DETROIT – City Council member Monica Conyers, the wife of powerful Democratic congressman John Conyers, pleaded guilty Friday to accepting cash bribes in exchange for supporting a sludge contract with a Houston company.
Conyers, a fiery 44-year-old first-term council member, admitted in federal court to a single count of conspiracy to commit bribery, responding quietly to questions from Judge Avern Cohn.
She faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when she’s sentenced.
Conyers left court without commenting.
Her lawyer, Steve Fishman, declined to comment on the specifics of Conyers’ case outside of court, saying only that all plea deals were more or less the same.
Rep. John Conyers, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee who has no role in the case, didn’t answer when questioned about it as he walked to the House floor for a vote Friday morning. “I have no comment whatever,” he said.
John Conyers’ office issued the following statement:
“This has been a trying time for the Conyers family. With hope and prayer, they will make it through this as a family. Public officials must expect to be held to the highest ethical and legal standards. With this in mind, Mr. Conyers wants to work towards helping his family and the city recover from this serious matter.”
Prosecutors accused Monica Conyers of accepting two payments from a Synagro Technologies official in late 2007 in exchange for supporting the sludge contract. They said Conyers received envelopes containing cash on Nov. 20, 2007 in the parking lot of a Detroit community center and on Dec. 4 of that year in a McDonald’s parking lot.
In November 2007, Conyers voted in favor of the Synagro contract. The U.S. attorney’s office said she received cash payments from an individual sent by Rayford Jackson, a paid consultant for Synagro, before and after her vote.
“It’s a very sad day for Detroit,” said City Council President Ken Cockrel Jr. “On the other hand, I think it’s another step in clearing out some problems in city government. I don’t necessarily think this is over. This may go beyond one council member and may involve non-elected officials.”
Conyers is the most prominent person snagged in the Synagro corruption investigation. Jackson and another person who worked for the company already had pleaded guilty.
U.S. Attorney Terrence Berg said Friday that the Conyers plea doesn’t end the Synagro investigation, but it does mark the conclusion of the probe into elected officials in the case. He called the plea deal an “appropriate and fair resolution to the matter,” with a “high-level public figure pleading guilty” to bribery.
The Synagro sludge contract was rescinded in January.
The council voted 5-4 in November 2007 to award a $47-million-a-year contract to Synagro to recycle wastewater sludge and build a state-of-the-art incinerator to replace one that belches yellow plumes over a poor neighborhood.
In January, Synagro’s Michigan representative, Jim Rosendall, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery. His plea agreement described how he distributed cash and other gifts to officials.
Jackson pleaded guilty on June 15.
Monica Conyers’ plea is the latest blow to a city beset by political scandal in recent years. Former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and a top aide were jailed after admitting to lying under oath about their romantic involvement during a whistle-blowers’ trial.
And a recent audit of the city’s beleaguered public school system has uncovered theft and other wrongdoing by employees.
Like the brash and arrogant Kilpatrick, Monica Conyers took a defiant stance as the Synagro bribery accusations swirled around her, the council and city. She refused to address the accusations in recent weeks, and was often contentious with colleagues and the media.
Monica Conyers was a political unknown until her 2005 election – largely on the name of her 80-year-old husband. She told The Associated Press in September that she would like others to see her as “someone who cares about the city, someone who wants to make sure all the citizens of Detroit have what they need to live” productive lives.
But it was another side of Conyers that gained the most attention.
She has called reporters seeking interviews “evil” and compared the local media to “paparazzi.”
Last summer, Conyers was involved in a disturbance at a Denver hotel while attending the Democratic National Convention with her husband. She also has been accused of threatening to shoot a mayoral staffer, and she publicly called Cockrel “Shrek.”