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FBI probes Jenkins’ run for council president

Saunteel Jenkins

Saunteel Jenkins

By T. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen

Federal law enforcement officials are investigating the vote for Detroit City Council president. In January, Councilwoman Brenda Jones won the contested race for council leadership over the previous president, Saunteel Jenkins, in a 5-4 vote.

Mainstream media reports give the impression Brenda Jones is the subject of the controversy. However, the Michigan Citizen has learned the alleged effort was to support Saunteel Jenkins.

The federal investigation is based on a report made by Detroit Police Chief James Craig to the FBI. Earlier this year, political consultant Adolph Mongo, Rev. Horace Sheffield and DPD Chief Craig were at Cutter’s Bar in Eastern Market having a casual conversation.

Sheffield expressed concern about what he believed were efforts to influence the vote for City Council president. He implied there was a scheme that involved local businessman Thomas Hardiman, Sr. and Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins. In exchange for votes, a councilperson would be paid, according to several sources.

Rev. Sheffield is the father of Councilwoman Mary Sheffield and is also a candidate challenging John Conyers in the 13th Congressional district.

Rev. Sheffield has since been subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney’s office and is expected to testify before a grand jury. Sheffield is a witness and not a target in the probe, according to investigators.

In January, George Cushingberry also beat out Andre Spivey — whose votes are often aligned with Jenkins — for the president pro tem role. Media reports cast the Jones and Cushingberry win as an upset, and a defeat for downtown business interests.

Jenkins had occupied the seat of president after the departure of Charles Pugh.

Most of the mainstream press, including Detroit News columnists Daniel Howes and Nolan Finley, supported Jenkins and Spivey.

After the election, Cushingberry told media he and Jones “made a deal,” which, at that time, also sparked accusations of influence peddling. Cushingberry did not respond to a request for comment on the charge.

Jones has voted against the state takeover of the city’s finances, opposing emergency management and the lease of Belle Isle, positions that have earned her the reputation of being an “obstructionist” by mainstream dailies, but has made her a people’s favorite.

Jenkins voted for the consent agreement that began the state takeover, leading to bankruptcy.

Newly-elected members Sheffield, Scott Benson, Gabe Leland and Cushingberry deny being offered bribes. All voted for Jones and Cushingberry.

Jenkins supporters, Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, Andre Spivey and James Tate, also deny wrongdoing.

When news broke of the investigation into the city council election, two names were tied to the probe — Council President Brenda Jones and businessman Thomas Hardiman.

Rev. Sheffield suggested Hardiman was the middleman lobbying for council president votes. He described Hardiman as somebody who “was involved with Kwame Kilpatrick.”

Hardiman of Sky Group, a real estate firm, leases property to the Detroit Police Department. The bankruptcy judge may allow Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr to break the lease for Hardiman’s Woodward building that contains the DPD’s Central District office.

Craig has supported ending the lease with Hardiman.

“Mr. Hardiman has built a successful business in Detroit, partly from his reputation of honesty and integrity, and intends to protect both at all costs,” says Jamaine Dickens, a spokesman for Hardiman. “We are confident the truth will be revealed in due time; however, Mr. Sheffield’s careless and irresponsible behavior must be addressed firmly and immediately.”

According to campaign finance reports, Hardiman made contributions to Jenkins, Jones and Adam Hollier, who ran unsuccessfully against Mary Sheffield in the district race for council.

Jenkins has denied bargaining for votes and has said in media reports she only knows Hardiman casually. She did not respond for requests for an interview.

Jenkins is considered to be a candidate with the support of the business and corporate community. Her campaign contributors include the Quicken Loans PAC, representatives from city vendor Strategic Staffing Solutions and James Nicholson of PVC Chemicals. Nicholson and Gilbert were two business leaders who lent Kwame Kilpatrick money as he left office. At the time, the Free Press questioned whether the $60,000 loan — from four business people — was actually a gift.

Hardiman announced this week he will sue Sheffield for defamation in Wayne County Circuit Court.

According to the 2013 charter, council members now elect the president and pro tem. Formerly, the two top vote-getters took those positions.

Jones will serve as president for the next four years.

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