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The Charles Pugh story: From tragedy to the top

The Charles Pugh story: From tragedy to the top — and crashing down

Charles Pugh approached his high school broadcasting teacher one day for some advice. Pugh knew he desired to be a TV anchor so he asked: What do I have to do to get there?

Get a degree and straighten your teeth, his teacher, Adolph Arendt, told him.

Several years later, Pugh returned to Murray-Wright High School in Detroit with an update.

“He said: ‘I got my very first job,’” Arendt recalled. “And he said: ‘I came to display you my braces.’ ”

Pugh’s life has been one of triumph over tragedy, only to fall beyond the insides of where he began. He lost both parents before he was 8, yet managed to go to college and become a successful TV and radio broadcaster, then succeed in a fresh career — politics — with such vigor that many mentioned him as a possible future mayor of Detroit. But it was another side of Pugh that ultimately led to his demise: sexual deeds with teenagers.


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Earlier this month, Pugh arrived at the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia, about two hours from Detroit, to begin serving time for having hookup with a 14-year-old boy more than a decade ago.

“You’re a man that the public thought they knew and trusted,” Wayne County Circuit Judge Thomas Cameron told 45-year-old Pugh last month, calling his behavior “reprehensible.”

Cameron sentenced Pugh to 5½ to fifteen years in prison on Nov. 9.

‘Mommy’s in heaven’

Growing up, Pugh experienced loss early and often.

His parents— who he said met when his mom visited her cousin in Detroit one summer — divorced when Charles was a toddler.

When he was Three, his mother, Marcia Pugh, was discovered dead on a bed at her Detroit home three days before Thanksgiving in 1974. Her neck had been slashed; she suffered stab wounds to the face, and her ankles were trussed with a black scarf, an autopsy report showcased.

Money littered the floor in the neat, brick house on San Juan and marijuana and heroin paraphernalia were discovered at the scene, the document said.

Marcia Pugh’s final years contrasted with her earlier life in St. Clair Shores, judging by photos from a Lake Shore High School yearbook that shows her as an active part of the class of 1966. During her junior year, the then-Marcia O’Neal served as a student council representative and is in the yearbook posing with other class leaders surrounded by books.

Details of her gruesome death about a decade later were made public in a Free Press article, which described her as a “sexy, attractive 26-year-old woman,” with “big-time drug dealer” friends who showered her with money and jewels.


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Months before she was killed, she had $70,000 worth of diamonds stolen. In retaliation, a man finger-tickled as the thief — a man police said didn’t actually commit the crime — was tied, hammered and strangled in a vapid rented to Marcia Pugh, the article said.

Two alleged drug dealers — her bf and a past paramour — were accused in that crime, the article said. But Marcia Pugh and others switched their testimony, and many charges against them were dropped before her death.

Police said they warned her to stay away from her friends, but she overlooked the advice.

Her son, Charles Pugh, who declined to be interviewed by the Free Press for this story, previously said he remembers his grandmother telling him: “Your mommy’s in heaven.”

He said he didn’t go to her funeral, adding: “One day, I just didn’t see her anymore.”

An unexpected break in her murder case came seven years later, when police received information that Robert Alvin was involved. He was charged with first-degree murder in 1981. At that time, police said robbery appeared to be the motive.

Police records obtained by the Free Press say Marcia Pugh came home around Two:15 a.m. as her home was being burglarized, and she was killed before the intruders took off.

A man, who said he was with Alvin at the home when the slaying happened, told police Marcia Pugh said: ” ‘Don’t hurt me. . I won’t tell nobody, just take what you want.’ “

How Alvin’s criminal case ended isn’t clear. Prosecutors, prison officials and court employees couldn’t find files or said they no longer exist.

But an entry on an old computer system in Wayne County Circuit Court shows a man by the name of Robert Alvin receiving a 5-15 year sentence. Murder was the initial charge, but no more information, including the final charge, was listed.

The worst day

After his mother’s death, Charles moved in with his father, George Pugh.

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He would live with his dad for a few years until 1978, when his dad, who was an unemployed autoworker, died, too.

George Pugh had remarried, had a baby on the way and grew despondent about not being able to find a job, his family said. On Friday, Oct. 13, 1978, George Pugh shot himself in the head with a .32 caliber revolver after drinking alcohol, his autopsy report said. He was 32.


