|Federal RICO lawsuit alleges sheriff traded police favors for cash
Roberto Acosta | email@example.com By Roberto Acosta | firstname.lastname@example.org
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on January 25, 2017 at 6:23 PM, updated January 25, 2017 at 9:02 PM
GENESEE COUNTY, MI -- A federal RICO lawsuit alleges Sheriff Robert Pickell received payments in exchange for deputizing residents who he believe would advanced his political power.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday, Jan. 25, in Detroit U.S. District Court by attorney Scott Batey alleges Pickell deputized people for $65-$300 a year, which allowed them to act as a deputy and agent for the Genesee County Sheriff's Office and receive work as process servers.
When reached by phone, Pickell said he had not yet seen the lawsuit.
"There's no merit to it, without looking at it," he said. "It's just hard to believe for $150 anybody could file a lawsuit."
Pickell, Scott Hope, and the Allen & Hope Process Serving Management Company are named as defendants in the lawsuit alleging two violations of the federal Racketeering Influenced And Corrupt Organizations Act and one count of violation of first amendment rights.
"From at least 2006 continuing until 2016 [d]efendants annually engaged in a pattern of racketeering where [d]efendants would take and receive money not due to them under the pretense that they were entitled to the money" by virtue of Pickell's political office, according to the lawsuit.
Checks were allegedly made out to Pickell, The Committee to Retain Sheriff Pickell, or a charity selected by Allen & Hope, described in the lawsuit as a "loosely knit business enterprise" designed to keep the sheriff in office and attack his opponents.
The amounts began at $65 and increased equally over the years, Batey claims. Plaintiffs in the case include William Trier, Jeffrey McKinsey, Harold Daniel, John Austin Harrington, Richard Sparks, Jacob Trier, Crystal Baker, and Joel Mata.
Copies of checks made out to Pickell and his campaign committee purportedly related to the allegations were attached to the lawsuit as evidence. Some of checks were endorsed with a signature reading "Scott L. Hope."
"They're typically just deputized," Batey said when contacted by MLive-The Flint Journal. "Just last week, plaintiffs were deputized by (Genesee Circuit) Judge (Richard) Yuille. He didn't charge a penny and there's no problem with charging money for deputizing if the money is going to the county. But they're acting as a political office to get money for personal gain."
If those seeking deputy status did not back the sheriff's political interest, they would not receive the designation, which the lawsuit claims is a violation of freedom of speech.
Hope, who said he had not read the lawsuit, said Wednesday afternoon when contacted by MLive-The Flint Journal that checks were filled out to Pickell to become deputies, but it was just a suggestion and "every dime" has been donated to a local charitable organization.
"We'd send out a letter each year with an amount," he said. "I never remember it being as high as $300 though."
Pickell said he was not aware of any checks and had not yet seen the lawsuit.
This isn't the first time Batey and Pickell have went head-to-head.
Embattled deputy settles retaliation lawsuit against sheriff's office
A settlement has been reached for a second sheriff's deputy who claims he was retaliated against after he gave testimony that was critical of the sheriff's office administration.
Batey previously handled a 2012 whistleblower lawsuit by fired deputy Joe Boulton who claimed he was demoted, stripped of police certification, and suspended after unfavorable testimony about Pickell and staff. A jury awarded Boulton $139,000.
A federal lawsuit in 2013 filed on behalf of former deputy Gerald Parks settled for $90,000 over allegations he was retaliated against and eventually forced to retire after providing testimony critical of the sheriff's office administration. That case was also handled by Batey.
Batey said the cases against Pickell were not personal.
"We had great success in the Boulton case and this one had merit," he said of the new lawsuit. "The ongoing cavern of what they did there is outrageous, using political office for personal gain is outrageous."
No court date has been set to hear the case.
MLive-Flint Journal reporter Oona Goodin-Smith contributed to this report.
Thu Jan 26, 2017 12:46 am
|Genesee County has no record of contested checks made out to sheriff
Oona Goodin-Smith | email@example.com By Oona Goodin-Smith | firstname.lastname@example.org
on April 14, 2017 at 7:00 AM, updated April 14, 2017 at 7:05 AM
FLINT, MI - Genesee County says it never received several checks made out to Sheriff Robert J. Pickell and the sheriff's department.
According to a denial of a Freedom of Information Act request from the county to MLive-The Flint Journal, the county has no record of receiving eight checks totaling $1,375 from John Harrington, a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit alleging funds from a required fee to deputize process servers went "into a bank account for the personal gain/benefit" of the sheriff.
Instead, the checks - all written between 2007 and 2013 - were deposited into a trust account at ELGA Credit Union, Scott Hope, executive director of Genesee County's process servers, told MLive-The Flint Journal.
Hope and Pickell, along with Hope's company, Allen & Hope Processing, are named in a civil federal racketeering lawsuit that alleges the three worked as a "loosely knit business enterprise" designed to "financially enrich" the three and to keep Pickell in office and attack his opponents.
