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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Police Corruption Testimony Focuses on Alleged False Docs

Romulus police corruption testimony focuses on alleged false receipts, informant 
The Detroit News by Candice William  -  April 24, 2012

Romulus, MI— Allegations of falsified payment receipts for a confidential informant, sex acts during undercover work and fake receipts for Subway sandwiches were the focus Tuesday as a preliminary exam continued on corruption charges for the city's former police chief and five officers of a special investigation unit. Former police chief Michael St. Andre, his wife, Sandra Vlaz-St. Andre, and officers Richard Balzer, Richard Landry, Donald Hopkins, Jeremy Channells and Larry Droege are accused of misusing more than $100,000 in drug forfeiture funds from January 2006 through September 2011. Judge James K. Kersten of 33rd District Court is presiding over the preliminary exam, which was in its second day Tuesday, at Van Buren Township Hall. A confidential informant Tuesday testified that unbeknownst to him, St. Andre and Balzer falsified payment receipts for work he said he didn't perform. St. Andre or Balzer then submitted those receipts for payment, prosecutors alleged. The informant said that he began working with the Romulus Police Department in 2001 as an informant after he was arrested for a federal drug offense. After working with police for a few years, the informant said the charges were dropped against him in December 2005. The informant testified that after the charges were dropped, he continued to work for the Romulus Police Department for pay. He typically signed for his payments, which were of varying amounts, he said. The informant said that in early 2009, he was contacted by Michigan State Police to identify and provide his signature. He said at the time he "wasn't privy what the nature of the investigation being done by the Michigan State Police." The informant testified that two receipts in particular noted dates for days he remembers not working or receiving payments — his wedding day and a day he was in North Carolina for a wedding. He said St. Andre, who was a witness at his wedding, requested payment for $200 for a discussion on a cocaine deal at the Whiskey Bar & Grill. The informant said that he didn't receive any money that day and the visit to the Whiskey Bar & Grill was "to celebrate my marriage that had just occurred."

During a brief portion of the testimony Tuesday, the informant accused Balzer, Landry, Channells and Droege of at least once participating in sex acts with strippers during undercover assignments at the Landing Strip in Romulus or at Subi's Place in Southgate. The informant said St. Andre was aware that the Michigan State Police had contacted him and that in February 2009, St. Andre met with him at the used car dealership where he worked in Ypsilanti and gave him $500. "Mike said, 'Here's $500. You don't have to do anything. We'll mark it down that you went into the Play House (strip club),' " the informant said. "He said I could say I went in the night before." Defense attorney Todd Lanctot pointed out the informant's lack of record-keeping regarding when and how much he was paid for his work with the police department. He asked the informant for the highest sum he had ever made from the department, as well as other questions the informant admitted he couldn't answer with certainty. "You don't know how many times you worked, you don't know how much money you got paid and you don't know how much money you made," Lanctot said. Earlier Tuesday, Mahmoud Farha, manager of a Subway shop in Romulus, testified that in the beginning of 2006, St. Andre asked him to give him a "bigger receipt" after making a purchase. He said the procedure became routine in his dealings with the police department. "Whoever came in, whoever paid, I just gave them a bigger receipt," Farha said. Farha testified that he first began to provide the officers with larger receipts from other customer's transactions and later would create and provide officers with preliminary receipts for larger purchases they did not make. He was asked to stop providing the receipts in 2010, he said. Lanctot took issue with Farha's testimony, pointing out that he could not remember what the officers ordered from the restaurant years ago. St. Andre faces 10 charges, including conducting a criminal enterprise and acquiring or maintaining a criminal enterprise. Vlaz-St. Andre is charged with acquiring or maintaining a criminal enterprise and conspiracy criminal enterprise. St. Andre and Vlaz-St. Andre face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Balzer, Landry and Hopkins face up to 20 years in prison on charges including conducting a criminal enterprise and conspiracy to conduct a criminal enterprise and embezzlement. Channells and Droege face up to five years on misconduct in office charges. The preliminary exam is expected to include about 20 witnesses and take three weeks to complete. (313) 222-2311

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