Banks pleads to misdemeanor, resigns Michigan House seat

Kathy Ryan Staff Writer

February 09, 2017

Detroit — Brian Banks (D-Harper Woods) resigned his seat in the Michigan House as part of a plea deal agreement stemming from charges he committed fraud in applying for a loan from a local credit union.

Banks, who represented Michigan’s 1st House District, which includes Grosse Pointe Woods and Grosse Pointe Shores, pleaded guilty Monday to a single misdemeanor charge of making a false statement of financial condition. Two felony charges of uttering and publishing and one felony count of using a false pretense to defraud or cheat were dropped. He could have faced up to life in prison on the charges because he also was being charged as a habitual offender based on several other fraud charges dating back two decades.

Banks appeared before Judge Michael Hathaway in Wayne County Circuit Court, who set sentencing for Friday, Feb. 17.

Banks was re-elected to his third term in the house in the November 2016 election.

Gov. Rick Snyder will have to call for a special election to fill the empty seat. According to Grosse Pointe Woods City Clerk Lisa Hathaway, the state has set election dates for May, August and November, but she had not received word by press time of a date when the special election would be held.

Banks’ Republican opponent in last November’s election, Will Broman, issued a statement following the announcement Banks would resign.

“Brian Banks should have resigned before the November election,” Broman wrote in his statement. “Detroiters deserve a representative who will fight for them every day to tackle the issues plaguing the district from 48205 to Lakeshore Drive.”

Broman said he has not decided if he will run again for the seat.

“It’s something I have to discuss with my family and I’ll be making a decision once the date has been set for the election,” he said. “But I’m not ruling it out.”

Pamela Sossi, who came in second to Banks in the Democratic primary, also said she will run for the now-vacant House seat.

“It’s time to turn everyone’s attention back to the needs of the district rather than focusing on the representative’s behavior,” she said. “I’m glad he did not waste the taxpayer’s time and money with a trial.”

Rep. Banks resigns, pleads to misdemeanor

Embattled Michigan Rep. Brian Banks, who won three terms to the state House despite eight prior felony convictions, resigned his office Monday after negotiating a plea agreement involving a $3,000 bank loan that cost him his seat and perhaps his political future.

Banks was charged last year with two felony counts of uttering and publishing each punishable by up to 14 years in prison — one felony count of using a false pretense to defraud or cheat, and one misdemeanor count of making false statements of financial condition.

Banks pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge Monday before 3rd Circuit Judge Michael Hathaway and will be sentenced Feb. 17 in the Wayne County courthouse. The charge carries a penalty of up to a year in jail.

The Harper Woods Democrat was accused of using false documents to try to obtain a $7,500 personal loan from a local credit union. He received $3,000 after initially not being approved by the Detroit Metropolitan Credit Union on East Jefferson.

An affidavit from Peter Ackerly, a special agent investigator with the attorney general’s office, reported Banks lied on his application using pay statements from IHI Attorneys + Consultants of Farmington Hills to get the loan. Banks said the loan was to pay for a course as he prepared for the Michigan Bar Exam.

The bank ended up suing Banks for non-payment on the loan. He agreed to repay 90 percent plus interest and eventually repaid the reduced amount, according to charging documents.

Banks’ resignation comes on the heels of a volatile two-year session in Lansing marked by unusually high turnover and personal turmoil in the state Legislature.

Former Sen. Virgil Smith, D-Detroit, resigned in late March after pleading guilty to malicious destruction for shooting up his ex-wife’s car. Republican Rep. Todd Courser of the Lapeer area stepped down and GOP Rep. Cindy Gamrat of Plainwell was expelled in September 2015 over allegations they misused state taxpayer resources in an attempted cover-up of their extramarital affair.

Banks’ tenure in Lansing has been tumultuous and included accusations of sexual harassment by a former staffer in a case the state House quietly settled for $12,000 in the fall of 2015.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office filed the felony charges against Banks in June. Monday’s plea came as jury selection in his criminal trial was about to get underway.

“As an elected official, you carry a higher burden of responsibility and are expected to act as a role model in your community,” Schuette said in a statement. “Former Rep. Banks violated the trust placed in him by his neighbors and constituents.”

Banks has eight prior felonies from 1998 to 2004 for writing bad checks and credit card fraud. Banks could have faced up to life in prison as a “habitual offender” with the felony charges.

House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, said Monday that Banks’ former 1st District legislative office will remain open to handle constituent services despite his resignation. Gov. Rick Snyder would have to call a special election to fill the open seat.

