Banks resigns after pleading guilty to misdemeanor

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published February 21, 2017

WAYNE COUNTY — On Jan. 11, state Rep. Brian Banks, D-Harper Woods, took the oath of office in the Michigan House of Representatives to begin his third term in the Legislature after his re-election last November.

One month later — on Feb. 6 — the 40-year-old resigned from the House after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of filing false financial statements, according to a news release from the office of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.

The plea was entered before Judge Michael Hathaway in 3rd Circuit Court in Detroit. District 1 encompasses the communities of Harper Woods, Grosse Pointe Woods, part of Grosse Pointe Shores and part of Detroit. Banks began his first term as a state representative in 2013.

“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 the news release. “Former Rep. Banks violated the trust placed in him by his neighbors and constituents.”

In his third term, Banks had been tapped to again serve as the chairman of the Detroit Caucus, a bicameral caucus of Detroit legislators working on policy and legislation.

On Feb. 17, Schuette’s office released a second news release that stated that Banks was sentenced to one day in jail, which amounted to time served.

Banks’ attorney, Ben M. Gonek, could not be reached for comment at press time.

On Feb. 16, Gov. Rick Snyder announced a special election this year to fill the House seat vacated by Banks. According to a news release from the Governor’s Office, a special primary election will be held Aug. 8, and the general election will be held Nov. 7. Both special elections coincide with existing elections to minimize additional costs to the communities in District 1.

“We wanted to hold this special election as soon as possible to ensure the people in the 1st House District have a representative in the House, but we also needed to keep in mind the additional cost for communities if we were to schedule a completely separate election for just this office,” Snyder said in a prepared statement. “It is my hope that the arrangement will streamline the process and costs for the communities affected, while also giving voters time to adequately research the candidates who may decide to run for election.”

Although the seat will remain vacant for several months, Grosse Pointe Woods Mayor Robert Novitke does not see it as having an effect on the city.

“I don’t see it as having an impact,” Novitke said. “I don’t see a problem at all.”

Candidates interested in running for the seat in the primary election must file by 4 p.m. April 25.

In the August Democratic Party primary last year, Pamela Sossi finished second to Banks, 3,293-2,618 votes. Washington Youson finished third with 573 votes, and Keith Hollowell finished fourth with 407 votes. Sossi, Youson and Hollowell have indicated that they will seek the open seat and Sandra Bucciero has filed to run.

“I am disappointed that the governor waited until November to call the special election. Every day that passes, the citizens of District 1 are being taxed without representation,” Sossi said.

“Public service is a privilege and not a game of musical chairs. All voices matter. I will put the people first and will work for the needs of everyone of District 1,” Sossi said in a press release announcing her candidacy Feb. 6.

“This campaign is about more than me — it is about making sure District 1 has a voice,” she stated in the release.

Youson said that some people are frustrated that they now have to wait until November to select a new representative, but there are some positives to waiting.

“The decision was made so these same citizens will not have to take on the extra cost, so there is an upside. It also will give them enough time to make an informed decision on the matter. Having a special election during the main election will also mean higher voter turnout instead of having them come out on a different day to vote on a single race,” Youson said.

“I think people are still hopeful with the process, and they can go vote for someone who will represent them in August. I’m confident the people of District 1 will choose the right person for the job,” Youson said.

Hollowell could not be reached immediately for comment.  Contact information for Bucciero was not immediately available. Corey J. Gilchrist and Kameshea M. Amos finished fifth and sixth in the Democratic primary with 218 and 211 votes, respectively. It was not immediately clear what their plans might be.

William Broman, of Grosse Pointe Woods, ran against Banks as the Republican candidate in the general election last November. At press time, Broman had not determined if he would run for the seat in the special election, but he had thoughts on the seat being vacant in the meantime.

“There will be issues and incidents that develop over the next 11 months that will affect the entire district, and I think it is imperative that any candidate running has had significant experience in Detroit’s neighborhoods,” Broman said in an email. “There will be significant decisions made soon about whether to close schools like Fisher Upper and Denby. These closures would heavily impact the communities where school is often the only consistent part of a child’s life. I’ve been talking with Republicans in Lansing to make sure they are aware of the impact these closures would have on the fabric of the district. District 1 is unique, and the next representative must work to solve the issues facing 48205 to Lakeshore Drive.”

On June 28, 2016, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office filed two counts of uttering and publishing, one count of false pretenses and one count of false statements against Banks related to an application for a loan.

As a result of Banks’ resignation and guilty plea, the other three charges were dropped.

House Democratic Leader Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, released a statement on the resignation of Banks.

“I respect Rep. Brian Banks’ decision to resign,” Singh said. “Rep. Banks was a passionate advocate for his district, and he worked tirelessly for his constituents. I wish him the best moving forward.”

The House of Representatives consists of 110 members who are elected by their constituents. Representatives can serve three two-year terms. State representatives enact new laws and amend or repeal existing laws.

Peter Ackerly, a special agent investigator with the Michigan Attorney General’s Office assigned to the FBI Detroit Area Public Corruption Task Force, was named as the complaining witness on the complaint docket when charges were filed against Banks in June. The complaint was signed by Ackerly and Assistant Attorney General Michael Frezza.

According to the complaint docket, the investigation showed that in June 2010, Banks sought a personal loan from the Detroit Metropolitan Credit Union by submitting an application for credit or loan and various documents in support of it, including multiple employment pay statements that the investigation revealed as fraudulent. The Detroit Metropolitan Credit Union, located in Detroit, is now the Diversified Members Credit Union.

In the complaint, Ackerly said Banks submitted an application with a requested loan amount of $7,500 and stated his employer’s name as a law firm in Farmington Hills. The loan was to pay for a bar review course.

The credit union approved Banks for a $3,000 loan, less than the amount he asked for. In Ackerly’s complaint, the special agent said a checking account was set up at the DMCU for Banks to make payments for the loan. But during the investigation, Ackerly said, he found that Banks was not an employee of the law firm and falsified pay stubs.

According to Ackerly’s investigation, the DMCU filed a lawsuit against Banks for nonpayment of the loan, and a judgment was entered in favor of the DMCU. In the complaint, Ackerly said the two parties agreed to repayment of 90 percent of the loan amount plus interest. Banks reportedly made installment payments, then a lump sum payment, and eventually repaid the reduced amount.

According to the complaint, Banks is a habitual offender and previously was convicted of three or more attempts to commit fraud in Oakland, Wayne and Eaton counties between 1999 and 2005. On the morning of July 1, 2016, three days after charges came down against Banks, several local elected officials, union representatives and community members gathered at Bethany Christian Church in Detroit for a rally to show their support for Banks.

Staff Writer Brendan Losinski contributed to this report.