Lawsuit alleges election fraud in Macomb

By: Robert Guttersohn | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published July 24, 2012

MACOMB TOWNSHIP — A lawsuit alleging election fraud on the part of Township Clerk Michael Koehs and current Trustee Janet Dunn, who is also a candidate for supervisor, is based on research conducted by their political opponents’ campaigns, according to township records and court documents.

The plaintiff in the two-count lawsuit, township resident Mark Maiuri, claims Dunn’s nominating petition for supervisor contains more than 50 invalid signatures.

The second count claims the township is refusing to release a complaint letter that a former township Parks and Recreation Department employee, identified in the lawsuit as Jordon Gross, wrote to the supervisor after employees within the department forced him to resign for not signing Dunn’s nominating petition.

Macomb County Clerk Carmella Sabaugh is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which was filed July 19 in Macomb County Circuit Court.

The lawsuit asks the court to direct the defendants to conduct an “immediate investigation into the validity of the petitions and genuineness of those petitions’ signatures.”

“With the lawsuit and the information filed, it becomes crystal clear why I am running for township clerk,” Imbronone said in a press release. “For too long special favors and insider dealing has been the norm in Macomb Township Hall. It now appears that when given the opportunity, Township Clerk Michael Koehs looked the other way to protect a political ally. He failed to do his job and protect the citizens of this community.”

“After reading the expert’s report, it is now clear that Janet Dunn’s candidacy is fraudulent,” supervisor candidate Charles Missig said in a statement. “It now appears that she never had enough valid signatures to qualify to run for supervisor.”

Supervisor Mark Grabow joined the fray days later with a press release calling for an investigation into the accusations by Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith and the Michigan State Police.

“I am appalled that Mr. Koehs and Mrs. Dunn would go so far to secure their political futures as to conspire in voter fraud,” Grabow said. “Oftentimes, elected officials need to be reminded that they are not entitled to hold office, but rather it is a privilege.”

Both the Missig and Grabow press releases call for Dunn to withdraw from the race.

Dunn and Koehs both deny the fraud claim. Dunn said the lawsuit was completely unexpected, and she does not know Gross. “I have never seen any letter,” she said of the complaint letter Gross allegedly wrote to Grabow.

“We always err on the side of the voter,” Koehs said about determining whether a voter’s signature on an application matches their signature registered in the Michigan voter database. He said in some cases, a person’s registered signature is old and has changed slightly since registering for the first time compared with their current signature. He also said that voters signing the petition are writing on a clipboard, oftentimes at odd angles.

When Koehs was served with the lawsuit, he said his office began to look over the petitions. It was then that he discovered “Mickey Mouse” signed one of the nominating petitions certified by his opponent for clerk, Imbronone.

The lawsuit itself and township records point to signs that the litigation was researched by political aides for Imbronone’s and Missig’s campaigns rather than one township resident.

A letter from a handwriting expert attached to the lawsuit is addressed to John Johnson, a local political consultant who is running both Missig’s and Imbronone’s campaigns, but not named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The Freedom of Information Act request log with the township shows not Maiuri, but Mary Jo Imbronone — sister of the candidate for clerk — requested Dunn’s and Koeh’s nominating petitions. She also is not named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed the same day as a Macomb Township meet-the-candidates forum held at the Clinton-Macomb Public Library in Clinton Township and just weeks away from the Aug. 7 Republican primary. Mary Jo Imbronone gave the media the lawsuit and press releases from Missig and Imbronone in response to the lawsuit’s allegations.

Johnson, in a phone interview, said he met Maiuri through the plaintiff volunteering with the campaigns.

Johnson, who is also president of the Macomb Business Alliance, said he became suspicious of Dunn’s petition when she filed as a candidate for both trustee and supervisor, and then dropped her bid for trustee on the last day she was eligible to do so, but still had enough signatures to run for supervisor by the May 15 deadline.

Johnson said when he obtained her petition signatures, he saw that the name Salvatore A. DiCaro on two different sheets and recognized with his untrained eye that two different people wrote his name on the petition. A subsequent examination by a handwriting expert determined that 15 of Dunn’s 18 petition forms had irregularities, according to records attached to the lawsuit.

Johnson said he handed the expert’s findings to Maiuri, who in turn sued Koehs and the county clerk for accepting the petitions. The lawsuit claims Maiuri received the petition on May 15 and “commenced an in-depth formal investigation that uncovered extensive fraud.”

The dates and names on the township’s FOIA request log do not match those claims.

According to the log, Mary Jo Imbronone was the only person to request Dunn’s nominating petition, and she made the request on May 21, six days after the lawsuit says it was received and one day shy of the seven-day window Michigan allows people to challenge with the county the validity of petition signatures.

Also, the dates on the handwriting examiner’s letter to Johnson show that the petitions were not sent to the examiner until June 12 and were returned to Johnson three days later.

Yet Maiuri contends the reason it took so long to file a complaint was because “the level of the fraud was so extensive that the investigation justifiably took longer to conduct and was thus beyond the statutory seven-day time frame,” the lawsuit said.

The second count of the lawsuit claims that Gross “was forced by township officers to write a resignation letter for refusing to engage in certain conduct and observing township employees sign nominating petitions for certain candidates on township time for election to Macomb Township public office.”

After being fired, Gross wrote a letter of complaint to Grabow, the lawsuit alleges. Maiuri filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the township to obtain a copy of the letter, which was later denied. Attached to the lawsuit is a letter from a township legal consultant to Koehs recommending the township not release the Gross letter.

“In short, the letter could be libelous and damaging to innocent people, and it should not be the township’s position to be the further purveyor of such a communication,” wrote Albert Addis, legal counsel to the township.

“If the letter is no big deal, then why not release it?” Johnson questioned.

Koehs said Maiuri’s FOIA request was one of 14 requests for the letter.

“It clearly is an attempt to overburden our office during our busiest time of the year,” Koehs said.