Sunday, May 22, 2022

Ex-Detroit Councilman Andre Spivey Sentenced To Two Years In Prison For Bribery

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A federal judge sentenced former Detroit City Councilman Andre Spivey on Wednesday to two years in prison for bribery, capping the first case charged as part of an ongoing corruption investigation in Detroit.

Spivey, 47, asked for probation before his sentencing, backed by more than 200 supporters who had written letters and called U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts sharing their version of the family man, longtime councilman and former pastor they believed deserved leniency.

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On the other end were prosecutors who called Spivey’s actions another sad example of why Detroiters have lost trust in their elected officials, asking he serve 40 months in prison.

Roberts ultimately would go below that recommendation, saying she was struck by the extent of Spivey’s support and that many messages came from people she considers friends. But his admitted actions were a pattern of behavior, not a one-time slip-up, she said. A prison sentence was appropriate to deter other elected officials from participating in a pay-to-play political system, the judge added.

“This wasn’t a mild case of corruption,” Roberts said. “The court believes there is no public official who would respect the law that says it is illegal to take bribes if Mr. Spivey walked out of this courtroom with no jail time.”

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Roberts said Spivey could delay reporting to prison until July 1 after his daughter graduates from high school.

Former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, who oversaw the public corruption trial of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, said deterrence is an important part of sentencing in such cases.

“The public needs to see that officials who breach the public trust will be held accountable by going to prison,” McQuade said in an email. “In this case, a sentence of probation would have been seen as a slap on the wrist that was worth the risk. A prison term will make others think twice.”

In asking for probation, Spivey and his supporters compared his the case to that of Gabe Leland, another former Detroit City Council member who resigned last year after pleading guilty to a felony corruption charge for accepting a $7,500 campaign contribution in cash from local businessman Robert Carmack.

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Leland was sentenced to 2½ years of probation. Prosecutors said Carmack was their primary witness and his bizarre behavior weakened their case against Leland.

Roberts stressed that Leland’s case is different from Spivey’s. Leland was convicted of misconduct in office, not bribery, and he was sentenced in state court.

Spivey’s case is more in line with other former Detroit public officials who received prison sentences for bribery, including ex-Councilwoman Monica Conyers, who received 37 months; political consultant Sam Riddle, who also got 37 months; and ex-Councilman Lonnie Bates, who received 33 months, Roberts said.

Spivey’s attorney Elliott Hall argued those officials actually took actions in exchange for bribes. Hall said that Spivey never actually voted in the interests of the confidential FBI source who paid the councilman bribes.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gardey said whether Spivey cast a City Council vote in return for the money isn’t important because the bribery conviction only requires that Spivey agreed to influence city business in the confidential source’s interests.

In delivering her sentence, Roberts sided with prosecutors on that point, saying: “Bribery of a public official is serious. … It was complete when the defendant agreed to sell his soul, to sell his vote.”

Wednesday’s sentencing is part of a broader federal corruption investigation that has focused on Detroit City Council, the Detroit Police Department and the city’s towing operations. In August, FBI agents raided the homes and offices of Councilman Scott Benson and former Councilwoman Janeé Ayers, who lost her reelection bid last year. Benson and Ayers have not been accused of any wrongdoing. Four current or former Detroit police officers, however, have been charged in the investigation, known as Operation Northern Hook.

Spivey pleaded guilty in September to felony bribery conspiracy and admitted to accepting $35,900 in exchange for his political influence on a vehicle towing ordinance before the City Council. Spivey resigned before the council would vote on that measure in October 2021.

The bribes included about $14,000 for a birthday fundraiser and $2,000 for a trip to Las Vegas. He accepted the money over the course of eight meetings in  2018-20 from an individual in the local towing industry who also is a confidential FBI source. An undercover agent attended two of the meetings.

Spivey apologized to his family, friends and supporters before his sentencing Wednesday.

“I broke the law and I was wrong,” Spivey said. “I still believe in reclamation and second chances and when I look in the mirror, I still believe in myself. I ask this court to believe in me, too.”

He exited the courtroom with supporters by his side, avoiding reporters but cheerfully greeting  and hugging his fraternity brothers and others. He went straight to a vehicle in the parking lot across the street from the downtown courthouse.

Hall addressed reporters outside of the courthouse after the hearing and said Spivey is remorseful and apologetic that he “got into a financial situation.”

Hall said Spivey overall is relieved by the sentence, despite the fact that it may hinder the former councilman’s chance at practicing law. Spivey is pursuing a law degree at Wayne State University, and, according to Hall, he will run into issues becoming a lawyer with his felony conviction.

While Spivey’s conviction covers bribes he took over a two-year span, prosecutors told the judge Wednesday that they allege his corrupt behavior actually covered five years, with Spivey taking money from the confidential source before the person began working with the FBI.

Before he was charged, Spivey also admitted to taking what he considered to be a loan of $500 from a second, unnamed businessman with matters before the Detroit City Council, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gardey said.

But prosecutors believe Spivey lied about his dealings with the second businessman, Gardey said, adding that other sources involved in the investigation said Spivey took multiple payments from the second businessman.

Gardey also raised the possibility of a criminal prosecution against an unnamed staffer in Spivey’s office who was involved in the bribery conspiracy. Spivey could have mentored his staff member, but instead brought the person into the conspiracy, destroying the staffer’s career in public service, Gardey said.

Spivey’s choices have gutted Detroiters’ faith in elected officials, dampening the city’s post-bankruptcy revitalization that followed the infamous Kilpatrick era, Gardey said.

“Mr. Spivey can again act as a role model for other elected politicians,” he said before the sentence was handed down. “If you take a bribe, you go to prison.”

Spivey and federal prosecutors gave the court competing versions of Spivey’s bribery case in the days before his sentencing. Prosecutors said Spivey was driven by greed and lied to investigators, while the former councilman contended he deserved probation because he cooperated with the FBI and took money from only close friends to help with mounting bills.

Spivey was born and raised in Detroit and was pastor at St. Paul AME Church in Detroit for 14 years until he resigned in 2018 to attend law school.

Mayor Mike Duggan said in a written statement that it’s “a sad day for Detroit and a sad day for Andre Spivey and his family.”

“The case is now closed and the city will recover and move forward.”

On Wednesday, dozens of supporters crowded overflow rooms near the courtroom during the sentencing, including Dr. Hawa Hoff, 47, a Cass Technical High School classmate of Spivey’s.

Hoff said she felt the sentence was fair and commended Roberts for allowing Spivey to attend his daughter’s high school graduation.

“I’m glad that it wasn’t an extenuating term and sentence. I know it’s going to be very hard for him and his family, as his daughter is in high school,” Hoff said. “But as the judge mentioned, there is a message that was brought forth. Of course, we wished it could have been a lesser sentence.”

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