George Cushingberry Jr., who collects an annual $50,000 tax-funded pension and is a practicing attorney, managed to bury himself into debt with unpaid taxes, credit card bills and mortgages on two homes in Detroit, one in Lansing and another at a resort in Orlando, Fla., according to bankruptcy records obtained by the Motor City Muckraker.
The former state lawmaker and pastor exited personal bankruptcy just five days before he won the Aug. 6 primary election for a seat on the Detroit City Council this year. He owed more than $530,000 to about three dozen creditors, including the IRS.
The Cush, as he calls himself, claimed in his October 2011 bankruptcy filing that he was unable to pay his debts, which included $5,750 in monthly mortgage payments for homes at 18201 Cherrylawn and 8625 Marygrove in Detroit, 3200 Hepfer in Lansing and Westgate Resorts in Orland, Fla.
The filing came just 10 months after he served his last term in the state House in 2010, where he was making $79,600 a year.
When Cushingberry, now 61, filed for bankruptcy, he declared he was only making $25,000 annually as an attorney and $50,000 from his pension as a legislator. He didn’t claim any pension income from serving on the Wayne County Board of Commissioners from 1983-99.
Cushingberry stated his only money was $3,500 in cash. His assets included $600 in guns, $2,000 in fishing equipment and $1,000 in clothes.
He also was accused of “knowingly or fraudulently” failing to declare three cars, according to bankruptcy records.
Cushingberry, who was 21 when he became the youngest elected state representative in Michigan history in 1974, didn’t respond to requests for an interview.
In his second week in office, Cushingberry has caused quite the stir. He’s accused of trying to flee police after leaving a bar Tuesday – just hours after he – or now he says a staffer – told the Detroit News to “go to hell” for writing a critical editorial about his ability to lead.
In the state Legislature, Cushingberry was a trailblazer for civil rights and other social justice causes. He sponsored legislation to ban bullying, expand early voting and offer new opportunities for felons.
But a review of his voting record shows he often had the worst attendance in the House. He failed to vote on numerous controversial bills, such as several smoking bans, a prohibition on late-term abortion, a second bridge to Canada and public school reform.When he held the powerful post of chair of the House Appropriations Committee in 2009, Cushingberry missed 114 votes.
Cushingberry’s time as an attorney also was marked with trouble. In 2000, then-Attorney General Jennifer Granholm fired him from a Wayne County post that involved handling the estates of people without a family or will. Granholm’s office accused Cushingberry of mishandling hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Attorney Discipline Board reprimanded Cushingberry in 2002 and 2005 for unprofessional conduct.
In 2005, the next attorney general, Mike Cox, filed criminal charges against Cushingberry for alleged campaign finance violations, but the charges were later dismissed.
Outside of politics, Cushingberry is an assistant pastor with the Northwest Unity Baptist Church, where he’ll be preaching at 11 a.m. today.
“Church is where I find my strength,” Cushingberry said Saturday on 1440 AM.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.