“Rep. Banks had one legal issue after another during his time in public office,” Leonard said in a statement. “I am glad to see he is finally taking responsibility for his actions, and hopefully today’s plea agreement provides the fresh start he needs.”

House Minority Leader Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, said he respected Banks’ decision to resign, wished him the best and noted the former lawmaker “was a passionate advocate for his district.”

Banks’ resignation letter specified he is stepping down immediately, according to the Attorney General’s Office. House Clerk Gary Randall said he received the letter but cannot release it until it is read into the public record during Tuesday’s legislative session.

State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, D-Detroit, one of Bank’s closest allies in the Michigan Legislature, was with him at the courthouse Monday and said Banks was motivated to take the plea deal out of concern for his mother, whom he takes care of.

“Any mother would not want to face their child having to possibly serve life in prison, especially for something so frivolous as this,” she said in a phone interview Monday afternoon.

Gay-Dagnogo called the charges against Banks a “well-calculated and politically motivated” attempt to deny him re-election last fall. He has admitted his role in the scheme, she said, but did not act with the intent to defraud and has repaid the loan in question.

“The people of his district have lost a champion that fought on behalf of Detroit Public Schools, has fought to protect auto no-fault as we have it in Michigan, has fought for Democracy,” Gay-Dagnogo said. “The people lost today.”

Schuette, a Republican, denied this summer the charges of a politically motivated prosecution against Banks during a Detroit News interview. He noted the case came from the Democratic Obama administration.

“The fact is the FBI worked on this, passed it to the U.S. Attorney and it came to the Department of Attorney General,” Schuette told The Detroit News Editorial Board and reporters. “That’s what happened.”

Banks had served as chairman of the Detroit Caucus in the state House. Gay-Dagnogo, vice chair of the caucus, said it is “much too soon” to speculate who could replace him.

Banks’ attorney, Ben Gonek, told reporters after Banks’ arraignment in June the charges against his client were politically motivated and he alleged Banks was targeted because of his vote on key issues such as the Detroit Public Schools’ financial bailout by the state and a controversial insurance program, called D Insurance, promoted to Detroiters.

Banks fended off five opponents in August, and in November, the lawmaker earned 66 percent of the vote in his battle to retain his seat in Michigan’s District 1, which includes Harper Woods, Grosse Pointe Woods, Grosse Pointe Shores and a portion of northeast Detroit.

Pam Sossi of Harper Woods, who lost 45 percent to 36 percent to Banks in the August Democratic primary, issued a statement applauding Banks for resigning rather than “dragging the constituents of District 1 through a lengthy felony trial.”

Sossi made clear she plans to run for the seat again when a special election is called.

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News Flash: All the legislative incumbents win

Here’s what we learned from Tuesday’s primary election: Southeast Michigan residents love the Detroit Zoo, which is not in Detroit and is no longer controlled by the city. They overwhelmingly voted to keep supporting it.

Apart from that, it’s become clear that one of the effects of term limits is the creating of a sort of elected hereditary aristocracy. Wives are elected to succeed husbands; next year, if they win their general elections, Sylvia Santana will succeed Harvey Santana; Cara Clemente will follow Paul, and Daire Rendon will succeed Bruce.

Children are also following parents, and when direct succession isn’t in the cards, famous names are the best things to have. Ian Conyers won a primary yesterday in a special election for a state senate seat in Detroit. He has no prior political experience, but his great-uncle John Conyers has been in Congress for more than half a century.

The elder Conyers is 87 now and way past the point when some think he should have retired. But he won renomination yesterday too, easily beating a challenge from the much younger and vibrant Detroit city clerk.

In fact, it was a great night for incumbents. Every single member of the legislature who was challenged managed to win. This was sometimes discouraging; you would think the voters would want to be done with Brian Banks, who is looking at three more felony charges and just had to be defended at state expense in a sexual harassment suit filed by a former staffer.

Yet voters, incredibly, chose to nominate him again rather than choose Pam Sossi, an impressive young attorney. In both Conyers and Banks’ case, the primary is the general election; there are virtually no Republicans in their districts.

Famous names can be a mixed blessing. Up in the northwest Lower Peninsula, Democrats thought they had a dream candidate in Erin Kieliszewski. But she was beaten by someone named Robert Kennedy, a slightly more famous name than Kieliszewski.

Incredibly, much the same thing happened two years ago; Kennedy, no relation to those Kennedys, wasn’t that strong a campaigner, and the Democrats lost a seat they might have won. They are worried this is déjà vu all over again.

All this doesn’t mean the voters aren’t paying attention. Up north, there was a huge and nasty Republican primary election battle between Tom Casperson, a state senator from the UP, and Jason Allen, a former state senator from Traverse City.

