Ex-city council president Charles Pugh says stress led him to abandon Detroit

DETROIT (WXYZ) - On the night he was the top vote getter in the city council primary, Charles Pugh pledged devotion to Detroit.

"We will work diligently everyday with the other colleagues at the council table to make the tough decisions," he said in 2009. "And we’re going make you proud of the people that you elect."

But before his first term even ended, Pugh fled Detroit.  Today, he says he’s never coming back.

"I don’t owe you any explanation about anything," Pugh to Channel 7's Ross Jones Sunday morning in New York City, where he now works as a restaurant waiter.

Three weeks before Detroit filed for bankruptcy,  Pugh went into hiding.  His own colleagues didn't know why.

"I’m hoping Charles comes to work today. He needs to be here tomorrow," said fellow Councilman Gary Brown at the time. "We have some very important issues."

Pugh disappeared from public view after questions were raised about his relationship with a young man he mentored through the Charles Pugh Leadership Forum at Detroit’s Fredrick Douglass Academy. Text messages revealed that Pugh pressured him to perform sex acts on video in exchange for money.

"My term was going to end anyway in the middle of bankruptcy. The Detroit City Council did what it could to avoid bankruptcy," Pugh said.

"Everyone’s term would end eventually sir. Your term was ongoing," Jones replied.

"I left Detroit for lots of reasons, I was under a lot of stress and, you know, I was going through a lot of stuff... I was under a lot of stress and I’ve got to think about my own safety first, and you don’t know what I was going through," Pugh said.

Attorney Bill Seikaly represents the student that Pugh pressured over text messages.

"If Mr. Pugh thinks that he’s gone through a lot of stress as a result of this, one might compare that to the stress that has been experienced by the victim," Seikaly said. 

He has promised to file suit against the ex-city council president, Detroit Public Schools and City of Detroit. Even though Pugh has left his office and the city, Seikaly says his conduct needs to be addressed.

"If we simply say, 'Well he left, left him go…this is now behind him.' We can expect the same thing to continue," Seikaly said.

"It’s like corruption in government, if you don’t do something to the people who are involved in corruption, you can expect it to get worse, not better. If you don’t’ do something to people who use their power to sexually manipulate people, it will get worse instead of better."

Pugh himself had a very difficult childhood. He lost both of his parents to horrific deaths, but was able to thrive thanks to role models in his life. He knew firsthand the value of a mentor; and that may be the saddest part of this story.

Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at rjones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.