By: Benjamin J. Gohs, News Editor
Fewer than three months after having charges dropped against him for allegedly overcharging and placing false liens on some of his customers, Boyne Falls water provider Dennis Lee Hass,53, is once again facing similar charges.
Charlevoix County Prosecuting Attorney officials dropped the charges earlier this spring in order to allow for an appraisal of Dennis Hass’ Walloon Lake Water System which serves nearly 240 customers with water utilities in Charlevoix County. The charges were also dropped due to a negotiation on a plea deal which failed.
Now with more information on the investigation, Dennis Hass’ wife Kathleen L. Hass, 49, is also being charged in connection with what investigators say amounts to a husband and wife racketeering scheme wherein customers were allegedly overcharged for water and forced to pay for water in advance of its use.
Charlevoix County Prosecutor John Jarema said both Dennis and Kathleen were expected to be arraigned on three counts of racketeering and two counts of false lien on Tuesday June 26.
Racketeering is a felony that carries a 20-year sentence and/or $100,000 in fines.
The false lien charges are felonies and could carry sentences of three years in prison and/or $5,000 in fines if Dennis and Kathleen are found guilty.
County 1: Conducting criminal enterprises – being a person employed by or associated with Walloon Lake Water System, Dennis Lee Hass and Kathleen L Hass are alleged to have directly or indirectly participated in a “pattern of racketeering activity” between Jan. 1, 2000 and June 11, 2012 in Walloon Lake and Melrose Township, according to police documents.
“Defendant’s did commit the following offense for financial gain, to wit: did maliciously threaten to injure the person or property of (victim 1) with intent to thereby extort money or any pecuniary advantage whatever or to compel the person so threatened to do or refrain from doing an act against his will,” the police complaint stated. “And, on or about Jan. 1, 2000 through June 6, 2012, in Walloon Lake and Melrose Township … defendants did commit the following offense for financial gain, to wit: did maliciously threaten to injure the person or property of (victim 2) to thereby extort money … or compel the person so threatened to do or refrain from doing an act against his will.”
In all at least 10 people are named as alleged victims of the Hass couple.
According to the Charlevoix County Sheriff Office’s affidavit of probable cause, though rare, this type of private water utility service is allowed since the State of Michigan deregulated water utilities in 1996.
The deregulation allows for rules, regulations, rates and fees to be imposed by the water provider at its sole discretion.
Some of the alleged illegal acts include a claim that some customers were forced to pay water bills which had been accrued by people who had owned property previous to the new owners.
Another allegation includes a property owner who requested the water to be shut off as he was leaving the state, but he allegedly continued to be billed at the regular water usage rate for 6,500 gallons of water.
“The bill was incurred although the service had been disconnected and no one occupied the building,” the affidavit stated.
Other allegations include Walloon Lake Water Systems forcing customers to purchase new meters unnecessarily and at a significant price mark-up, and that the water utility often did not follow the legal requirements of the tariff which oversees the agreements between customer and provider.
Some customers were forced to pay for their water usage one year in advance.