2018-02-11 / Front Page

Prosecutor: Konschuh case an ‘abuse of the system’

Deposition addresses numerous issues
810-452-2609 • adietderich@mihomepaper.com

LAPEER — Shiawassee County Prosecuting Attorney Deana M. Finnegan said last month that a lawsuit filed by Lapeer County Circuit Court Judge Byron Konschuh against Lapeer County and five current and former officials is “frivolous…uncalled for, and an abuse of the system.”

Finnegan was the special prosecutor assigned Feb. 18, 2014 by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette to handle what ultimately became the state’s case against Konschuh.

She was the one who brought five felony counts of embezzlement by a public official of more than $50 against Konschuh.

Finnegan also agreed to accept a plea in early 2016 from Konschuh to end what she now calls “bleeding” in both Shiawassee and Lapeer counties as a result of the 2014 case dragging on.

On Jan. 17, Finnegan testified during a deposition as part of the discovery process in the lawsuit filed last May by Konschuh against Lapeer County and five current and former officials who, in turn, filed a counter-lawsuit in July.

Konschuh claims he was defamed and seeks damages. The counter-plaintiffs also claim defamation and they want Konschuh to repay about $100,000 county taxpayers paid for visiting judges while Konschuh was on paid administrative leave.

Finnegan’s deposition was entered as an exhibit as part of a motion filed Tuesday by Jim Acho, attorney for Lapeer County and the five individuals — John Biscoe, county controller/administrator, Dana Miller, county treasurer, Tim Turkelson, former county prosecutor, and John Miller and Cailin Wilson, both former assistant prosecutors.

“During her deposition, Prosecutor Finnegan confirmed her belief that Judge Konschuh had embezzled money,” Acho wrote in a brief filed in response to a new motion filed on behalf of Konschuh to have the counter-lawsuit tossed.

Since Konschuh filed his suit, his attorney, Tom Pabst, has maintained the plea agreement reflected acknowledgement of an “accounting error” as opposed to a crime.

During an October 2014 hearing, an MSP investigator testified 42 checks totaling $1,022 were deposited during the 2009-2013 period into personal checking accounts controlled by Konschuh while he served as Lapeer County Prosecuting Attorney.

The checks came from a pretrial diversion program where bad check cases were referred to BounceBack, a private company, for collection rather than prosecuting each and every one of those cases.

Another $780 in funds from a law enforcement training program were improperly deposited into Konschuh-controlled accounts, according to the counter-lawsuit.

During her deposition, Finnegan made her beliefs clear.

“Did you believe that Byron Konschuh, in fact, stole or embezzled from the people of Lapeer County?” Acho asked Finnegan, according to the transcript.

“I certainly did,” Finnegan said.

“And as we sit here today do you believe Byron Konschuh stole or embezzled money from the people of Lapeer County?” Acho asked.

“I do,” she said.

Later in the deposition, Finnegan said that Shiawassee County also uses the BounceBack program and that she never sees any of the checks issued. She said the checks are taken to the county’s treasurer’s office where they end up in Shiawassee County’s general fund “and then, of course, you know, my budget comes out of the general fund.”

Later in the deposition, Finnegan provided detail about why she agreed to a plea.

Finnegan testified that “the goal never was to destroy Judge Konschuh’s career, but only to make him acknowledge that he had done something wrong.”

She detailed a March 8, 2016 meeting in Pabst’s office where a deal for Konschuh to plead no contest was reached.

Finnegan said she “didn’t have a problem with that because there was an acknowledgment that the funds, in fact, were public funds, that there was $1,800 taken, that this was a misdemeanor.”

“And I felt that be resolving it in this matter (sic) with a delayed sentence and a dismissal in the end, we could move on, both Shiawassee County and Lapeer County, and put this nightmare behind both counties,” she said.

“Okay. Is what Byron Konschuh eventually pled to a crime?” Acho asked.

“It is,” Finnegan said.

Acho noted that Pabst has stated “multiple times” that Konschuh “never pled to a crime, he only pled to an accounting error. That’s not accurate, is it?”

Pabst objected to the question, but Finnegan answered.

“It’s a crime, and, in fact… the amended information added a count six, which is public official failure to account for county money. It’s a 90-day misdemeanor,” Finnegan noted.

“And that’s what he pled to, correct?” Acho asked.

Finnegan said “it is.”

The deposition also addressed other questions that have been raised.

One of them is the extent to which then-prosecutor Turkelson had any involvement in the case against Konschuh.

Finnegan explained that an MSP investigator had brought her his entire investigation “and it was volumes.”

