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Law Enforcement Forfeiture Corruption Scandal in Michigan Includes Police Chief

The former chief of police in Romulus, Michigan, his wife and five detectives have been charged with dozens of criminal offenses related to their alleged misuse of funds seized under forfeiture laws. Romulus is located just outside Detroit, in Wayne County.

Ex-police chief Michael C. St. Andre, 50; his wife Sandra Kay Vlaz-St. Andre, 50; Detective Sgt. Richard Allan Balzer, 50; Detective Richard Bruce Landry, 39; Detective Jeremy J. Channells, 35; Detective Larry R. Droege, 32; and Detective Donald R. Hopkins, 38, face felony charges that include embezzlement, misconduct in office, obstruction of justice and conducting a criminal enterprise.

The police officials are accused of spending at least $40,000 in drug forfeiture funds to pay for marijuana, prostitutes and alcohol while conducting an “investigation” into Michigan Liquor Control Commission violations, prostitution and drug dealing at two strip clubs – Subi’s Place in Southgate and the Landing Strip Bar in Romulus. St. Andre is accused of knowing about the detectives’ criminal activities and using $75,000 in forfeiture money to purchase a tanning salon for his wife, who was charged with receiving and concealing stolen property.

The detectives were assigned to the police department’s Special Investigation Unit (SIU). However, their illicit conduct was concealed from the SIU supervisor and they reported directly to St. Andre.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy said the misuse of the forfeiture funds occurred from January 2006 until September 2011, when St. Andre, his wife and the five detectives were arrested. The investigation began in January 2009 after a “highly placed” police official asked the Michigan State Police to investigate misuse of forfeiture money and false drug informant payments. Investigators discovered that the detectives were falsifying police reports and pocketing funds that were supposed to be used to pay informants.

“In April 2010, State Police brought the investigation to us,” said Worthy, who noted that the FBI also assisted in the investigation.

When the investigation was made public, St. Andre said it involved allegations of detectives not paying informants properly. He later admitted that he was the focus of the investigation. St. Andre took an almost seven-week leave, returned to work and then turned himself in one day before he resigned in September 2011. The five detectives were suspended without pay pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.

District Judge Brian Oakley ordered all the defendants to surrender their passports. He set St. Andre’s bond at $25,000, with bonds of $20,000 for Balzer, Landry and Hopkins, and $5,000 for Vlaz-St. Andre, Channells and Droege.

In September 2012, the defendants were bound over for trial on the felony charges in Detroit’s 3rd Circuit Court.

“The alleged conduct of the former Romulus police chief, his wife and the 5 detectives in this case defines a culture of corruption and greed at its core,” Worthy stated. The defendants have not yet gone to trial.

Sources: Detroit News; Detroit Free Press; press release from Wayne County, Michigan prosecutor’s office (Sept. 26, 2012)

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