Lansing Council member Jeffrey Brown violated the city’s ethics ordinance, independent probe finds

Investigation resulted from a complaint made by the mayor and five Council members


(Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this story referred to the attorney Gouri G. Sashital as "he." Sashital is a woman.)

FRIDAY, June 2 — Lansing City Council Member Jeffrey Brown violated the city’s ethics ordinance on two fronts, a report by an independent attorney found after investigating a complaint by Lansing Mayor Andy Schor and five Lansing City Council members.

The investigation by Gouri G. Sashital of Southfield,  made public Tuesday by the city’s ethics board, 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.

The investigation was triggered on March 27 when Schor and Councilmembers Jeremy Garza, Adam Hussain, Carol Wood, Patricia Spitzley and Peter Spadafore filed a complaint with the Lansing Board of Ethics.

Contacted by email, Brown said he was in the Philippines on a "mission trip" and referred questions to his attorneys,  Brendon Basiga and Eric Doster. 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 . However, they have not responded to  questions.

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 Doug Fleming that he would vote favorably 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 he 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.”

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.

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 this morning. Sanctions doled out 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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