Sheriff says he's 'never seen the money' alleged in federal racketeering lawsuit
Sheriff says he's 'never seen the money' alleged in federal racketeering lawsuit
Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell says he "has never seen the money" that a federal racketeering lawsuit claims he charged court process servers.
Copies of the eight checks in question - made out "Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell," "Genesee County Sheriff" and "Genesee County Sheriff's Department" - are purportedly related to the lawsuit's allegations and attached to the suit as evidence.
Some of the checks were endorsed with a signature reading "Scott L. Hope."
None of the checks, despite being made out to county entities, were deposited in county bank accounts, according to the FOIA denial.
Hope told MLive-The Flint Journal that he received checks for $140 per person for a yearly training to deputize the process servers who worked for attorneys in the county, and deposited the checks into a trust fund at the ELGA Credit Union in Burton.
While Hope said the fund wasn't a personal account, he declined to comment further on the account or the checks. He also declined to comment on why he was able to deposit checks made out to other named parties into the account.
The Freedom of Information Act denial letter also noted that Genesee County "does not maintain any accounts with Elga [sic] Credit Union, the financial institution which most of the provided checks were deposited into."
Hope's attorneys, Kyle Reim and Steve Spender, were not available for comment.
The suit, filed in January in Detroit U.S. District Court by attorney Scott Batey, alleges two violations of the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and one count of violation of first amendment rights.
In late March, Reim, Spender, and Genesee County attorney Audrey Forbush filed similar responses to the suit, denying all allegations of wrongdoing and stating that the suit "failed to allege sufficient facts" to support its claims.
On Wednesday, April 12, Reim and Spender filed a motion requesting that Batey and his clients submit a "RICO Case Statement," specifically detailing the alleged racketeering allegations in the case.
"It's going to be pretty embarrassing for [the plaintiffs] trying to come up with reasons for [the civil suit's RICO allegations]," said Hope, who stressed that the suit's allegations had no merit.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday, Jan. 25 by attorney Scott Batey alleges Pickell deputized people for $65-$300 a year, which allowed them to act as a deputy and agent for the Genesee County Sheriff's Office and receive court assignments.
Pickell, who previously told MLive-The Flint Journal that he had "never seen the money" alleged in the suit, also said he was confident that "there is no RICO [violation]."
Pickell also said that, like the county, he had nothing to do with the checks, nor knew where they were deposited.
"You're talking to the wrong guy," he said. "I know nothing about these checks. This lawsuit is about lawyer talk. Anyone with $150 can file a lawsuit and say anything they want about a person."
He compared the allegations to those made in a lawsuit against the county and its undersheriff that claimed a Burton Coney Island owner was the victim of a police shakedown.
The suit was dismissed on March 20 after a Genesee County judge determined that the undersheriff had been acting within legal bounds.
During a summary disposition on Monday, March 20, Circuit Judge Archie Hayman ruled from the bench to grant the defendants' motion to dismiss the case, stating the alleged police "pseudo sting" set up to survey stolen meat purchases was within legal bounds of "law enforcement officers conducting an investigation."
According to the current racketeering civil lawsuit, the alleged pay-to-play deputizing system allowed process servers - individuals who perform numerous court-related tasks, including serving legal documents - to receive work as deputies and agents of the Genesee County Sheriff's Office.
The plaintiffs in the case are six former process servers and Genesee County residents: William Trier, Jeffrey McKinsey, Harold Daniel, John Austin Harrington, Richard Sparks and Jacob Trier.
The system for empowering process servers varies from county to county across Michigan, said Blaine Koops, executive director and CEO of the Michigan Sheriff's Association. In Allegan County, where Koops was sheriff for 16 years, a local company was hired to do process serving, and only one of its employees was deputized, he said.
As of January 2017, the system of deputizing process servers in Genesee County has moved into the courts, where servers obtain similar authority as officers of the court, Pickell said.
Batey previously said that his clients had already taken advantage of the switch and were deputized in January by Chief Circuit Judge Richard B. Yuille.
"He didn't charge a penny," said Batey. "And there's no problem with charging money for deputizing if the money is going to the county, but they're acting as a political office to get money for personal gain."
"From at least 2006 continuing until 2016, defendants annually engaged in a pattern of racketeering where defendants would take and receive money not due to them under the pretense that they were entitled to the money," the lawsuit claims.
Checks were allegedly made out to Pickell, The Committee to Retain Sheriff Pickell, or a charity selected by Allen & Hope.
Hope previously said that the checks were made out to Pickell by process servers who wanted to be deputized, but that the money "was just a suggestion" and "every dime" has been donated to a local charitable organization of Pickell's choosing.
Pickell, Hope, and Hope's company were also named defendants in a potential lawsuit claim surrounding alleged "malicious" Facebook posts about the sex life of a public dissenter of Pickell.
In March, Genesee County paid $212,500 to settle the threatened suit, according to records obtained by MLive-The Flint Journal.
Genesee County paid $212,500 to avoid a lawsuit over alleged "malicious" Facebook posts about the sex life of a public dissenter of Sheriff Robert J. Pickell, records of Mic
Fri Apr 14, 2017 12:44 pm