Aug. 17 2016 12:23 AM

State probing donations to Eaton sheriff’s campaign

Thousands of dollars’ worth of corporate campaign donations to the reelection campaign of Eaton County Sheriff Tom Reich are being investigated by the secretary of state for potential violations of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act.

At issue is whether Reich’s campaign accepted “prohibited” contributions from corporations. The Democrat’s campaign finance filings list thousands of dollars in goods as donations from dozens of businesses in the state.

Reich’s campaign committee was notified that a complaint related to two golf outing fundraisers had been filed with state elections officials. The complaints were filed by State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, a major supporter of Reich’s Republican challenger, Fred McPhail, in the Nov. 8 election. Jones served as Eaton County sheriff from 2001 to 2003. McPhail was his deputy.

“We did make an error, and we’re trying to rectify it,” Reich said in a phone interview Tuesday morning. “It’s something that happened, so shame on me.”

Michigan law makes it a felony for a corporation or business to “knowingly” make donations to a candidate committee. Violations are punishable by up to three years in prison or up to $5,000 in fines, or both. Regulations also allow the state to fine a treasurer of a campaign committee that accepts a contribution written on a corporate check. Violating that regulation could result in a $1,000 fine per violation, plus three times the amount of the improper contribution.

Fred Woodhams, a spokesman for Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, confirmed by email the com- plaint had been filed and was being investigated. Reich’s campaign has until Aug. 20 to respond in writing to the complaint. Jones will then be provided with an opportunity to respond to Reich’s responses, if any, and then the department “will determine whether ‘there may be reason to believe a violation” has occurred, according to a letter sent to the campaign by Lori Bourbonais of the Michigan Bureau of Elections.

Theresa O’Dell, an administrative assistant to Reich at the county, serves as treasurer for his reelection committee. In a phone interview Tuesday morning she confirmed she had served as the campaign treasurer for former Eaton County Sheriff Patrick Hutting. That campaign committee also ran into some troubles with campaign contribution violations, she confirmed, but she could not recall the exact nature of the campaign issues.

Records from the 2000 campaign races in the county are not available online.

O’Dell noted that she did not sign the campaign reports, although she is listed as the treasurer for the campaign. “The sheriff’s campaign report was done by an accountant,” she said, adding that she “did not” review the report before it was filed. “I figured they knew what they were doing.”

The records reveal that for his 2015 and 2016 golf outings, Reich accepted corporate donations as gifts to distribute to golfers. Advertising for the 2016 outing shows it cost participants $75 an individual and $300 for four players to participate.

Campaign finance filings show 145 people attended the 2015 golf outing, which raised $18,521 for Reich's reelection bid, and the committee spent $7,584 to put the fundraiser on. The 2016 golf outing was attended by 140 people, and raised $25,321 for the campaign, and cost it $4,907.

The campaign complaint is only the most recent salvo in what is turning into a bitter fight for the top cop job in Eaton County. McPhail was the undersheriff, or the second in command, for Reich until he retired.

Reich has come under withering criticism for the fatal shooting of an unarmed 17-year-old Grand Ledge teen, Deven Guilford. An investigation by the Michigan State Police cleared the officer involved in the shooting of any wrongdoing and no criminal charges were filed in the case. However, Guilford’s family is suing the county and the Sheriff’s Department.

A City Pulse investigation revealed that months before Guilford was shot and killed, another Grand Ledge resident had been the subject of an improper arrest by Eaton County Sheriff Deputy Greg Brown. Brown appeared to have filed a false police report and failed to turn on his body camera for the interaction with Todd Michael Brenizer. Video shot by Brenizer showed Brown responded with vulgarities to questions from the motorist and then arrested him. Brown later resigned after facing a disciplinary hearing which would have likely resulted in his firing. Months after his resignation, Brown was hired by the Lenawee County Sheriff’s Department.

Donations in question

Eaton County Sheriff Tom Reich, who is running for reelection, admits his campaign should not have accepted gifts from corporations to give away at his annual fundraising golf outings. Among those the secretary of state is examining:

2015 Golf Outing Corporate Donors
One night at the Radisson
Hotel Downtown Lansing $125
One night at the
Hyatt Hotel Lansing $125
Golf Package at
Charlotte’s Maplebrook $150
Golf items from Pro-Golf $114
Golf Package Grand Hotel $400
Golf and Motel package

Bay Mills Casino Brimley, MI $285
One night stay at the
Residence Inn Lansing $100
Two $50 Gift Certificates
to Ukai $100
Other corporate donors included gift certificates from Applebee’s, Fazoli’s Art’s Bar, NCG Theater, Edible Arrangements, Texas Roadhouse and others.

2016 Golf Outing Corporate Donations
Weed trimmer from
Bobcat of Lansing $150
Leaf Blower from
D&G Equipment of Charlotte $150
Golf for four and cart at
El Dorado Golf Course in Mason $120
Four gift certificates to
Mongolian Grill in Okemos $100
Other donations included oil changes and
Source: Campaign Finance Filings Eaton County Clerk online database