There was also a political unknown on the ballot; a retired Marine Corps general named Jack Bergman. He was clearly deeply conservative, but said little, refrained from personal attacks – and won the Republican nomination for Congress in a stunning upset.

Voters at the top of the state will choose in November between Bergman and Democrat Lon Johnson, both of whom were virtually unknown in the district a year ago.

By the way, politicians may tell you that nobody is willing to pay more taxes, but that is clearly not the case. Across the state, voters approved more than 80 percent of tax increases on the ballot, especially for public safety or roads.

When people have enough time to evaluate what’s facing them, they normally make rational decisions. Which is one more argument to let everyone in the state vote absentee.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

Rep. Banks battles primary foes, criminal charges

State Rep. Brian Banks is battling five Democratic primary opponents for re-election in the Michigan House amid new bank fraud criminal charges that mirror accusations in his past felony convictions.

Attorney Pamela Sossi of Harper Woods is mounting an aggressive campaign to deny Banks a third and final term in the House in the 1st District that includes Harper Woods, Grosse Pointe Woods, Grosse Pointe Shores and a portion of northeast Detroit.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and other Democratic Party leaders have rushed to Banks’ aid since Attorney General Bill Schuette charged Banks with three felonies for allegedly submitting fake pay stubs to a Detroit credit union to get a personal loan in 2010.

Sossi said she is talking to voters about Banks’ new charges as well as his eight past felonies from 1998 to 2004 for writing bad checks and credit card fraud.

“That’s one of the first things voters talk about when they open the door,” Sossi said. “Is our current representative going to prison? Will he be seated? Do we have to have a special election?”

Sossi, a criminal defense attorney, noted Banks is innocent of the new charges until proven guilty.

Banks is being charged as a habitual financial crimes offender and faces up to life in prison if convicted, according to the Attorney General’s office.

In an interview, Banks declined to address the latest criminal charges, referring all questions to his attorney.

But Banks and his supporters have claimed he is the victim of a political hit by the Republican attorney general — a charge Schuette has denied.

“Look at the timing of everything,” Banks said of the charges filed five weeks before the Aug. 2 primary. “Many of our constituents understand politics ... and they’re concerned about the timing of this. It’s an old issue before I took office (in 2013).”

While Banks battles new legal problems, Sossi has found herself under attack in recent weeks by two mystery groups that have sought to label her a Republican.

A group called Democrats for Michigan sent mailers to voters in the district featuring pictures of Sossi and her boyfriend, Mike Norris, with GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump superimposed in the background.

“Michigan does not need Donald Trump and we don’t need Pam Sossi. Both are dangerous for us,” the mailer reads.

Sossi rejects GOP label

Sossi said she is a lifelong Democrat. Norris is a Republican political operative who is running her campaign. “My boyfriend isn’t running for the seat,” Sossi said.

Democrats for Michigan is a political action committee that disbanded in 2001, state records show. The new, unregistered group used the same Grand Rapids mailing address as the defunct group.

Mark Lezotte, a Detroit attorney who was previously the committee’s treasurer, said Monday he was unaware of the defunct group’s name and address were being used to distribute the mailers.

Another mystery group called Leadership for a Better Michigan sent voters another mailer that recently blasted Sossi for accepting the endorsements of “known Republicans like Kurt Culler,” a Harper Woods High School math teacher.

Culler, who had Sossi as a student but doesn’t live in the district, posted a copy of the mailer on his Facebook page earlier this month.

“So according to Brian Banks or the people working to get him re-elected in District 1, I’m a known Republican,” Culler wrote.

“That’s news to me since I’m a Democrat. Kind of amazing, but kind of sad as well that they would throw my name into their mailers and make stuff up,” Culler wrote.

Leadership for a Better Michigan was a Kalamazoo County-based group associated with former Republican state Rep. Lorence Wenke that disbanded in 2006, records show.

The mailer targeting Sossi uses the same Post Office box number in Richland that is listed with Wenke’s defunct PAC.

Banks denied any involvement in sending out the mailers targeting Sossi.

“I don’t have time to play dirty politics, OK?” Banks told The Detroit News. “They’re spending all of their time about me. ... They’re not even on my radar. I’m focused on my race.”

Other challengers weigh in

Detroiter Washington Youson, a former legislative aide, also is running an active campaign for the seat, seeking to cut into Banks’ east side Detroit base.

“I don’t really have any issue with Brian Banks, I just think we can have better leadership in Lansing,” Youson said. “I’ve been focusing on the issues, the positive things we can do in our community, rather than talking about the negativity that’s surrounding him right now.”

