Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh's absence coincides with questions over gifts to student

DETROIT (WXYZ) - Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh's bizarre and sudden absence from city government coincides with questions raised about gifts and cash given by Pugh to a young man he mentors.

Pugh gave an 18-year-old student more than $200 in cash, including money to pay for a prom night hotel and about $150 in dress clothes.  He also purchased a cell phone for about $150 and paid for the cost of activation, according to the young man's mother, who did not want her son to have a phone.

7 Action News recently spoke with the woman but we are not naming her or her son.

The mom told us in a lengthy interview that she is troubled because the money and presents were kept secret from her.

Pugh came into contact with the young man through the Charles Pugh Leadership Forum, which he runs out of Douglass Academy in Detroit, an all-male high school.  He did not deny providing the gifts and cash.  

For three years, Pugh has met weekly at the school with senior students. In a statement, he said his program is the "perfect way to encourage community service and [get] directly involved in positively impacting the city and our youth."

The mother says she's concerned that Pugh's gifts may lead—or already have led—to other inappropriate conduct.  But there is no evidence that it ever has, and Pugh and the woman's son deny there ever was.

In a conversation with the mother, Pugh acknowledged that some of his gifts were inappropriate, but insisted his conduct was above board.

"I did not do anything inappropriate with your son," he told her on the phone. "That was not my intent."

While 7 Action News was meeting with the young man's mother, Pugh made repeated calls to her cell phone, which she answered on speakerphone.  Pugh pleaded with her not to talk to any reporters.

"Will you please not do the interview?" he asked during that phone conversation.

"Because I won't be able to work in this town, I won't be able to do anything."

Around the same time 7 Action News spoke with the young man's mother, Pugh deleted his Facebook and Twitter accounts, where he's normally very active. 

Last week, Pugh agreed to an interview with 7 Action News about the cash and gifts, but late Tuesday morning he abruptly canceled, saying he was starting what he characterized as a medical leave. 

But Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr has since denied that Pugh can take a leave, saying he has until 5 p.m. today to show up to work or resign.

Today, Douglass Academy Assistant Principal Monique McMurty praised Pugh's mentorship program.

"Young men are taught to grow into manhood and become productive members of society," McMurtry said. "They learn how to be leaders and be responsible."

Pugh said gifts and cash are a part of his mentorship program, adding that he often reaches into his own pocket to reward students for good grades, performing well in mock interviews and being well-dressed.

He said he's given students prizes like a $300 Kenneth Cole briefcase, Ray Ban sunglasses, neckties, bow ties, and tickets to Pistons games.

Still, once Pugh learned that the young boy's mother was in contact with 7 Action News, he pleaded with her to reconsider being interviewed.  

"I will cancel the program," he said on the phone to the mother.

"I won't go to the graduation. I won't do anything. I won't go back up there."

Today, McMurtry would not comment on whether Pugh's mentorship program would continue at the school.

"I'm not at liberty to say at this time."

Contact Investigator Ross Jones at rjones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.

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