Ethics complaints against Brown ‘frivolous,’ attorneys say

Allegations are political and abusive, they tell ethics board


SATURDAY, June 3 — Attorneys for Council Member Jeffrey Brown are arguing the Lansing Ethics Board should dismiss a “frivolous” complaint that resulted in an independent investigation finding Brown had violated the city’s ethics ordinance.

The original complaint was filed by Lansing Mayor Andy Schor and five of Brown’s Council colleagues on March 27. 

Brendon Basiga and Eric Doster, Brown’s attorneys, argued in a 10-page brief filed late Friday with the ethics board, that the findings of the investigation conducted by an independent attorney were flawed. (To see the report and complaint, click here.)

“While it appears that Dr. Brown has ruffled some political feathers here, the Ethics Complaint represents an abuse of the ethics process,” the duo wrote.

But an investigation into the original complaint determined that Brown had violated the ordinance.

The investigation, by Gouri G. Sashital of Southfield, found Brown violated the ordinance in two ways:

  • He overstepped his authority and abused it by presenting a grant funding request to Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin for two projects he hoped the city would fund.
  • He “has suggested that his support on matters is based upon whether he has received reciprocal support on a matter of importance to him.”

However, Sashital cleared Brown of the more serious allegation of engaging in direct quid pro quo activity. Those allegations grew out of second and third-hand statements, Council members told the investigator during interviews.

Brown was elected in 2021 to a four-year term as an at-large member. In their letter, Brown’s attorneys describe him as a "minister who holds a Doctor of Ministry in Christian Leadership from Kingdom University International,” hence the title “Dr."

Schor and Council members Jeremy Garza, Adam Hussain, Carol Wood, Patricia Spitzley and Peter Spadafore filed a complaint.

Brown is in the Philippines on a religious mission trip, his attorneys said. He was not present when the report was made public Tuesday and will not be in the country on Tuesday when the ethics board is expected to take action on the investigatory findings.

Basiga runs Basiga Law Firm P.C. in Lansing and specializes in criminal cases. Doster is a longtime GOP activist and attorney who most recently made headlines in representing former President Donald Trump in a possible recount of the 2020 presidential election.

The original complaint accused Brown of telling developer Jeff Deehan that he would support the Ovations performing arts center project if Schor and his administration paid the first and last month’s rent for a constituent’s apartments. Deehan and Brown both denied that allegation. Sashital said she was therefore unable to substantiate the claim.

The second accusation was that Brown told Doug Fleming, executive director of the Lansing Housing Commission, that he would vote  for LHC resolutions if the commission agreed to pay a constituent’s rental late fees and utility bills. Fleming and Brown both denied this and Sashital said she was unable to substantiate the claim.

However, during the investigation, Sashital determined that Brown suggested a quid pro quo on votes, which Sashital said she had concluded based on statements by several witnesses, including Deehan and Spitzley. That led to one of Sashital’s two findings that Brown had violated the ethics ordinance. It  prohibits an officer of the city from “indirectly” soliciting any “other thing of value” with an understanding that providing that other thing will result in “a vote or official action or decision of an officer would be influenced thereby.”

Brown’s attorneys argued the finding goes beyond the scope of the allegations, which the investigator is not empowered to do, and should be rejected. They also argued that the evidence shows he was advocating for benefits for his constituents, not to benefit himself. They do not address the indirect-benefit conclusion of Sashital’s report.

In another finding, Sashital found that Brown’s submission of grant requests to Slotkin’s office violated the ethics ordinance in two ways.

The ordinance prohibits city officials from “falsely” presenting their opinions as the “official position or determination” of the governmental body they are a part of. It also violated a provision preventing officials from acting “on behalf of the City by making policy statements” when the person has “no authority to do so.”

In an interview with Sashital, Brown claimed he had made an innocent mistake in submitting the proposals, believing Schor had given him a green light to move ahead. Schor denies he had told Brown that.

Brown’s attorneys argued that Brown’s submission to Slotkin was “acting within the rules.”

“Once he became aware that the Mayor would not support these proposals, he immediately discontinued any efforts to obtain funding for Lansing’s homeless from Representative Slotkin. What else could Dr. Brown have done under the circumstances?” the lawyers wrote. “Consequently, Allegation #3 is outrageous.”

The Ethics Board will meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the South Washington Office Complex, 2500 South Washington Ave. City Attorney Jim Smiertka said the board does not have any sanctioning power and will be left with three options: close the matter, refer it to the Office of the City Attorney for criminal investigation or refer it to City Council for further action.

If it is sent to Council, the body will determine what the next steps will be, Council President Carol Wood said Friday. Sanctions  could range from censure to expulsion.

Wood said what will happen all hinges on the Ethics Board’s actions Tuesday evening.

“Until then we’re in limbo," Wood said.


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