Keith Hollowell of Grosse Pointe Woods and Detroiters Corey Gilchrist and Kameshea Amos also are on the Democratic primary ballot, but have not been raising or spending money to win the seat.

Sossi has raised more than $30,200 for her campaign, nearly $15,000 of which was her own money, campaign finance records show.

Youson has raised $6,605, with about $5,900 coming from himself, according to filings.

Banks has raised more cash than both active opponents combined by a three-to-one margin. For the two-year election cycle, Banks raised $135,545, with more than two-thirds of his campaign cash coming in this year.

Banks has received campaign contributions from the political action committees of the United Automobile Workers union, Michigan Laborers union, Operating Engineers Local 324, Michigan Health and Hospital Association, Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers as well as Detroit International Bridge Co. owner Matthew Moroun, records show.

Duggan recently knocked on doors with Banks. Democrats held a rally for him on July 1, where state Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon spoke in Banks’ defense.

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood

The Dark Money Flows In Days Before Michigan's Primary Election

Mystery Groups Have Used The Mail To Allege One Candidate Thinks Gun Violence Is A Game And To Claim Another Is Anti-Police

Michigan Campaign Finance Network

LANSING — A set of blood-stained handcuffs hang down above an altered photograph of Democrat Darrin Camilleri’s eyes. Next to the images, text reads, “Darrin Camilleri’s dangerous ideas will handcuff Downriver’s cops.”

The photos and text come from a dark money-funded mailer that’s been sent out in the last days against Camilleri, a teacher from Brownstown Twp. who’s running in a competitive Democratic primary race in the 23rd Michigan House District. The mailer is one example of the vicious attacks that have been levied by mystery groups in advance of Tuesday’s election.

These attacks have come from nonprofit organizations and in one race, dissolved political action committees (PACs). The mailers slam candidates, like Camilleri, who will appear on the ballot on Tuesday and seek to influence voters. But because the mailers don’t specifically tell people to vote for or against the candidates mentioned, they’re free to make allegations while state law keeps their donors secret.

Camilleri became aware of the dark money mailers in his district a week ago. He got a call from a voter who had received one of the mailers and wanted to lift Camilleri’s spirits.

“I hadn’t seen anything,” Camilleri said. “I hadn’t heard anything.”

Later, Camilleri received copies of the mailers, which based their attacks on a social media post showing Camilleri shaking hands with national Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson. One of the mailers said, “While Ferguson and Baltimore burned, Darrin Camilleri’s key political ally DeRay McKesson went on CNN and refused to condemn the violence.”

In an interview, Camilleri said he had met McKesson one time at a conference.

“I didn’t realize that meeting someone once at a conference for 30 seconds counts as a friendship,” Camilleri said.

Camilleri argued that people don’t have to be either for Black Lives Matter or for law enforcement. He also noted that he's received support from the Police Officers Association of Michigan and the Wayne County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association.

Two versions of the mailers have gone out in the 23rd District. Camilleri said his campaign believes the mailers went out last week to every Democratic voter in the district who hadn’t cast an absentee ballot, aiming to impact what’s expected to be a close primary race.

The mailers came from a group called Better Michigan Coalition, which according to the mailers, is located at a Reed City address. That Osceola County city is a three-hour drive away from the 23rd District.

A 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization called Better Michigan Coalition was incorporated in Michigan in May. It’s based in Chase Twp., a 10-minute drive from Reed City. The incorporation documents list two individuals: Brian K. Elder and Dan Sloan. Strangely enough, Elder, an attorney, is currently a candidate in the 96th House District. Sloan is a Lake County commissioner. Neither Elder nor Sloan responded to multiple requests for comment about the nonprofit and whether it was responsible for the mailers.

Camilleri said he believes the mailers were spurred by polling that showed him in the lead of the four-way 23rd District primary race. His opponents are Sherry Berecz, Elayne Petrucci and Steven Rzeppa.

“It’s the type of politics that Michigan and Democrats in particular in this primary race should be disavowing at every turn,” Camilleri said.

Berecz denounced the mailers in a Facebook post last week.

“We have no ties to the Better Michigan Coalition, and we are not associated with this organization,” she wrote.

Joe DiSano, a political consultant who’s done work for the campaigns of both Elder and Berecz, also denied today that he was involved in the Better Michigan Coalition mailers.

The 23rd District Democratic primary is far from the only one seeing the impact of dark money.

