Lawsuit charges George Cushingberry of orchestrating car fraud scheme

Sep 29, 2015 at 7:30 pm

George Cushingberry, a Detroit city council member with an uncanny ability to make headlines, is in the news again —  this time, for an alleged scheme that's landing the former Wayne County Commissioner back in court.

Two complaints filed in Wayne County Circuit Court allege that Cushingberry orchestrated a complicated scheme where two classic cars — a 1926 Oakland and a 1976 Cadillac Deville Coupe —  were taken from one victim, Roxanne Hudson, and then illegally sold to another, Kenneth Smith, without a title.

Both Hudson and Smith, are named plaintiffs in a joint lawsuit, which seeks compensation for the damages incurred: Hudson is down two cars — sans payment — and Smith, who unknowingly purchased the Cadillac illegally from a third-party, is unable to drive his new ride despite spending funds on the both the car and its customization.

While the ordeal has many actors — Robert Carmack, who sold the car to Smith is named as a defendant, as is Martin Towing Inc., who picked up the cars from Hudson’s house — the complaints indicate that Cushingberry was the plan's driving force who turned the slick wheels into motion.

In summer 2012, following the death of her husband Larry, Roxanne Hudson was overwhelmed by the task of divvying up the estate. Her late-husband's cousin, Cleo Wiley Hale, was working for Cushingberry at the time and recommended that Hudson have the Detroit native, who had recently left the state legislature to resume practicing law, lend a hand and probate the property. At this time, Cushingberry advised Hudson to sell Larry's two collectible cars, saying he could set up their sale and ensure the money — minus a “reasonable commission” —  was returned. According to the lawsuit, this never happened.

That July, the 52-page complaint says, Cushingberry arranged for Martin Towing Inc. to pick up the cars and deliver them to Carmack, an auto broker, for a sale. This would be the last time that Hudson would see the Oakland, and if it wasn't for a June 2014 WJBK-TV segment highlighting Smith's side of the story, it also could've been the last time she'd have seen the Cadillac.

The segment detailed how in 2013 Smith agreed to purchase the Cadillac from Carmack, and began making upgrades on his new car. When a year later he still hadn’t received the title he contacted local media to highlight what he considered a scam.

Following the spot, Hudson linked up with Smith, and despite some animosity — Smith is still in possession of the car and won’t reveal where he is hiding it even though the title is in Hudson’s name — they decided to join forces for this lawsuit.

The lawsuit is an eye-opening account into an apparent scam that takes advantage of people at their most vulnerable.

“They told her she could trust them with family heirlooms, then she never got paid,” says Anthony Lubkin, the attorney who filed the joint suit. Lubkin stresses that his statements are based on the assumption that what his clients say is true. “They hounded her for the title, even though she still never got paid.”

Lubkin’s second statement is referencing a section in both complaints which details how in September 2014 — over two years after Hudson’s cars were taken, and a few months after the segment on Smith aired — Carmack, the auto broker, showed up at Hudson’s house and demanded the title of the Cadillac saying, “Ken [Smith] is so mad he wants to kill someone.” Hudson had never received payment for the sale of the Cadillac and yet this interaction implied that she was expected to still turn over the title.

“Those cars could have gone for $100,000 — at least $50,000,” Hudson’s friend and adviser Cliff Stafford says. “She probably would have sold it for $25,000 because she doesn’t know about cars, but instead she was given nothing and they still want a free title.”

Stafford, who took Hudson to the police to file a complaint after Carmack's intimidating visit, notes that the widow was not the only vulnerable victim. He points to Smith’s young age as a reason he may have gotten swept up in the scam. “There is a lot of stupidity in this case," says Stafford. "First Carmack sells the cars illegally, then Smith — why are you dumb enough to buy a car without a title? Why would you leave the lot without a title?”

While the whole tale is salacious on its own, the role of a public official, such as Cushingberry, brings a whole new level of interest. 

“What middlemen profited? We don't know yet,” says Lubkin, the attorney, who hopes to pick up clues during the discovery phase of the litigation.

Cushingberry is a named defendant in Smith’s complaint; however, since Hudson already sued him three-years ago — they settled for an undisclosed sum in 2014 — he is not a defendant in her complaint.

This is not the first time Cushingberry has come under fire for questionable behavior. In February 2014, a few months before WJBK aired the segment on Smith, they produced another bit into allegations that Cushingberry stole nearly $30,000 from a former client who was in jail. That same month the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board suspended his law license for a year because, according to the Free Press, he “stonewalled an investigation into a complaint about his professional conduct.”

Cushingberry is unusual because unlike many public figures who avoid the limelight when facing scrutiny, he seems to navigate directly towards it. Take for example his comments on a January 2014 Detroit News editorial, which criticized the fact that he was elected as city council's President Pro Tem. 

“Dear Detroit News, Go to hell. Go straight to hell. Do not pass go and don't even think about collecting $200. Jones and Cush will lead the Push for an even Greater Detroit. #WeLoveDetroit,” he wrote on the news site. A few days later he was embroiled in a splashy story that alleged marijuana and an open container were found in his car during a traffic stop — the same story that ultimately led to the suspension of his law license.

Both Hudson and Smith's complaints were filed this summer; Hudson's was served to the defendants this month. Since Hudson's case doesn't name Cushingberry as a defendant he technically has not been served yet, however, attorney Lubkin is not concerned, "He's a public figure, he'll know."

The Detroit Metro Times reached out to Cushingberry for a comment, we are still waiting to hear back.