By George, that's embarrassing!

Detroit City Council President Pro-Tem George Cushingberry Jr.'s past comes to light

By Rod Meloni - Reporter, CFP ®

DETROIT - It's not like George Cushingberry Jr. is a stranger to Detroit, he's been around for 40 years!

But George's political life has been away from most TV cameras and big news headlines. He's operated under the radar for the most part. It had to have been a newspaper headline in 1975 when Detroiters sent him to Lansing as the youngest ever state representative. He clearly learned a lot in the seven years he spent there. He parlayed that into a 16-year, four-term stay on the Wayne County Commission. He retired from there and still receives healthcare benefits and a pension from Wayne County.

From there he headed back up Interstate 96 to Lansing again as state representative from the state's smallest district. But that didn't bother his big aspirations at all. He wound up running the vitally important and very powerful appropriations committee for several years. George was a big-time player and was known to hold court in his capital offices regularly. I know because I witnessed several sessions over the years.

George is a pol's pol, gregarious, engaging, smart and capable of cutting a brass knuckle deal with a glowing smile on his face. George left Lansing in 2010 and started practicing law full time. He threw his hat into the Detroit City Council race last year and won. He brought his Lansing-steeled political prowess to Council chambers in the days before the officer elections. He openly admitted he traded his vote so Brenda Jones could become Council President in exchange for her vote for him as President Pro-Tem.

Just like that Cushingberry upset the city/county apple cart. Saunteel Jenkins and Rev. Andre Spivey, who were considered shoo-ins for re-election as President and Pro-Tem, were sitting on the outside looking in. This is not the traditional business model for them and you could tell this stunning loss was a wake-up call for them both. Cushingberry told me on camera that there is no more room for the "status quo." He didn't specify what that meant. He went on to say the previous councils sent the city into bankruptcy and that fiscal responsibility was needed. But above all he proclaimed Detroiters need to know that their council representatives are focused on the, not on themselves.

Well, that lasted about 24 hours!

In the early morning hours of Wednesday, after visiting a club, the married President Pro-Tem pulled out of the parking lot with a friend and by police accounts nearly hit a police car entering traffic. That and the fact that he apparently did not signal while turning got the officer's attention.

There is a newspaper report saying there was some kind of chase. Detroit Police Chief James Craig would not confirm that when I asked him about it, but no matter, Cushingberry ended up being stopped. The officers on hand at the time did what they were supposed to do; call their supervisor when they make a stop of a notable person. The supervising sergeant apparently showed up, allowed for a ticket to be issued for a bad turn and saw no reason to request a field sobriety test or a Breathalyzer, thus sending Cushingberry on his way. This traffic stop ended, despite the fact the car reportedly belched marijuana smoke like a stove and there was some kind of liquor bottle open in the back seat.

Cushingberry claims the bottle was empty and his friend inside the car has a medical marijuana card. The City of Detroit Police Department is investigating whether the supervising sergeant acted properly. The City of Detroit Inspector General is also now investigating the circumstances around the stop.

But this simple traffic stop went off the rails when Cushingberry, in keeping with the long established Detroit City Council theatre of the absurd, played the race card. He claimed the white officers who stopped him did so because he was "driving while black." He loudly told a media outlet the officers need some kind of sensitivity training. That was news to the officers and Chief Craig considering one of the officers was black and the other either Arab or Hispanic, according to the chief.

Then, on top of that, the police car in question that did the stop had a video surveillance camera. Chief Craig said it was working several days before but it was NOT working at the time of the stop. So, now we are getting into that weird Detroit space where little ads up factually and there are variables that will make certain the true facts will never be known for certain. This is where it gets embarrassing.

You see, George Cushingberry's days operating under the radar are over. Now, guys like me and other investigative reporters in Detroit who know how to peel back a person's record like an onion will get to work. And just in a few hours of digging around I have come up with some background on George Cushingberry that I know he would certainly like left in the shadows.

The first on the list for George is a $24 million attorney "legal malpractice" case filed against him by a former client from Midland. The man claims to have owned millions of dollars worth of real estate, about $11 million to be more precise. He apparently had a balloon payment he could not make and went to George to see if he would fix the problem. The man claims Cushingberry took him into Chapter 13 bankruptcy. But the capped limit for a Chapter 13 filing is 1/2 a million dollars. This was the wrong venue and the bankruptcy judge kicked it over to another bankruptcy judge handling Chapter 7 bankruptcies. Chapter 7 is a full liquidation. Then the man who owned several other businesses ended up with Chapter 11 filings on them and is now all but broke. He blames Cushingberry. For his part, Cushingberry has never even responded to this case and it's on hold for the time being awaiting his response. I haven't looked up his personal financials but I would bet George does not have anything close to $24 million.

Of course, had the client looked up any of George's history with the Attorney Discipline Board he would have found two judgments against George for improper filings and improper estate dispositions that would have sent a signal that something was amiss. A check with the Attorney General's office would have turned up the fact that while George was a County Commissioner he also was acting as the Public Administrator of Wayne County. That meant he settled the estates of people who didn't have any family and didn't have a will.

Then Attorney General Jennifer Granholm fired him from the job. While there is no specific reason given by the state, let us all remember both Cushingberry and Granholm are well-known Democrats. Democrats don't fire Democrats [same goes for Republicans] without outstanding reason. Then five years later, in 2005, then-Attorney General Mike Cox filed criminal charges against George for improper campaign finance filings. The case ended up dismissed in Ingham County. So it's clear George finds trouble pretty much wherever he goes.

So what does this mean? Well, the long list of embarrassing performances in Detroit City Council's recent past -- from Alonzo Bates' prison term, Monica Conyers' bribery conviction, from Charles Pugh's disappearance and resignation after a sex scandal among a long list that happened prior to a Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy filing -- just got longer.

George has brought his own brand of dysfunction to the table during the bankruptcy. Detroit City Council appears likely to continue its embarrassing performances now into the future, just at the time when it's least helpful.

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