Attorney says Macomb clerk faces smear campaign

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Warren — An attorney for Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger said Friday his client is the target of a politically motivated smear campaign, including an allegation that she perjured herself when filing papers to run for office by falsely claiming a residence in Warren.

Ever since Spranger, a Republican, won a surprise victory over Democrat Fred Miller for the countywide post last November, she has been at odds with other officials, including county Executive Mark Hackel, over the operation of her office.

Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said Friday his office is investigating a complaint filed with the department this week regarding Spranger. He declined to discuss details.

Spranger was not available for comment Friday but her attorney, Frank Cusumano Jr., had much to say in her defense.

“There has been one allegation after another made against her,” said Cusumano. “Now someone supposedly is accusing her of filing a false affidavit of identity regarding her residence in Warren.”

Cusumano said Spranger listed 7520 Hudson in Warren as her home address when she ran for mayor in Warren in 2012 and also in 2016 when running for county clerk. He said Spranger maintains it is her residence but “doesn’t necessarily stay there every night.”

“She may stay overnight at a friend’s house, like anyone, if she wants to,” he said. “I don’t understand what the issue is. She lives there, pays taxes there. She receives mail there. Her driver’s license lists that address. She has no other address or residence.

“...There is no allegation that Spranger was not a resident of Macomb County and therefore a qualified candidate, the purpose of the affidavit of identity, only vague allegations that she did not spend enough time at the listed residence,” Cusumano said.

“According to her political opponents, in their hate-filled eyes, 7520 Hudson, Warren, Michigan wasn’t her ‘residence.’ Now they use the law enforcement as another weapon.”

But if it can be shown she does not live at 7520 Hudson, as she stated in a pre-election affidavit, Spranger could hypothetically be charged with a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. She also listed the address for her campaign committee.

Wickersham confirmed a complaint was filed with his department.

“A man came in earlier this week with some documents as if he had been doing his own investigation,” the sheriff said. “My investigators will look into this and if it is determined there is anything to the allegations, we will forward our findings to the county prosecutor for consideration.”

Spranger has not been interviewed yet, Wickersham said, and he could not estimate how long the investigation might take to complete.

Cusumano believes an independent investigation is needed because, he said, political opponents — Democrats and unions — are in lockstep against his client because she has taken unpopular measures against some union workers in her office.

Cusumano said the residency issue only surfaced this week after he wrote a letter to State Attorney General Bill Schuette seeking an independent investigation into Spranger being denied access to county records warehoused in a county building in Clinton Township.

Spranger went to the building Tuesday to inspect “the security and integrity” of the records that had been transferred there this summer but was turned away, Cusumano said.

Cusumano said complaints about Spranger’s treatment have been ignored by Hackel, County Prosecutor Eric Smith and Wickersham, forcing him to turn to Schuette.

“This is the first I have even heard anything about his concerns,” Wickersham said Friday. “I would like to know who they might have talked to here and when so I could look into the matter.”

Spranger also was fined by the county ethics committee for violating provisions of the use of the county computer system by non-county workers. She is appealing that $100 fine and, as part of this week's lawsuit, is alleging the ethics board violated her due-process rights by not permitting her attorney to call witnesses at two ethics board hearings.

Since taking office in January, Spranger has clashed repeatedly with other county officials.

She fired her former deputy clerk and another at-will employee and was subsequently sued.

She came under fire when she tried to block the move of her offices and workers into another building — a plan that had been in the works before her November victory.

Spranger also was fined $100 by the county ethics committee for violating provisions of the use of the county computer system by non-county workers.

Last month, she sued county officials, seeking to have the “no firearm zone” status removed from the two buildings that house her county offices.