In the 1st Michigan House District, five Democrats are trying to unseat incumbent Rep. Brian Banks (D-Detroit) in the primary. One of the challengers, Pamela Sossi, of Detroit, has been attacked in multiple mailers that say they are from PACs while they really aren’t.

One of the mailers shows Sossi’s face next to GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s face. It also alleges that Sossi and her boyfriend “have been working with the Republican Party for years.”

“Tell Pam Sossi to go back to the Republican Party, we don’t need her on our side,” the mailer says.

That mailer and another similar one allegedly came from PACs based in Michigan. However, the PACs listed on the mailers as the groups behind them have been dissolved for at least a decade.

One of the mailers allegedly came from Democrats for Michigan, listed at 73 Campau Circle NW, Grand Rapids. That PAC dissolved in 2001. Another of the mailers allegedly came from Leadership for a Better Michigan,

PO Box 361, Richland. That PAC, which was connected to former West Michigan Rep. Lorence Wenke, then a Republican, dissolved in 2006.

Wenke said he had no idea about the mailers in Detroit until a reporter from the Detroit News, which first reported the mailers, called him.

“I would like to know who it is,” Wenke said. “I would like to charge them with some criminal activity if this is a criminal activity.”

Wenke then joked that it seems you have to murder someone to be found guilty of a crime in politics.

Sossi herself said she’s been a Democrat since she could legally vote and she has never voted for a Republican, she said.

“My family would probably kill me,” Sossi added.

In another Detroit area race, Democratic Michigan Senate candidate Ian Conyers has been the subject of a dark money attack. Conyers, who’s in a nine-way race in the 4th Senate District, was pictured on a mailer holding a paintball gun.

“Ian Conyers thinks gun violence is a game,” the mailer said.

The mailer came from Concerned Citizens of Michigan, which is based in Fraser. MCFN could find no record of a PAC by that name but did find a nonprofit organization incorporated in Michigan called Concerned Citizens for Michigan, based at the same Fraser address as the one listed on the mailers. The group incorporated less than a month ago.

Conyers said the mailer went out in two waves. One of the waves targeted absentee voters and another targeted Election Day voters. About 20,000 people received it, Conyers said.

“As an activist, I have marched and fought against gun violence,” Conyers said in an email. “As a professional I have worked the last four years to promote ShotSpotter to catch shooters …”

Nonprofits’ attempts to influence Tuesday’s elections haven't stopped at the State Legislature. There’s also been at least some evidence of groups distributing literature in township and precinct delegate races.

On the GOP side, precinct delegate races are key because the winning precinct delegates have sway in shaping the future of the party and picking GOP nominees for statewide contests. The Michigan Campaign Finance Act doesn’t regulate precinct delegate candidates.

Postcards supporting select precinct delegates from a nonprofit called Advance Oakland have been flagged in Oakland County this cycle.

David Staudt, who’s connected to the nonprofit, said he’s sent out mailers in only three precincts. He said he’s also made pieces available to candidates who want to hand them out at events or while going door to door.
Staudt said he made a donation to the nonprofit himself to fund the pieces.

“My intention was to empower delegates to do their own campaigning,” he said.

6 Incumbents Facing The Strongest Primary Challengers

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

In three of the last four primary elections, a sitting office holder lost his seat to a challenger, raising the obvious question of whether any of the current 25 incumbents facing a primary challenge is at risk this Aug. 2.

The answer: Not likely. 

Based on research and interviews compiled by MIRS, six challengers are doing enough on-the-ground work and campaigning to be viewed as viable threats, although in every case, the incumbent is still viewed as the favorite. 

Throughout the state, a similar theme is emerging. Some of the 25 challengers are visible, but the power of incumbency is expected to hold. 

Conservative challenges to Rep. Kathy CRAWFORD (R-Novi) and Rep. Daniela GARCIA (R-Holland) leave upsets there as a slim possibility. In Detroit, all but one incumbent is facing a primary challenge, but most, like Rep. Wendell BYRD (D-Detroit), are facing multi-candidate fields, meaning opposition against a particular candidate is splintered. 

In other districts, like the primary challenge against Rep. Andy SCHOR (D-Lansing), the opponents have done little to no campaigning. Other candidates, like Southgate School Board member Rebecca REED in the 13th District, have a good résumé, but maybe haven't been as active as they'd need to be. 

Those upset in the last three primaries -- former Reps. Frank FOSTER, Kurt DAMROW and Ted HAMMON -- saw their defeats coming. Lee CHATFIELD (2014) and Jim SLEZAK (2008) worked their tails' off. Rep. Ed CANFIELD (R-Sebewaing) benefited from running against a majorly flawed candidate. 

