Auto theft board spars over misspending claims
Dimondale – Board members of the state Auto Theft Prevention Authority sparred at a special meeting Tuesday over allegations of possible illegal expenditures, leading one member to question afterward whether oversight of the agency should be transferred away from the Michigan State Police.
The meeting came after The Detroit News reported last month that the authority's former executive director had filed a whistleblower lawsuit against two top officials of the Michigan State Police, claiming they discriminated against him after he reported concerns that task force funds had been spent on state police expenses without board approval.
Lt. Scott Woodard, a veteran MSP officer, had expressed his concerns to two board members in November 2017 and a few months later, found state police inspector Michael Johnson at his door demanding Woodard's uniforms, badge and gun and telling him he was no longer needed as a state police officer.
Woodard's suit names Johnson and state police director Col. Kriste Etue as defendants. A private investigator served copies of the complaint on both defendants during Tuesday's meeting,
Etue said she is confident that there has been no wrongdoing by anyone in the department regarding ATPA funds and confirmed -- without elaboration -- that Woodard is the focus of a criminal investigation.
"Because of the lawsuit, we will be limited to what we can discuss," Etue said at the start of the meeting, held at state police headquarters outside Lansing.
Several state police employees gave presentations disputing Woodard's allegations, including Lt. Twana Powell of the MSP Internal Affairs Division.
"There were five areas involving allegations," Powell said, "... they were all unfounded."
Powell said one concern -- an expenditure of more than $14,000 -- was determined to be an accounting error.
Other complaints involved ATPA operations that are permitted and lawful, she said. In response to Woodard's allegation that he had been "ostracized" by fellow officers after raising concerns, Powell said he was "unable to provide specific examples, dates or the people involved."
Powell turned in her internal report, which appeared to be a couple of inches thick, and included emails and phone interviews she conducted with Woodard.
Woodard, who is on a medical leave, was not present. But other board members, including Oakland County Undersheriff Michael McCabe, came to his defense during the meeting.
"He's been in the state police for 23 years, five promotions and all of a sudden he's gone rogue?" McCabe asked his fellow board members.
Another board member, Livonia Police Chief Curtis Caid, said he wished Etue had kept him better informed. Eugene Adamczyk, a retired state police inspector who does security work, said he felt ATPA was doing a good job and lamented "an adversarial relationship on the board."
After the meeting, McCabe went farther.
"I'm not satisfied with what I heard today," he said. "I will go through the (internal) report but I still have a lot of questions. I wonder if a review should be done by someone else and whether it's not time that the ATPA be supervised by some agency other than the state police. It's pretty difficult for an enlisted lieutenant to have two bosses -- the board and the state police."
State Police spokeswoman Shanon Banner said upon hearing of the expenditure allegations, Etue “immediately initiated” a review that “proved no wrongdoing on behalf of any MSP employees.”
Banner described Woodard’s Ingham Circuit Court lawsuit as “full of exaggerations and inaccuracies.”
According to Banner, said a $14,631.83 Department of Technology, Management and Budget charge for storage space on an existing server was an accounting discrepancy that is being reconciled; the ATPA, by state statute, is required to pay salaries and fringe benefits for MSP employees who provide services to ATPA; and a portion of salaries attributable to ATPA functions has been charged to the ATPA since 2013 – all with board approval.
McCabe said the state police knew funds had been used for other than intended purposes but did not divulge the information in December, when he asked Etue for a breakdown of ATPA expenditures.
He was upset because in March 2018, Etue advised the ATPA board that an increase in server expenses – about $16,000 -- resulted from a general rise in costs and not because of additional equipment.
Woodard – whose state police duties were to act as executive director on the ATPA board – wrote to the board in May that a full investigation should be done by the state police and auditor general.
Etue said she was notified this month that a new audit will be done by the Auditor General’s Office.
Woodard eventually took a medical leave because of stress he suffered from colleagues, his attorney Steve Potter said.
“His status is really unclear to me although he believes he has been informed he is no longer a state police officer,” Potter said.
Under the State Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, an employee shall not be discharged, threatened or otherwise discriminated against because he or she reports suspected violations of law.