Banking On Banks: Detroit Elects An Eight-Time Convicted Felon

Brian Banks successfully campaigned on a catchy slogan this election: “You Can Bank On Banks!” That may be true unless you are an actual bank. Banks has been convicted eight times for felonies involving bad checks and credit card fraud. In some states, he would have faced a lengthy or even lifetime in prison as a habitual offender. However, in Detroit, Banks is the newest member of the state House of Representatives. What is interesting is that he was not the most unconventional candidate on the ballot in Michigan.

This week, Banks won a seat in Lansing as a state representative for the 1st District. The district covers the east side of Detroit and other areas. He won by a landside of 68 percent over Republican Dan Schulte.

Banks, 35, was last convicted of a felony in 2004 but his record goes as early as 1998. While people are banned in Michigan for 20 years from public office after a felony conviction, the law only covers certain  felonies.

Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2010 that bans “related to the person’s official capacity while holding any elective office.” That places all of the felonies outside the scope of the provision. Indeed, for those who believe lying is part of public office or that budgets are basically legislative forms of fraud, the felonies could be viewed as relevant experience.

Banks says that he is a lawyer and adjunct professor but there is no record of the bar membership or academic possession. Indeed, given his felony record starting in 1998, it is virtually impossible to become a bar member with such pending or recent felonies. That first conviction would have occurred 14 years ago when he was around 21. If he did not finish law school before that time (starting when he was 18), it is hard to imagine a law school admitting him during the period of his felonies and even more unlikely that he would have passed a fitness review with the bar.

He has said that he changed his life around eight years ago. It is possible that he could have gone to law school after his last conviction if a school accepted that he was reformed. The Michigan Bar would have likely required some additional showing in light of his record. Nevertheless, I have long argued that ex-felons should be allowed to become lawyers with proof of rehabilitation. Sometimes these lawyers come with the greatest sense of duty and commitment toward their clients and the law.

If he did indeed secure a law degree after such a record, it would be an impressive turn around.

Moreover, he appears positively conventional when compared to one of his opponents, Reindeer farmer Kerry Bentivolio. Bentivolio is a part-time Santa who is quoted as saying that he wasn’t always sure if he was himself or Santa Claus. His brother described him as “mentally unbalanced.” You guessed it . . . Bentiviolo won the House seat for Michigan’s 11th District. He will soon be joining the GOP in Congress.

Do you think that habitual offenders should be barred from the practice of law or public officer or both?

Source: CBS

20 thoughts on “Banking On Banks: Detroit Elects An Eight-Time Convicted Felon

  1. I know a guy that is licensed after 6 years passed for possession of 6 kilos of cocaine.. He could be a judge now….. He does represent the very best qualities of Detroit ….

  2. Great post. In 1997, at the age of 22, I was convicted of 5 cts of bank robbery and subsequently served 3 years in federal prison. Since my release over 11 years ago I have gone to school for graphic design and maintained a job in that field for close to 10 years now. As I get older I find myself more interested in the rights of convicted felons who have successfully served their sentences and desire to be an active part of their communities. I have often thought of pursuing a degree in law or mental health councelling but have been unsure of where to start. School would be a difficult financial undertaking at this time especially since I am unsure of what opportunities may be available to me if I am able to even obtain a degree. I have a passion to become involved but find myseld a little frozen on the first step. Are there any organizations or individuals who would perhaps mentor someone such as myself and help focus this passion and refine it into a tool to help those in my situation? Those who, while having committed crimes in their past, have served their time and want more than to just “exist” in society and would rather use their unique experiences to help others and inform the general public. Any advice? I was pnce again denied my right to vote in Tuesday’s election and this issue has been burning in me. Your post this morning is timely.

  3. Oh come on. “Indeed, for those who believe lying is part of public office or that budgets are basically legislative forms of fraud, the felonies could be viewed as relevant experience.” Well duh, Michigan. Crimes directly relating to turpitude and trustworthiness regarding money and yet you still want him in a position where he has access to public funds and influence over budgets?

    I can understand voting for Santa better than I can understand that choice.

  4. I don’t think people should be banned for life from voting or holding office because they were at one time an habitual offender, provided that they have changed their habits. Once a sentence is served and the debt to society is paid, after some period of time — say three to five years — if a person has demonstrated that they have turned their life around, I can see no good reason to continue to punish them by barring them from participating in government as either voter or elected official.

  5. I saw that the Democratic Party refused to endorse his candidacy, and while I am a Democrat, in this case, I would have to have voted for the GOP candidate. I think the state legislature can remedy this bit of stupidity by refusing to seat him. Of course, the mother or father of all corruption was done by Boston Mayor Curley who was elected while still in prison.

  6. Why is Marion Barry coming to mind? And then there is always Jim Traficant … etc. The list is depressingly long so I’m going to stop thinking about this.

  7. If it is not against the law, then it is up to the electorate who they want to vote for. Even for someone with a “healthy” record of deception and theft. Everyone deserves an 8th chance!

  8. Unsuited for office
    People get the politicians they deserve.

    Is it the case that we should allow felons to hold office, especially in terns of violation of trust and fraud, because there is such a shortage of available talent that nobody else will suffice?

    And he claims he turned his life around. 95% of the time this is rubbish. The risk is not worth it with such a position.

    Some politicians arrogantly delude themselves into believing by virtue of their position they are exemplary people, when the only true statement is that the only thing they truly accomplished was convincing others to vote for them.

    Maybe if he loses the next election he could move to DC and run for mayor.

  9. Congratulations, Dan, on turning your life around, and desiring to do more. It’s wrong to indefinitely deny *most* the right to vote/”be” after s/he has done her/his time. Here’s a link to a few resources I found on-line:

    Sorry the link is so messy. Good luck, and perhaps look on-line for programs to help ex-offenders..

  10. What Polly said Dan. Good job.

    I do not think habitual offenders should be barred from the practice of law or public office per se. I believe there are those that can turn their life around. However, I also acknowledge the difficulty in determining when that is and the risk involved in recidivism.

  11. “I have long argued that ex-felons should be allowed to become lawyers with proof of rehabilitation”

    You don’t make an exception for victim-less crimes?

    Most people with criminal records had none prior to their conviction, and one of the main reasons why they get busted after the first time is because of our terrible treatment of those with a record.

    There are criminals and there are “criminals”. Most people are “criminals”.
    Some of the worst “criminals” just endangered your life – while driving.

  12. Have to get my joke out of the way.
    Re: Bentiviolo, is he italian or finnish. The occupation suggests the latter aa does nis avocation. In which case, he is therefore a shaman also—and they have some mean mushrooms in Finland. Probably a good market for them in
    America for those who like tough trips.

    I wonder which suit he will choose to wear for opening day ceremony?

  13. Romam Berry.

    Considering the unprosecuted crooks we have in Congress, I feel that your camment has great merit.

    As it is, our high level convicted crooks from the field of poliitics and government seem to do quite well, in whatever their post-conviction field becomes. It does seem to be relevant esperience.

  14. In response to Turley’s question, I think:
    1) A felon could reform and bring some very powerful and valuable insight to the practice of law, but I think that habitual offenders exhibit too much that is contrary to the code of conduct that officers of the court are expected to exhibit. I say no to habitual offenders being members of the bar.
    2) With respect to public (elected) office, I think it would be contrary to democratic principles to prohibit citizens from electing anyone they want. It would be kind of like saying that a jury can’t choose to acquit based on the fairness of a law.

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