewater received a federal grand jury subpoena seeking records that might support his allegations.
Leland has denied wrongdoing.
The indictment makes Leland the highest-ranking city official to be charged with public corruption since former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was indicted more than seven years ago. At the time, then-U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade declared that the charges would bring an end to the "culture of corruption" in city hall.
The first line in the biography posted on Leland's city council webpage says: "Councilman Gabe Leland exemplifies the strong leadership that is apparent with many young professionals of today – a commitment to the resurgence of this great city."
It later adds: "With ample experience, he aims to create dialogue and affect positive change among a wide variety of constituency groups, including neighborhood, religious, business and labor organizations."
Leland is a former state representative who, after a brief spell in the private sector, was elected to represent District 7 in 2013. He was narrowly re-elected in 2017.
Months before the election, I revealed that Leland voted on multiple occasions to approve city contracts worth more than $2 million for companies connected to his then-girlfriend, Jennifer Fiore. In December, I reported that Police Chief James Craig contacted the FBI after a meeting with Leland in which the councilman made inquiries about an investigation into towing companies.
Fiore's father is Gasper Fiore, who ran one of the city's biggest towing operations. Fiore pleaded guilty earlier this year to bribing a Clinton Township official for help obtaining a towing contract.