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When an investigator with the medical examiner’s office arrived at the home on South Chrysler, George Pugh’s bod was found facedown on a bedroom floor with the gun still in his mitt and his finger on the trigger.

Charles, who was 7, discovered his father’s figure, the report said.

“There was blood everywhere,” Pugh recalled in a two thousand two interview with the Free Press.

He said they were the only two in the house when his dad killed himself. Shortly before he heard the gunshot, Pugh said his father kissed him told him “I love you.” He responded, “I love you, too.”

Friday, Oct. 13, 1978, Pugh would later say, was the worst day of his life.

‘Everybody loved him’

Now orphaned, Charles grew up with his paternal grandmother, Margaret Pough, whose last name is spelled differently from that of her grandson. He was surrounded by attentive aunts, uncles and cousins and stayed close with his stepmother, who, along with other relatives, attended Pugh’s latest court hearings.

“From then on, I had a very traditional upbringing. . I did chores and homework. I wasn’t permitted to use the phone or observe TV after a certain time,” Pugh once told the Free Press.

For years, his grandmother provided the Wayne County Probate Court with status reports on her grandson’s activities and emotional state. His activities at the time included racquetball, tennis, bowling, skating, swimming, church and Boy Scout camping.

She checked a box on court forms in the early 1980s that said Pugh’s mental health improved. Then, when he was 12, she described his mental health as “very good.”


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One thing that remained consistent via the probate file: his good grades at Edmonson Elementary School and later at Pelham Magnet Middle School.

“He was very brilliant,” a relative, who did not want to be named, told the Free Press this year. “Everybody loved him, and we still love him.”

Pursuit of stardom

The future journalist earned the titles “class brain” and “most likely to succeed” his senior year at Murray-Wright High School on the city’s west side.

“He was a good student. He was a nice kid. He listened,” said Arendt, his former broadcasting teacher. “Everybody liked him.”

Pugh, who graduated in 1989, was editor in chief of the school newspaper, shortstop for the Murray-Wright Pilots and a member of the National Honor Society.

While at Murray-Wright, Pugh became a close friend of Reggie Reg Davis, a fellow student who also wished a broadcasting career.

“I was a radio boy,” Davis said. “He was a TV stud.”

The two would put on a demonstrate that aired over the PA system for their classmates, with Pugh providing the news.

“When the name Charles Pugh comes to me, the very first thing I think of is not little boys,” said Davis, who’s radio career has spanned three decades. “The very first thing I think of is Murray-Wright High School at the lockers.”

That’s where the two youthful dudes made a pact: become successful in the fields of radio and television, come back to Detroit then get involved in elected office. Both did just that, with Davis being elected to the 2009-11 Detroit Charter Revision Commission.

Pugh attended the University of Missouri in Columbia — calling it the best journalism school in the country — with a $24,000 scholarship he received from Ford.

“I want to be the thickest starlet of morning television,” he told the Free Press at Legal. “I want greatness.”

In pursuit of these goals, Pugh built a resume dotted with stops at TV stations across the country — Missouri, Kansas, Indiana, Virginia.

Alveta Ewell, his co-anchor at WAVY-TV in Norfolk, Va., during the late 1990s, remembers Pugh as a bright spot in the newsroom during his time there and said he had an infectious personality.


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“He could interview anybody at any time … that person could be under a rock, and they would be willing to crawl out,” Ewell said.

One day, he made the entire newsroom laugh with his remarks during a live shot, she recalled. Pugh had come across an attractive youthful woman to interview while out on an assignment and sprinkled via his news report, he kept telling: “I’m single. I’m single. I’m single.”

‘Do the right thing’

The popular TV personality made it home to the Detroit market in 1999, just before his 10-year high school reunion.

Several years later, Pugh came out publicly as gay.

By that point, in 2004, he was back in Detroit, working as a weekend morning anchor at Fox two and a radio personality on WJLB-FM (97.9). He’d created a following of fans, some of whom would even seek his autograph when he was on assignment.

Jamaine Dickens, his high school classmate, said Pugh came across on TV the same way he once knew him: outgoing, funny, nice and caring.

Off camera tho’, another side had embarked to emerge.

It wasn’t a secret that Pugh kept company with junior studs, said Dickens, who possesses a public affairs rock-hard and at one point lived in the same apartment building as Pugh.