Nonetheless, the six incumbents tackling the most aggressive challengers include: 

1. Rep. Larry INMAN (R-Williamsburg) - The first-term House member in the 104th was a little late in hitting the doors, setting off alarms earlier this summer that conservative blogger Jason GILLMAN could pull the upset he didn't manage in 2012 against then-Rep. Wayne SCHMIDT. However, more recent reports have the threat against Inman stabilizing. 

2. Rep. Brian BANKS (D-Harper Woods) - If Banks didn't work so hard, the 1st District incumbent would be in a lot more trouble than he is. Facing criminal charges for allegedly forging check stubs to secure a loan, Banks rallied the leadership of most traditional Democratic interest groups by his side for a press conference within 24 hours. That's impressive. 

That said, Pamela SOSSI is working the non-Detroit portion of this district hard and Washington YOUSON is working the Detroit portion. Sossi, who was endorsed today by the Associated Builders and Contractors, is raising and spending money and recently became the subject of a hit piece of accusing her of not being a Democrat. Someone is not taking her for granted. 

Banks may very well survive the primary. Whether he'll survive the criminal charges is a different matter. 

3. Rep. Rose Mary ROBINSON (D-Detroit) - Robinson has never lost an election in the city of Detroit and it's hard to see her getting fewer votes than anyone else in this seven-candidate Democratic primary field. However, it's notable that Quincy JONES has been doing some campaigning with Mayor Mike DUGGAN and was endorsed by the Detroit Chamber of Commerce. 

But Robinson still has the UAW and both congressional district Democratic parties. She's also wildly popular with constituents who remember her generosity or the help she's given through her many years in Detroit. 

4. Rep. Lee CHATFIELD (R-Levering) - The type of moderate voter who wanted Foster re-elected in 2014 are generally trying to get Kathy TWARDY, a Sault Ste. Marie commissioner, to unseat the conservative Chatfield. It looks likes Chatfield has fired up the similar campaign operation that pulled off the 2014 win and that's a tough adversary to compete with. 

5. Rep. John KIVELA (D-Marquette) - Like Inman, Kivela was a little late to activate his re-election campaign, but Marquette City Commissioner Sara CAMBENSY would be in much better shape if she'd started before April, as well. 

Most of the local labor infrastructure is lining up behind Kivela, an interesting change since they either supported his first primary opponent in 2012, Tony RETASKIE, or stayed on the sidelines. 

6. Rep. Mary WHITEFORD (R-South Haven) - On paper, Tea Party organizer Abigail NOBEL in a one-on-one match-up would seem to be a notable challenge in the conservative 80th District. However, Whiteford is running just as hard today as she did in the 2015 special and the regular 2014 election, giving her the type of head-start is make her a heavy favorite. 

Free Press endorsements in legislative primaries

The Free Press Editorial Board makes its endorsements in the some of the most competitive legislative races in metro Detroit on the August 2nd primary ballot. 

State House District 1 — Democratic primary

Incumbent Brian Banks is sometimes capable of being a persuasive advocate for the most vulnerable residents of this east-side Detroit, Grosse Pointe and Harper Woods district. He’s an important voice in the Legislature.

Unfortunately, that voice is badly compromised by his obviously poor judgment in the way he conducts his personal affairs. Convicted of eight felonies — mostly for financial crimes — before he was even elected, he now faces new charges that he used fake pay stubs to get approval for a loan.

Enough’s enough. Time for a change.

The best pick among a crowded field of Democratic challengers is PAMELA SOSSI, a young lawyer whose specific ideas about revenue growth, the importance of support for cities and the desperate need for criminal sentencing reform in Michigan make her a standout.

Washington Youson, who was district director for former Congressman Hansen Clarke, is also impressive.

But Sossi, 32, of Harper Woods demonstrates a deeper grasp of the policy issues she’d face in Lansing, and has concrete solutions to offer.

Embattled State Rep. Banks defiant, despite felony charges.

DETROIT (WJBK) - A state rep now charged with several felonies that could send him to prison for life.
Brian Banks is accused of using a phony pay stub to get a loan.

It is not his first run-in with the law, but now some of his friends and colleagues are coming to his defense.

In his own words, a man accused of felony fraud makes a stand at a rally in his support.

"I was elected to fight and serve for the 1st district," said Brian Banks "No attack will sway me. I will not be moved."

Those in support of Banks, like State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit), claim he's targeted for not falling in line with the attorney general's priorities. 
They also question the timing, six years after the alleged crimes and a month before the primary election.

"We want him to know and others to know these attacks will not be tolerated," she said. "And you will have support when you are willing to speak out."

