DETROIT (WXYZ) - One year ago, Charles Pugh was one of Detroit’s most recognized politicians. Today, working at a restaurant in Harlem, he’s hoping for anonymity.
He left Detroit when 7 Action News questioned him about a high school student, money and a frantic cover-up.
But on an early morning this weekend, 7 Action News found Pugh leaving his new job as a waiter. For nearly one year, he has avoided explaining his sudden and bizarre departure from the city, prompted by questions from 7 Action News Investigator Ross Jones.
For 15 blocks, he faced questions about a scandal he’d like us to forget. Why did he flee? Did he grope a student he mentored? They’re questions Pugh has successfully avoided…until now.
Last year, Pugh lavished a high school student that he mentored in his leadership program with cash, gifts, clothing and a new cell phone. But according to police, he also “continuously pressured” the 18-year-old to send him graphic, sexual videos in exchange for hundreds of dollars.
“I don’t owe you any explanation about anything,” Pugh told Jones as they walked in New York.
Pugh is still on the run…still making excuses…and sometimes, still lying. Nearly a year since he vanished from the city, he insists he’s done nothing wrong.
“This is a bunch of BS. And you know it. You know it. You know it,” he said in New York.
With his reputation in tatters, the man who was once one of Detroit’s most well-known politicians is now waiting tables at a restaurant in Harlem…hiding in plain sight.
When we last saw him here, he was presiding over the City Council as Detroit lurched towards financial ruin. Weeks before the city filed for bankruptcy, Pugh stopped showing up to work…stopped answering his phone…and left his own colleagues wondering where he was.
At the time Councilman Gary Brown told us, “I’m hoping that Charles comes to work today.”
Councilman Ken Cockrel, Jr. asked, “Why be bunkered down? Come forward.”
It was only after he went missing that we found out why. The mother of a student that Pugh met through his “Charles Pugh Leadership Forum,” a mentorship he founded and ran out of Detroit Public Schools. She called Channel 7 when she learned the council president had been lavishing her son with money and presents he kept hidden from her.
“Charles Pugh has given my son some gifts, monetary gifts, clothes, a phone,” she said.
The student later alleged that Pugh sent him explicit text messages on a phone he purchased him…asking him to perform sex acts on camera…and promising him hundreds of dollars in return. And, said the student, the council president touched his inner thigh while sitting in a store parking lot. Pugh never answered for any of it…never explained why he ran, and was never seen again…until now.
“Paying a student you mentored for videos of him performing sex acts,” said Jones. “Is that typical of the Charles Pugh Leadership Forum?”
“First of all, I didn’t do that,” Pugh said.
Take a look yourself…but be warned: the messages are disturbing .
In a text where the student thanked Pugh for his cash gifts, he responded: “I tried my best to make sure u had more than everyone…that’s our secret.”
Minutes later, he invited the student over to his home…and Pugh promised more: “let me know which game system I can buy and which games you like….” The student didn’t respond, so Pugh went further: “…I give $100 for all solo vids…So if u ever need extra cash keep that in mind.”
In another message, he wrote: “…I wanna see your body. Front and back...the video has to show everything.” And Pugh made it clear, if the student told anyone about his requests, the money would stop: “erase these messages bro. We wanna make sure you have college money.”
Even when confronted with his own texts, Pugh insisted he didn’t send them.
Questions about the texts led to this exchange between Pugh and Jones:
Pugh: I didn’t say that to him. I didn’t offer him hundreds of dollars.
Pugh: No, I didn’t.
Jones: ‘When you coming to chill over here? You always leave with money.’ Didn’t say that?
Pugh: No I did now.
Jones: You see that there? Do you want to look sir?
Pugh: I am on my way somewhere.
Police obtained the texts while investigating a 4th degree criminal sexual conduct charge against Pugh. Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper never prosecuted, saying that while Pugh met the student when he was only 17…the alleged touching happened at 18…and occurred outside of her county. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t troubled.
“Is it predatory behavior?” Cooper asked rhetorically back in December. “Yeah. Am I concerned he's in New York, working with young people? Yeah. Can I do anything legally about it? Not me.”
Pugh insisted he never touched the young man…and has never had a relationship like this with another student before. In fact, he said, the whole thing was his idea.
Pugh: He offered to do it.
Jones: No, you asked him. Several times.
Pugh: And I should have said no.
Jones: You sure didn’t. You were asking him,
and reminding him that you could pay him, just as you paid other friends hundreds and hundreds of dollars. You said one video alone earned him $600.
Texts clearly show it was Pugh who wanted the videos.
When the young man asked him for help in paying for a prom hotel room, Pugh’s response: “what u got for me?”
When the conversation turned towards making a graphic video…the student said he felt uncomfortable. “I dnt think I’m gonna make the vid,” he wrote. “It just feels weird.” Pugh responded. “That’s alotta damn money…ain’t nobody ELSE gone give it to u.”
Eventually, the young man gave in.
Further questions by Jones to Pugh led to this exchange.
Jones: Have you done this before? You’re smiling, that’s a serious question, sir. Have you done this before?
Pugh: We talked about things and that, you know, I’m not proud of what we talked about, but the point is…that I didn’t force him to do it. I didn’t ask him to do it. And for you to come here and say that I fled. I didn’t flee.
Jones: Not only were you not proud of it, you said: “If anyone finds out about this, I’m dead…Erase these messages.” These aren’t the words of a man who’s done nothing wrong here. Would you agree?
Pugh: Look, Ross. This was…a year ago. I am dealing with this situation.
Pugh: I should not be talking about this with you.
Jones: Are you ashamed of yourself?
Pugh: No, I’m not.
So far the only way Pugh’s dealt with this situation has been by running from it. But he can’t escape what’s next: within a matter of days, we’re told Pugh, the City of Detroit and Detroit Public Schools will be sued by the family of the young man he solicited for sexual videos.
The city and district don’t have a dime to spare…but they’ll still have to shell out plenty in legal fees, just to defend the suit.