DETROIT — He has sued the governor. He's sued Detroit. Union activist Robert Davis even repeatedly sued a struggling school district while stealing thousands of dollars from it and serving on its board.
"He's not the voice of the people. He's the voice of Robert Davis seeking his own glory," Assistant U.S. Attorney Sheldon Light told a judge Thursday before Davis was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison.
Davis pleaded guilty to stealing about $200,000 from the Highland Park school district, which is encircled by Detroit and in bleak condition, with enrollment down more than 80 percent since 2008.
"I am ashamed, embarrassed and remorseful," the 34-year-old Davis said.
Prosecutors said he influenced the district to make payments to companies controlled by friends, supposedly for public relations and student recruitment, and Davis took a cut of the cash in a multi-year scheme that lasted until 2010.
"It's not like Robin Hood where you're robbing from the rich. It's the poor," U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow said. "I drive through Highland Park every day."
Davis acknowledged his crimes but attributed them to being selfish and immature.
"I'm hearing excuses," the judge said.
Davis has a high profile in the Detroit area because of his numerous lawsuits against public officials, especially an effort to stop emergency managers, who are appointed by the governor to run poor cities and school districts.
"Most are dismissed, but not without considerable expense and trouble to the defendants," Light said of the lawsuits in a court filing. "And in some instances, costs and attorney's fees are assessed against Davis for frivolous litigation."
Tarnow, however, said he was focusing on Davis' crimes, not his activism.
Outside court, Davis said he would not stop fighting for the "little guy." He said his sentence could have been worse, and he hopes to be assigned to a low-security camp.
"It's nothing real severe," Davis said of the punishment.
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