Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees candidate faces judge for sign theft

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published September 21, 2020


BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP — A candidate for the Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees appeared before a judge Sept. 11 on charges of stealing campaign signs.

Resident Don Valente is accused of swiping campaign signs from the southbound corner of Telegraph Road, at Long Lake Road, July 20. The misdemeanor charge, a larceny less than $200, is punishable by 93 days in jail and/or $500, or three times the value of the property stolen, whichever is greater.

According to reports from the Bloomfield Township Police Department, Valente was spotted by township staff pulling signs out of the ground from several spots in the area and loading them up into a black minivan.

Township staff was allegedly able to identify Valente on sight, and after an investigation, officers learned that a vehicle matching the description of the van was registered to him in the Law Enforcement Information Network.

Officers went to investigate at Valente’s home and found a black Dodge minivan parked in the driveway and a stack of campaign signs leaning against the front of the home, partially concealed by bushes.

“All of the signs were assembled with the metal stakes attached. The stakes were rusty or dirty at the bottom. It should be noted that there was another stack of signs, up against the house in clear view, for (primary township treasurer candidate) Mark Antakli. These signs were assembled and all appeared to be new. There was no rust or dirt on the bottom of the stakes,” Officer Nicholas Soley said in an incident report. “Both (Tom) Smyly and (Eric) Pernie stated that they have had signs missing after placing them out in the public. Both Smyly and Pernie stated that no signs were given to Don Valente.”

The signs reportedly belonged to Smyly, a candidate for township clerk; Pernie, a candidate for township trustee; Neal Barnett, an incumbent candidate for trustee; Brian Kepes, an unopposed candidate for township clerk; and Leo Savoie, current supervisor and a candidate for township clerk who lost his bid during the August primary.

As to avoid a conflict of interest, the department turned the investigation over to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, and after further investigation, a warrant for Valente’s arrest was ultimately issued in mid-August.

Valente was arraigned before Magistrate Julie Nelson-Klein, of Oakland County’s 48th District Court. He was given a $10,000 personal bond, and a pretrial date with Judge Diane D’Agostini has been ordered but hadn’t been set as of the Eagle’s press time.

As part of the bond, Valente was ordered not to return to the Bloomfield Township offices, or to contact Barnett, Pernie, Smyly, Savoie, Kepes or incumbent candidate Trustee Michael Schostak.

Barnett, for one, said the incident hasn’t impacted his campaign, and he lauded the township staff for its professionalism to keep politics out of daily operations.

“This is the candidate that stated ‘trustee means trust,’” Barnett said of Valente.

According to a police document, Savoie was the one to alert the police chief that senior center staff had told Savoie they had seen signs being stolen. The document lists property belonging to Kepes.

Valente’s attorney, Michael Szymanski, emailed a response to the matter.

 “I believe the larceny complaint filed by Supervisor Leo Savoie and Treasurer Brian Kepes against my client Don Valente (who is a candidate for a Bloomfield Township Trustee position) is just as frivolous as their SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) lawsuit against Valerie Murray (who is also a candidate for a Trustee position). I expect the complaint against Mr. Don Valente will be dismissed as was the complaint against Valerie Murray. Because the matter is in litigation, I will not discuss the specifics of the case,” he said.

Szymanski referred to a lawsuit filed earlier this summer by Savoie and Kepes against the social media website Nextdoor as well as two residents, including Murray, alleging they had utilized the platform to bully and spread political misinformation. In early August, the residents were dismissed from the suit by the Oakland County Circuit Court.

Asked about the attorney’s comment, Savoie said Szymanski was “delusional.” Savoie said he technically didn’t file the complaint — only reached out to police on behalf of a citizen who reported witnessing the incident in progress.

Valente did not respond to requests for comment before press time.