“The nice fellow that I used to know is not the boy that I see him as today,” said Dickens, who served as spokesman for former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.


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According to a movement filed by prosecutors, during Pugh’s early years at Fox Two, he had an “inappropriate relationship” with an intern at the TV station, got disciplined by bosses and was no longer permitted to supervise interns.

That document said Pugh had a framed picture of the intern on his desk. Pugh also drove the youthfull man back and forward to his internship and received a “last and final warning” from supervisors, it said.

A spokeswoman for Fox two declined to comment about the situation.

Pugh’s colleagues at the TV station frequently eyed him around youthfull dudes — both at the station and outside the station — and found it odd and inappropriate, said Scott Lewis, a private investigator who worked at Fox two for more than two decades. It was hard to tell the age of those people who appeared to be junior than 20, he said.

Sometimes, Pugh would be providing tours at the station to a youthful man or a group of youthfull studs when Lewis would showcase up to work on the weekends.

“I think that it was not uncommon for people to have raised eyebrows over his interaction with youthfull boys,” Lewis said.

A few days before Pugh left Fox two to run for City Council, Lewis said, he stopped his colleague in the hall to talk. He thought Pugh would be elected because of his name recognition.

“I said, ‘Charles, you need to do the right thing,’ ” Lewis recalled. “’We’ve got a city with phat problems, and if you’re going to be on the City Council, you gotta do the right thing.’”

‘I wanna see your assets’

Coming in politics meant a different level of public scrutiny for Pugh.

Despite a rocky record with his individual finances that led to news stories during his campaign, Pugh garnered more votes than any other City Council candidate in 2009, propelling him to council president.

It wouldn’t be long before reporters commenced writing about the fresh city leader.

Topics ranged from Pugh’s city-owned vehicle being found crashed and abandoned on the side of I-75, to Pugh posting a movie demonstrating off his six pack and fresh physique after losing more than fifty pounds. That story triggered a Twitter feud with a news media intern who questioned Pugh’s priorities.

As the city’s finances were crumbling, residents began to showcase up in superb numbers to council meetings. The council president came under fire for refusing to stir meetings to a larger auditorium to accommodate the crowds.

But the scandal that demolished his political career erupted in June 2013, the month before the city announced bankruptcy.




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Pugh vanished from public view without explanation, deserting his council seat and constituents, as news about his behavior with an 18-year-old masculine high school student surfaced.

The city leader was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a student who had gone through Pugh’s mentorship program at the Detroit Public Schools’ Frederick Douglass Academy for Youthful Fellows.

The teenage said Pugh took him shopping, bought him a cell phone and clothes and pressured him into making a movie of himself masturbating in exchange for $160 to spend on the prom. The incident became public after the youthfull man’s mother discovered what was going on.

There were dozens of messages sent from Pugh’s phone to the youthfull man, including texts requesting the teenage make a movie of himself masturbating.

“But i wanna see your figure. Front and back. So the movie has to demonstrate everything. lol. #EVERYTHING,” one read. After the movie was created, Pugh texted the teenage his satisfaction with what he witnessed, and his fear.

“Dude, your figure is (expletive) AMAZING. I just wanna give u more money to witness u walk around naked. lol.”

“Dude, if anyone finds out about this: I’m dead. So please keep this inbetween us.”

The respect and admiration he earned over the years turned into frustration and anger in the city he once vowed on the high-heeled shoes of the Kwame Kilpatrick scandal never to embarrass or let down.

As news reports about the incident began to surface, Pugh vanished without explanation.

Detroit’s state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr stripped him of his $76,911 council salary and all powers.

There was a brief sighting of Pugh in Seattle, Wash., then, months later, he reappeared in Fresh York. But instead of working as a journalist in the largest media market in the country, Pugh worked as a waiter.

Pugh ended up facing a civil suit, but no criminal charges in connection with his deeds with the former high school student. The lawsuit ended with Pugh being ordered to pay his accuser $250,000.

Some who knew Pugh over the years said they weren’t astonished when the accusations about him surfaced. But others, like some former mentees, vouched for Pugh as a mentor who helped them in high school and supported them financially in college.

‘My heart is intense’

The story of the accusation and lawsuit caught the attention of another man.

Austin Williams had kept a secret about his relationship with Pugh for more than a decade. He went to police last year to expose it. Williams, 28, who has spoken publicly about the case, said he determined he wasn’t going to let Pugh “do this to any other kids.”