And while this rally is held for Banks, supporters say there is a bigger issue at play. They are calling into question the motives of Attorney General Bill Schuette.

"Whether you like Brian Banks or not, this right here should send a signal to people of Michigan on both sides of the aisle that we should not misuse resources because this costs us," said Dagnogo.

"It happened to Brian Banks today, it could happen to Council President Brenda Jones tomorrow because she doesn't believe in going along with what others believe in going along with," she said.

They also point the finger at those looking to take his seat in the state house during the next election.

"Who was allowed to go through the records and find this,"  Dagnogo said. "I believe it was his opponent is directly associated with it. She is an attorney."

That attorney is Pamela Sossi. 

FOX 2: "Your name was evoked as someone who may have had something to do with these charges. Is there any truth to that at all?"

“I think that is ridiculous," she said. "I'm actually a criminal defense lawyer. I have never worked for a prosecutor’s office. I've never worked for the attorney general's office."

If convicted on the fraud charges and being a habitual offender, Banks could face up to life in prison.

This was the first time Banks spoke publicly since being arraigned on fraud charges and while he didn't address those charges specifically. He did say he plans to fight whatever comes his way.



Banks Charged With Felonies Five Weeks Before Primary

Rep. Brian Banks on Tuesday was charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor by the Department of Attorney General with just five weeks to go until a competitive Democratic primary in the 1st House District, where he is seeking re-election.

The felonies against Mr. Banks (D-Harper Woods) stem from a June 2010 incident in which he allegedly submitted fake pay stubs when applying for a personal loan, some two years before Mr. Banks was elected to the House. Mr. Banks has been convicted of several felonies involving bad checks, but has since been elected to the House twice.

The charges filed Tuesday in Wayne County include three felonies: two counts of uttering and publishing, punishable by up to 14 years in prison, and one count of false pretenses involving $1,000 or more but less than $20,000, punishable by up to five years in prison and/or $10,000. The misdemeanor charge is for false statements/financial condition, punishable by one year in prison or $1,000. Mr. Banks is also being charged as a four-time habitual offender, which could mean an enhanced sentence of up to life in prison. (Subscribers please note: a News Update sent Tuesday afternoon incorrectly said Mr. Banks was charged with four felonies).

Mr. Banks attorney, Ben Gonek, did not respond for a request for comment, but told The Detroit News that the charges were politically motivated given the timing and "ridiculous nature."

The charges stem from an incident in June of 2010 where Mr. Banks applied for a $7,500 loan from the Detroit Metropolitan Credit Union (now Diversified Members Credit Union). Mr. Banks submitted pay stubs from IHI Attorneys + Consultants, which stated his salary was $92,400.

He told the credit union the loan was for a bar preparation course and in the end was given a $3,000 loan, which Mr. Banks did not pay back until a lawsuit was filed against him by the credit union. He paid 90 percent of the loan plus interest as part of the lawsuit.

According to the charging document, Peter Ackerly, an investigator with the Department of Attorney General assigned to the FBI Detroit Area Public Corruption Task Force, interviewed a witness who said she created the IHI firm and created the paystubs, though the company never paid anyone. Mr. Banks paid her between $25 and $100 to create the pay stubs, the witness said.

The witness said she provided Mr. Banks with the letter verifying his employment but did not sign it. The charging document said it was signed by a Holly Reimbernt when Mr. Banks submitted it to the credit union.

House Minority Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) said in a statement he cannot comment on the incident the charges stem from because they dealt with a time when Mr. Banks was not yet in office.

"However, I can say that during his time in office, Representative Brian Banks has proven himself to be a hard-working advocate for the people of the 1st House District, and I know he will continue that work for his constituents," Mr. Greimel said.

Pamela Sossi, a Harper Woods Democrat who has been the most vocal and organized of those seeking the nomination against Mr. Banks, called the charges a "shocking turn of events." But she said the people of the 1st House District deserve honest and ethical representation, which she could provide for all constituents, she said.

She did not criticize the timing of the charges nor the fact that they stem from an incident predating Mr. Banks' time in office.

"It is not a concern for me that it was before (he) was in office, it just shows a pattern of activity that seems consistent with his already preexisting record," she said.

William Broman, a Grosse Pointe Woods Republican running in the safe Democratic seat, said he could provide better representation to the district.

"It is unfortunate that we must continue to question the integrity of elected leadership in the first district," he said in reaction to the charges.

The Department of Attorney General did not respond to a message with questions about when the arraignment would take place and the timing of the charges in the middle of a heated election.

