Questions over some of state Rep. Brian Banks' actions

State Representative Brian Banks has had more than his share of trouble. Problem Solver M.L. Elrick has exposed his convictions, his evictions and the bad checks he cashed after promising to clean up his act.

Banks has been in Lansing for less than five months, but some of his actions are already raising questions about his judgment.

State lawmakers aren't like members of Congress. They have small staffs and have to choose their help carefully. That means when they spend your tax dollars to hire someone, they need to find the best they can get.

Banks put Tramaine Cotton on the state payroll earlier this year. By day, he was the top aide to the right honorable representative from Michigan's 1st District. But by night, he is an impresario with Hot Boys International.

The Hot Boys are promoters who throw wild parties, and don't worry about the dress code. It is more of an undress code. Cotton and the Hot Boys have brought us acts like Hot Rod, Arquez the Stripper and a host of other acts that you are not likely to see anytime soon on the Disney Channel.

"Why'd you hire a strip show promoter?" I asked Banks.

"I didn't know he was a strip show promoter," he said.

That's funny. All it took for us to uncover that was a simple check of Facebook.

"Did you do any kind of background check on him?" I asked.

"All hiring and firing and termination is done through the business office," Banks said.

"He knew who I was. I never knew who he was," said Cotton.

"You had no role whatsoever in the hiring of Mr. Cotton?" I asked.

"I, you know, said this is someone who I would like to bring on staff," Banks said.

If Banks had checked Cotton's background, he would have seen that it looked an awful lot like his own. Cotton has been sued by landlords and had multiple run-ins with the law, most of them stemming from driving without a license.

Cotton doesn't work for Banks anymore, but it is not clear why. Banks says he was fired.

"I wasn't terminated. I actually quit. I was just fed up," Cotton said.

Cotton's brushes with the law had nothing to do with Banks until March. That is when a report says Warren police found Cotton and another man sitting in a car, and they say that car reeked of weed.

"He immediately started throwing out names.  You know, I'm the chief of staff for Representative Brian Banks," said an undercover detective. "He just started, you know, making threats. I'm going to have your job. You don't know who you're dealing with."

"I'm not that slow. Like I know a state representative can't do anything to a cop," Cotton said.

The detective said Cotton struggled to explain away the wacky tobacky, but was ultimately arrested because he had an outstanding warrant. The incident was one of the more memorable traffic stops he has made in 17 years on the job, and it prompted him to contact Banks, who he said tried to do a little face saving of his own.

"He first told me that he knew me because he was a prosecutor from Macomb County. I may not remember him, but he was a lawyer, and he's seen me in court before, and he knew that I was on the road," he said.

"I was a clerk at the judge's office. Never told him anything like that," Banks said.

The detective said he is positive that Banks said he was a prosecutor. I did confirm that Banks worked in the courthouse for a Macomb County judge.

With all this drama, you might think that the Democratic leader in the Michigan House would be getting tired of Banks, and you would be wrong.

"So far, Representative Banks has been doing his homework. His attendance has been not just very good, but so far in these first four months it's been perfect," said Rep. Tim Greimel.

But Banks' perfect attendance record could be in danger if officials determine that he moved out of his district while running for office last year.

"You have to reside at the address where you're registered to vote," said Jocelyn Benson.

Public records and interviews indicate that Banks didn't really live in the house he swore he lived at when he registered to run for office and vote. Benson, the dean of Wayne State's law school, who like Banks is a Democrat, said that could be trouble.

Banks claimed he lived in a house in Harper Woods in Michigan's 1st District. But his landlord said he rented it for his mother and brother.

The owner, caretakers and neighbors of a  condo complex in Michigan's 2nd District said Banks actually lived there.

"That calls into question whether or not he was qualified to be on the ballot and certainly would suggest that he was not," Benson said.

Banks insists he is not going anywhere and never has.

"Do you believe you're eligible to serve, even though you moved out of the district?" I asked him.

"Sir, I live in the district," Banks said.

"You lived in Aberton while you were a candidate. You had moved out of the district," I told him.

"No, I did not," Banks answered.

Banks own actions and words say otherwise. After launching his campaign in Harper Woods, he fought being evicted from a condo on Aberton in Detroit.

Just three days after Banks signed an affidavit in March swearing that he lived in Harper Woods, he emailed a letter to his Detroit landlord's lawyer that said he and his roommate were willing to move out of the residence by May 31, 2012.

"What about your residence in Aberton? What about the letters to the landlord?" I asked Banks to no response.

Banks isn't the only one who would like to leave these questions behind. Secretary of State Ruth Johnson passed the buck to Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy and the House of Representatives. Worthy passed the buck back to Johnson and Attorney General Bill Schuette. And Schuette passed that buck right back to the House.

Still, Benson said someone has to investigate, and if they find Banks really lived in Detroit, the consequences could be devastating.

"He quite certainly could and should be removed from office," she said.

I talked to some folks who live in Banks' district. They want state officials to investigate whether he should even be in Lansing. But so far, everyone we talked to in government is only interested in looking the other way.

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