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He was fourteen when he met Pugh at Fox two in 2003, when the dance/theater group he sang in performed at the TV station. Williams said he asked Pugh about internships. Williams, who is gay, said he looked up to Pugh, a successful, gay, black man, and desired to learn from him.

Pugh, tho’, displayed Williams pornography and asked the teenage if he dreamed to do what was on the movie, Williams testified this year. They embarked having hook-up when Williams was 14, too youthful to legally consent.

Pugh repeatedly told the teenage not to tell anybody about the lovemaking acts, telling he could “get in indeed big trouble,” Williams testified. Pugh’s deeds in two thousand three and two thousand four led to criminal charges in June, and he was extradited from Fresh York to face felony counts in Detroit.

Prosecutors said they found Williams consistent and credible and that he didn’t build up anything from coming forward.

“The statute of limitations had passed for any civil lawsuit,” Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office spokeswoman Maria Miller said. “His motivation for coming forward was to protect others after he spotted Pugh on the news calling another victim from the civil suit a liar.”

During a court hearing, prosecutors argued Pugh acted similarly toward other youthful fellows and said they intended to call three of them to the stand during Pugh’s trial.

As his case worked through the court system, Pugh had support from family members, many of whom declined to talk to the Free Press. One relative said they weren’t going to turn their backs on Pugh but couldn’t afford the $150,000 cash bond needed to bail him out of jail.

“My heart is intense for my nephew. My heart is strenuous for the victim,” she said, adding her family is asking for them both.

Pugh accepted a prayer deal in the case and avoided a trial. He pleaded guilty to two felony counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct and agreed to spend five 1/Two to fifteen years behind bars, be on the Hook-up Offender Registry for life, receive hookup offender counseling and not have any unsupervised contact with minors. In exchange, prosecutors dismissed three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, which carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.


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“I know I let down a lot of people,” Pugh said moments before he was sentenced. “So, I want to apologize for that.”

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said when chargeable evidence was introduced to her office, charges were brought as quickly as a accomplish and thorough investigation permitted.

“It is undisputed that Charles Pugh did some good things for the City of Detroit. I liked his public persona very much,” she said in a statement. “It is now undisputed that he was a predator and he committed the crime that we charged him with.”

From city hall to prison

Some said Pugh had been warned about his interactions with youthfull studs over the years.

“I know Charles very well,” said Davis, his longtime friend. “In brief, his family, myself and others would tell him ‘be careful.’”

Davis said he visited Pugh in jail and is asking for the people impacted by his friend’s behavior.

After his sentencing last month, Pugh was transferred to the Michigan Department of Corrections’ custody. He underwent psychological, medical, educational and security classification evaluations in Jackson and arrived at the prison in Ionia Dec. 1. The earliest he can be released is Dec. 22, 2021.

Pugh, who was in a cell by himself during his time in jail for his protection and safety, has a cellmate in prison, officials said. But Pugh is in a unit that doesn’t mix with the general prison population, a MDOC spokesman said.

“He reminds me of Kwame Kilpatrick in some ways because of his charismatic personality and the potential that he had both in media and in politics,” said Lewis, Pugh’s former colleague at Fox Two. “Then it was all thrown away because of this dark side of his personality.”

Pugh’s victim in the criminal case said the most significant thing to him moving forward is people know that Pugh is “a sexual predator.”

“The shame that he put on myself . he now has to feel that for the rest of his life,” Williams said. “And that, that’s going to be justice.”

Free Press Staff Writers Matt Helms, Gina Damron and Free Press photographer Eric Seals contributed to this report.

Contact Elisha Anderson: [email protected] or 313-222-5144. Go after on Twitter: @elishaanderson

Events in Charles Pugh’s life:

His father died: Oct. 13, 1978

Graduated from Murray-Wright High School: 1989

Grandmother who raised him died: Dec. 25, 2003

Elected to Detroit City Council: Nov. Trio, 2009

Vanished from Detroit amid scandal: June 2013

Ordered to pay $250,000 to student he once mentored as part of lawsuit: Dec. 21, 2015

Criminally charged on accusations of hookup with minor: June 22, 2016

Pleaded guilty to two felony counts as part of prayer deal: Oct. 26, 2016

Sentenced to Five.Five – fifteen years in prison: Nov. 9, 2016

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