Detroit — Facing federal detention, Birmingham attorney Charles T. Busse pleaded guilty to felony bribery charges on Thursday after a federal judge lashed out at him for reneging on a proposed plea agreement.
U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn accepted Busse’s guilty plea on four felony charges in connection with a bribery scheme involving an U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent.
Earlier, Cohn lashed out at Busse when the attorney appeared before him Thursday for what was supposed to be a hearing to plead guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States, bribery of a public official and tax evasion.
But when Busse’s attorney, David Griem, said he only wanted to plead guilty to two of the four criminal counts after he signed an agreement with the government to plead guilty to all four, Cohn grew angry and said Busse could not be trusted.
“The court is not be trifled with. … Busse is an officer of the court, and he knows,” Cohn said.
After a 15-minute recess, Busse returned and agreed to plead guilty to all four charges in the case. Cohn accepted his plea, which means Busse has been convicted of a crime and can no longer practice law in Michigan under Michigan court rules.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, he faces 30 to 37 months in prison. No sentencing date has been set.
Before taking the plea, Cohn asked Busse if anyone had coerced him to take this plea and added, “I made some extreme comments earlier. They are not part of this agreement.”
Busse responded: “I understand, your honor.”
Busse, 57, of Birmingham, declined comment after court. He is accused of paying the ICE agent to obtain deportation deferrals and other immigration benefits for his clients.
The agent, Clifton Divers, 48, of Detroit, is accused of misusing his position to obtain multiple deferrals of deportation and other immigration benefits for non-citizen foreign nationals in return for more than $5,000 and free legal services, court documents show.
At the end of Thursday’s hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Judge said the government does not want Busse detained.
Cohn said he understood and then added: “Judges are supposed to be part of the solution — not part of the problem.”
Outside court, two of Busse’s clients said they came to the hearing to show support for Busse who helped them bring their family together.
Carlos Ortiz and his wife, Juana Garcia, said they retained Busse who help Ortiz legally bring his wife from Mexico to the United States. They are in the process of bringing over their 15-year-old daughter from Mexico with Busse’s help and will do the same for their 16-year-old son.
“He got my family together. He is a very fair man,” Ortiz said.
Busse, who also has law offices in Rochester Hills and Dearborn, took money from clients to obtain illegal deferrals from the immigration agency, prosecutors allege, between 2009 and 2015.
Busse allegedly fabricated information on criminal activities to use as staged cooperation with the immigration agency, when the clients had no personal knowledge of the events, court records show.
Busse would tell his clients to provide the false information to federal law enforcement agents and conceal the fact that Busse had been retained as their attorney, the complaint alleges.
For his role in the scheme, Divers allegedly provided false information to the immigration agency to obtain deferrals of deportation and other immigrant benefits for clients of Busse.
Divers was indicted by a grand jury with conspiring to impair, obstruct and defeat the lawful function of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security by dishonest means. He also is charged with destruction and falsification of records to obstruct an official investigation by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The crimes and carry maximum penalties of between five and 20 years.
In one case from 2009, Busse took $15,000 from an Albanian national who was subject to an order of deportation. Busse contacted Divers on behalf of the client asking for help.
Divers allegedly sent an email to an office at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that falsely stated the man was assisting in an official investigation.
Prosecutors said the man was not helping federal law enforcement, but because of Divers’ email, the man was deferred for deportation.
In 2001, Busse was indicted by a grand jury in Detroit on charges of bribery and extortion while he was a member of the Warren City Council and a trustee of the city’s employee retirement system in 1996-97.
He was acquitted of all the charges in 2003.
The grand jury had alleged Busse demanded money from Meadowbrook Securities after it became a designated broker of record for the retirement system. An employee of Meadowbrook allegedly paid Busse $1,000 in a restaurant bathroom in 1996.
Busse also allegedly accepted a trip to Windsor from the company in exchange for business from the city. Busse resigned from the council on April 18, 1997.
Busse’s attorney, David Griem, did not return a call seeking comment.