More six degrees

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More six degrees — As MT news editor Curt Guyette pieced together his story connecting alleged drug dealers Feodies Shipp and Felix Walls with Oakland County developer Bernie Schrott (“Six Degress of Bernie Schrott,” MT, Aug. 16-22), he came across a bit of information that, although intriguing, never made it into print because it seemed to lack relevance. That changed a day after the story hit the stands.

Coming off his successful primary campaign to win the Wayne County prosecutor’s job, Democrat Mike Duggan announced that Sam Gardner — the former chief judge of Detroit Recorder’s Court and Duggan’s campaign treasurer — would be named the No. 2 man in the prosecutor’s office.

Although the County Clerk’s Office says Duggan must still win the general election in November, there is no Republican opposition, so the job is essentially his.

As Guyette reported, Gardner was tight with Shipp, a con man and convicted felon authorities say ran a drug ring that smuggled a million dollars of cocaine a month into Michigan during the late 1980s and early ’90s. Gardner, who served as Shipp’s best man at two of his weddings, met with his pal for three hours the day Shipp had his throat slit at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Dearborn.

If you read the story, you already know that. What didn’t get reported was that, according to the sworn testimony of a government witness in the 1995 drug trial of Felix Walls, a member of Shipp’s drug ring was driving a Rolls-Royce owned by Gardner around southern California and Arizona at one point in the early 1990s.

The testimony came from David M. Jutkowitz, who admitted to being a money courier for Shipp. When Jutkowitz’s Los Angeles apartment was searched in 1992, police found about $900,000 in cash hidden there. In return for testifying against Walls, the former Michigan lawyer (he was disbarred, according to court documents) was not prosecuted for his alleged role in the drug ring. In addition, he was placed in the witness protection program and provided a government stipend.

According to Jutkowitz’s testimony, Shipp gave him the keys to a Rolls-Royce and told him to go to a hotel parking structure in San Bernardino, Calif., retrieve the vehicle, and drive it to Phoenix, Ariz.

“I examined the car extensively before I even moved it or drove it to make sure that it had a registration to it and that it had current plates,” testified Jutkowitz.

“I found out that the car was registered to Sam Gardner of the law firm of Bell and Gardner.”

When he was uttering those words, Gardner — who had gained high marks for reducing backlog at Recorder’s Court — was serving as a visiting judge presiding over drug trials in Oakland County. That tour of duty produced an ethics complaint from the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office, which pointed out that Gardner was adjudicating trials in one county while representing criminal defendants in another. The complaint was dropped, but Gardner and other like judges were eventually prohibited from serving as judges while also representing accused criminals.

Gardner did not return phone calls or reply to a faxed request seeking comment.

It is easy enough to understand why Gardner would want to ignore the issue. After all, going after drug dealers was a key plank in Duggan’s campaign platform.

Providing an ex-felon (which Shipp was at the time, having served a stretch in federal prison following a conviction on housing fraud charges) with a Rolls-Royce to go cruising in doesn’t sound like the kind of get-tough-on-crime image a new prosecutor wants to project.

Curt Guyette is Metro Times news editor. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]

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