Records: Accused credit union CFO overpaid for property

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Fenton — The jailed chief financial officer suspected in a $20 million embezzlement from a credit union went on a property buying spree in the months leading up to his arrest, sometimes paying up to three times its value.

Fenton City Manager Lynn Markland confirmed Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton put liens on several properties Michael A. LaJoice, 36, of Tyrone Township bought in Fenton since June — many of them related to a planned $31 million mixed-use Riverview retail and condominium project that was to break ground this spring.

LaJoice is jailed on 14 counts of alleged embezzlement of nearly $2 million from the Clarkston Brandon Community Credit Union between October and the end of December 2015.

Markland said city tax records show LaJoice paid well over the assessed value for four properties bordering his planned six-story project on a 3.3-acre site, which consisted of a closed market and laundromat.

“There was only one principal partner in the Riverview project and obviously it doesn’t look like it’s going to go the way it was planned,” Markland said. “He was very secretive and didn’t share about what he planned to do until he obtained the properties and he bought up several. He paid cash for them “

LaJoice paid $1.2 million for the site, since bulldozed, and then sunk another $997,000 into four houses and $269,000 for a commercial building, records show.

City records show a home on South Adelaide, with a State Equalized Valuation of $77,200 — or $154,200 value — was bought for $375,000. A nearby address with an assessed value of $54,800 was bought in July for $275,000, better than double its worth.

In August, another residential property with an assessed value of $55,000 was bought by LaJoice for $150,000.

In September LaJoice paid $197,000 for a Mill Street address, which records show had an SEV of $61,600 or value of $123,200.

A commercial building on Leroy Street, which houses a yoga business, was bought in November for $269,500, nearly triple its SEV of $87,200.

“We’re not sure of what the plans were for the buildings but possibly some form of second phase of the Riverview project,” Markland said. “Occupants living in the homes were notified their leases were not to be renewed and they had to vacate by March 1.”

LaJoice was arrested when he turned himself in to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office this month and told stunned investigators he had taken a total of $20 million for his own use over a 12-year period.

More charges are expected in the embezzlement case as officials learn more about the credit union’s $65,000-a-year accountant and his pursuit of ambitious business plans in Fenton, a community of about 12,000.

Investigators said LaJoice, known as a businessman with a big heart, opened a dance studio there and bought a sprawling Livingston County home valued at more than $4 million. LaJoice is married and the father of three young children.

Police have uncovered $800,000 in seven LaJoice personal accounts. They suspect there are others.

It’s unclear how such theft could have been overlooked by annual financial reviews done by the credit union and the state, but bogus investment documents believed to have been created by LaJoice may ultimately hold answers. Meanwhile, other officials just want to address the impact of the case.

“The community is surprised and it’s been disappointing to us,” Markland said Monday.

Last week the state put the credit union under a conservatorship supervised by the National Credit Union Administration, a federal agency which oversees credit union.

Markland said he has talked to some area charities left with unpaid pledges by LaJoice.

The city has taken a hit as well, about $15,000 in unpaid consulting fees connected to the Riverview project, Markland said

“We are talking to our attorneys and hope to get that back some way from the properties, should issues ever be resolved,” he said. “If there is a positive side to all of this it’s the project site has been demolished and debris cleared away and potential investors have expressed interest in it. So once this is cleared up, it’s development ready.”

LaJoice’s attorney said Monday he is planning for a probable cause hearing Wednesday in Clarkston District Court.

“I think he wants to make things right and that’s why he walked into the sheriff’s department in the first place,” Michael Manley said. “After talking with him and investigators, I feel there is sufficient reason to ask for a forensic examination on whether he understands the charges against him and to determine if is able to aid in his own defense.”

A forensic examination could take up to eight weeks. Manley said the time can be spent to fully examine all charges and “uncounseled statements” allegedly made by his client. The criminal charges are all felonies, each punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Manley said besides defending LaJoice he wants to do everything he can to help resolve matters for his family and “any other potential victims.”

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