“We had bank records, we had copies of all of the checks from BounceBack, we knew where they had been deposited — they had been deposited into Mr. Konschuh’s personal checking accounts or into the accounts of his children — so based on all of that information and a very thorough investigation, we made the decision to charge,” Finnegan said.

Acho asked if any of the five individuals being sued by Konschuh spoke with her prior to her decision to charge.

“Absolutely not,” she said.

Konschuh’s attorney later asked about the roles of Turkelson and Biscoe in resolving the matter.

Pabst presented an email written Jan. 20, 2016 to Turkelson in which Finnegan advised him that Pabst and Mike Sharkey (who also represented Konschuh in the matter) “have tentatively proposed a misdemeanor plea (charge to be determined) with a delayed sentence and dismissal if probation is successful. I don’t object, but I won’t offer anything like that unless I have your blessing and John Biscoe’s as well.”

Pasbst asked Finnegan why she would write that to Turkelson.

“Because they were the victims. You know, this is a crime under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. Tim Turkelson’s office is affected by it, so he’s a victim. We normally wouldn’t talk to him at all. So he has to take off his prosecutor hat, put on the victim hat. And John Biscoe as the comptroller for the county is also considered a victim,” Finnegan said.

Pabst asked how Turkelson’s office was affected. Finnegan once again brought up Shiawassee County, noting that there, BounceBack monies go into the general fund “but then it can be funneled back to my office…for supplies and those types of things. So Tim Turkelson’s office lost money as a result of this, even though it was during Byron Konschuh’s stint as the (prosecutor).”

She noted that the county was affected similarly, which is why Biscoe was contacted with regard to a potential deal.

She explained that “under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act I’m supposed to consult with the victims. I can do whatever I want because I’m the prosecutor, but I’m not supposed to do it until I consult with the victims.”

Also addressed during the deposition were questions publicly raised by John Miller and Dana Miller about Finnegan’s motivation to resolve the 2014 case.

As Pabst noted, The County Press reported Aug. 27 that John Miller said in an interview that he believes someone who knows, or is associate of Konschuh and/ or his attorney, filed to run for Shiawassee County Prosecuting Attorney against Finnegan (who was seeking reelection in 2016).

“She’s already lost an election for circuit court judge, and an election for sheriff,” John Miller said at the time. “She needed to win this election to vest for her pension. She wanted one more term as prosecuting attorney and was scared to death to have a challenger.”

Pabst also brought up that Dana Miller told The County Press that she would testify under oath that she called the Shiawassee County Clerk’s office and spoke to a deputy clerk about the filing.

“I called, asked if I need to FOIA, she said ‘Oh I don’t think so, hold on let me talk to the clerk,’” Dana Miller said last August. “She comes back on and say ‘No you don’t need to FOIA, it’s public record, here’s his name, yep, he filed and withdrew on this date.’”

“I said ‘Oh my God,” Dana Miller said. “We couldn’t believe that it was true.”

During Finnegan’s deposition, Pabst to her “there’s no factual support that you’re aware of…to support that?”

“No,” Finnegan said. “He didn’t file until April, so weeks after Judge Konschuh pled.”

Finnegan said her primary motivation, in fact, was the amount of resources being used, citing a “bleeding” taking place in two counties.

“Shiawassee County was bleeding because I was spending a lot of time on this case. Also, our chief judge was visiting in Lapeer County frequently. Lapeer County was without a judge that was still being paid by their taxpayers, so it needed to be resolved,” Finnegan said.

Pabst also asked Finnegan what her response was to John Miller stating on the record that he — as an assistant prosecutor at the time — wishes he’d have brought the charges against Konschuh “then let the judge tell me I couldn’t proceed.” Miller also said he didn’t think justice had been enforced in the case.

Finnegan said she disagreed.

“I think we did achieve justice,” she said. “We had an admission from Judge Konschuh, we put the case behind us, and we all moved on,” she said.

Finnegan continued:

“Granted, had I had it to do over again — hindsight is 20/20 — I would not have let Judge Konschuh have the good deal he did. I blame myself for that. I should have just taken it to trial.”

Finnegan also made no bones about how her feelings on Konschuh’s lawsuit filed against Lapeer County and the five current and former officials.

“It’s frivolous, it’s uncalled for, and an abuse of the system,” she said.

Per a scheduling order from Oakland County Judge Shalina Kumar, the visiting judge overseeing the case, discovery cutoff is March 29, a settlement conference is set for May 31, and a trial date has been set for June 25.

Motions are being heard by Kumar in her Pontiac courtroom, but the trial is scheduled to be in Lapeer.

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