Thursday, March 4, 2021

Former councilman agrees to ‘discuss’ criminal plea

Prosecutors in the criminal case against former Wayne City Councilman Christopher Sanders have offered him a plea deal in lieu of a jury trial.

During a court hearing last Wednesday, prosecutors said they would extend an official offer of a plea deal this week in the case which charges Sanders with filing a false report of a felony, conspiracy to commit a false report of a felony and attempted false report of a felony. The charges, all felonies, stem from an Oct. 16, 2017 incident when Wayne City Manager Lisa Nocerini claims to have found a starter pistol and “fake drugs” planted in her car.

She reported finding the items to Wayne police and the investigation was referred to the Michigan State Police. When Jimmie Lee Chandler, 29, was arrested on a separate warrant two years later, he implicated Sanders, saying he had been paid to plant the items in the city manager's vehicle and then make the false 911 call.

Chandler, 29, of Van Buren Township, entered a guilty plea to reduced misdemeanor charges and was sentenced to community service and 18 months probation earlier this month. 

While Sanders has consistently denied any involvement in the incident, he said he would “discuss” a plea deal. “I'm never going to say I'm not open for discussion. I'm never opposed to discussion,” he said. Sanders will have until March 10 when he is next scheduled to appear before Third Circuit Court Judge Donald Knapp to decide to accept or reject the offer. 

Last week, Knapp refused Sanders' motion to dismiss the charges noting that he did not have the jurisdiction to grant the dismissal due to previous court proceedings in the case. He did advise Sanders to consider the plea agreement, when offered. He suggested that a plea to reduced charges could mean probation. 

“It doesn't mean you have to accept any offer. It just provides you with some opportunities to consider,” Knapp told Sanders. Knapp did caution the former councilman that should a trial be scheduled, such a plea could no longer be accepted by the court. He also advised Sanders' attorney, John Cahalan, that should a trial be scheduled, a motion to dismiss could be considered during those proceedings.

Last week, the City of Wayne approved an estimated $25,000 to $50,000 settlement of a lawsuit Nocerini filed against Sanders claiming damages in the incident. As he was a city councilman at the time, the city is liable for any financial compensation. Following that settlement, to be paid by the city insurance carrier, Mayor John Rhaesa had strong words for Sanders.

“Mr. Sanders has been a stain on the city for many, many years. The citizens of Wayne spoke loud and clear when they finally voted him out during the 2018 recall election. Unfortunately, that message still has not resonated with Mr. Sanders as he continues to embarrass the city and community with his unprincipled behavior. I also firmly believe that Mr. Sanders was the ringleader behind these horrible acts against the city manager and he needs to be held accountable for his actions. Not to mention that these acts occurred on city hall property which is disgraceful. Especially when he was an elected public official at the time the crime was committed,” Rhaesa said.