1st District Opponent Taking It To Banks

A bold challenger to Rep. Brian BANKS (D-Harper Woods) in the 1st Congressional District contacted Banks' landlord earlier this year to inquire about a TV report that he was back in court after falling behind on his rent.

Pamela SOSSI, an attorney who lives five doors down from him in Harper Woods, contacted Lift Property Management in late February about his file, but Banks' account was current by that time and a lawsuit filed in the case had been dismissed.

The action -- described by Sossi's campaign manager as one taken by a concerned neighbor and as "unethical" by Banks -- punctuates what is already turning into a nasty primary in a district made up of Detroit, Harper Woods, Grosse Pointe Woods and Grosse Pointe Shores.

Sossi operates her own law practice and was recently named among the "Top 10" personal injury attorneys under 40 by the National Academy of Personal Injury Attorneys. She's not a politician and wasn't planning to run for the seat until a memorable dinner this past December at the London Chop House in which Banks allegedly caused a public scene because of his unhappiness with his experience at the restaurant, said Sossi's campaign manager Mike NORRIS.

Sossi was at the restaurant for a different reason and learned the state House member from her area caused the fuss.

She and Norris have since dug deep into Banks' history and is hauling back out the two-term House members' past -- his felony charges for passing bad checks, the bankruptcies, his evictions, civil suits and the sexual harassment charge from a former staffer.

Unlike his primary 2014 opponent, Rebecca THOMPSON, Sossi is also going after Banks on his legislative record, claiming he does little in Harper Woods and the Pointes, despite his standing coffee hours and forums he brings to the area.

"Holding coffee hours and passing resolutions isn't doing anything for me," Sossi said. "We have public safety issues and schools that need to be addressed. He doesn't get anything done."

How upfront has she been?

Sossi left one of her signed lit pieces, addressed to "Brian," in his front door. He reported that he saw no evidence of any other pieces in the doors of any of his neighbors.

"Let me tell you, I'm not intimidated by things like this," Banks said.

Sossi is taking the extra step of approaching Lansing-area special interests for money, mentioning in her pitch letter that the defense of Banks' sexual harassment lawsuit by Tramaine COTTON cost the state taxpayers nearly $100,000 (See "State Quietly Settles Now-Dismissed Banks Civil Suit," 1/5/16). 

She's even knocking the doors of Republicans and asking them to participate in the Aug. 2 Democratic primary so "we can get someone in and get him out." She's already reached out to business groups for support as a way to broaden her base going into the primary.

"If you have someone who can't take care of his personal life, you wonder if this someone you want representing them at the state level," Norris said.

Whether the noise Sossi is making translates into votes depends solely on the ground game she can put together, according to political observers from the area.

For his past personal faults, Banks has earned a reputation as a hardworking lawmaker with excellent relations with influential Detroiters, like radio host Mildred GADDIS, according to sources.

Sossi is getting some financial support from Dr. David COTTON and Patrick O'KEEFE, but unless she can continue an organized financial effort with a strong door-knocking program, the expectation is the Democratic primary vote will be chopped up six different ways to Banks' benefit, according to political observers.

In 2014, when Banks defeated Thompson 43 to 37 percent, five other candidates split 21.07 percent of the vote. This year's Democratic primary features six candidates.

If Banks weren't an aggressive door-knocker, his political future would be in question, political consultants tell MIRS.

But Steve HOOD who assisted Banks for a couple weeks in 2014 called Banks "The most active state representative from the northeast Detroit area since Lamar LEMMONS." He knocks on doors in the off years. He was in the district when MIRS contacted him this afternoon.

"The residents up here love him," Hood said. "He's bringing a health fair up here next week. He works hard, harder than any other state lawmaker currently serving from Detroit.

"The proof is in the pudding. Just don't take my word for it."

Earlier this year, Banks pulled together an education forum for his district that brought together some 300 to 400 people, by his count. Among those attending included House Education Committee Chair Amanda PRICE (R-Park Twp.) and state Superintendent Brian WHISTON.

Sossi does have some ties to Detroit Mayor Mike DUGGAN. She interned for Duggan's father, former federal Judge Patrick DUGGAN, in the summer of 2010, but she said she has not asked her former bosses for support.

Considering Banks is the House's Detroit caucus chair, it's not likely the Mayor would get involved in supporting a Banks challenger, particularly not during the legislative debate on the Detroit Public Schools reform.

Another Detroit political consultant, Adolph MONGO, agreed that Sossi's problem is that the anti-Banks options are numerous, making the incumbent a strong favorite, as is the case in many Detroit legislative races.

"He's the favorite, but I wouldn't be surprised if he lost," Mongo said.