A look at Charlevoix Prosecutor Allen Telgenhof’s tax-funded credit card spending

telgenhof credit card

 

Benjamin J. Gohs

News Editor

Charlevoix County Prosecuting Attorney Allen Telgenhof has been warned to stop using taxpayer money to make personal purchases.

The matter was addressed in an Aug. 13, 2014 letter from Charlevoix County Board of Commissioners Chairman Joel Evans to Telgenhof.

“Dear Allen, the audit committee met this morning and reviewed vouchers. Your credit card voucher shows that you have used it for personal use and that is not allowed, even if you pay the personal charges,” Evans stated in the letter. “County credit cards are for county use only.”

He further stated, “It was also not submitted for payment timely and you will personally have to pay the late charge of $25. Please remit the $25 to the clerk’s office.”

When reached for comment, Telgenhof explained via e-mail—on Saturday Feb. 28—that he never expected the county to pay for any of his personal charges.

“The county has not spent one dime on any personal item for me or my staff,” said Telgenhof. “Political opponents have used multiple FOIA requests and complaints to the board of commissioners, Attorney General’s office, Charlevoix school board of education and other entities, such as your newspaper, to try to discredit me without success.”

The prosecuting attorney’s county Visa card, issued through Charlevoix State Bank, has a credit/cash limit of $2,500, and carries an APR interest rate of 15.9 percent.

“I’m not sure it would be constructive or illuminating to go through each of the charges, again because I never asked the county to pay for any of them, with the exception of the coffee pot,” Telgenhof stated… “My predecessor had purchased a coffee pot and coffee through the office budget and I believed that, based upon past practice, this was permissible.”

He added, “I confirmed this with the county clerk who advised me that I could purchase these items through an account managed by the (prosecutor’s) office which was not funded by tax dollars (but) rather by defendants’ payment of costs of prosecution. After I purchased the item, as was approved, the audit committee rejected the charge and told me that I would have to pay it personally, which I promptly did.”

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Personal charges made by Telgenhof using the county’s credit card or county funds, and late fees incurred, are as follows:

Nov. 29, 2013 – Charlevoix State Bank delinquent payment notice – $20 (Includes the note: “This is going to have to be paid out of P.A.’s budget.”)

Dec. 17, 2014 – Shell Oil of Charlevoix – $7.29 (Document says “Allen paid back with cash.”)

March 23, 2014 – Microsoft Xbox Live – $3.96

April 8, 2014 – Visa late fee on a statement with a balance of $334.79 – $25

June 15, 2014 – Microsoft Xbox Live – $5.29

June 19, 2014 – Mackinac Island Grand Hotel (gratuity) – $4

June 21, 2014 – Marathon Petroleum of Charlevoix – $17.24

July 6, 2014 – Glen’s Markets of Charlevoix – $69.81

July 6, 2014 – Shell Oil of Charlevoix – $25.57

Aug. 29, 2014 – Mackinac Island Grand Hotel, five room service charges @ $5 per – $25

Aug. 29, 2014 – Mackinac Island Grand Hotel, mini bar – $7.42 + $13.69 – $21.11 (total)

Undated – Coffee pot of undetermined cost purchased with funds managed by prosecuting attorney’s office that come from fees paid by citizens who are prosecuted.

When asked why he would use a municipal credit card for any personal purchases, Telgenhof responded thusly:

“For gas, for example, I paid for it on the county credit card then submitted a voucher for the mileage. It wasn’t personal use, it was county use, they just objected to the use of the county credit card for it,” Telgenhof stated… “I was getting reimbursed for mileage, so instead of me fronting the money and being reimbursed I use the credit card and use my reimbursement to pay the credit card bill.”

Telgenhof said the Xbox Live charge occurred because he purchased his office subscription for his office computer using the county credit card. That card was then added to his Microsoft account and e-mail as method of payment and, when he realized that had occurred, he paid the charges and had the account changed.

“There were times I purchased things for the office using the county credit card but then when the bill arrive(d) either didn’t have the receipt or thought it was a gray area and paid for them myself,” Telgenhof stated. “For example, for Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, I bought cakes for each police department.”

He added, “I believe I may have used the county credit card upfront but, (w)hen the bill arrived, paid it personally.”

As far as late fees are concerned, Telgenhof said he is unsure how that happened.

“The late fee had nothing to do with proper usage of the county credit card. It had to do with processing the bill between my office and the clerk’s office,” Telgenhof stated. “Though I personally did not delay anything, I took responsibility and personally paid the charge.”
He also stated, “My understanding is that the bill goes first to the clerk’s office then to my office where my staff breaks down each charge by budget line item then comes to me for approval then back to the clerk’s office for payment. I don’t know where the breakdown was but I personally paid the late fee out of my own pocket.”
The Boyne City Gazette asked Telgenhof if he felt the public could trust him with taxpayer money and to properly prosecute those who mishandle public and private funds.

“I am not aware of any citizens who feel that way except for the fringe group … who continue to dig for any opportunity to criticize me and my office,” Telgenhof stated. “This is a political issue being brought about by someone with an ax to grind.”

The Freedom Of Information Act request for the documents relating to Telgenhof’s county credit card usage were originally filed by Bay Township resident Bob Taylor.

Telgenhof said his political enemies are also to blame for controvery surrounding the matter of a lawsuit involving his purchase of $3,900 in uniforms, without permission of the school, for the baseball team he coaches.

The details of the lawsuit are contained in an e-mail exchange between Telgenhof and former Superintendent of Charlevoix Public Schools Robert Gendron.

“I understand (plaintiff) came in to see you. He apparently filed a small claims case against me and the school, though I haven’t been served with it yet. He claims I owe his business $3,900,” Telgenhof stated in a Wednesday June 26, 2013 e-mail to Gendron.

Telgenhof went on to explain that he and the former owner of a sports apparel business had an agreement wherein Telgenhof would provide the man with legal services in exchange for “baseball printing.” Then, when the man had financial problems, his father took over the business and billed Telgenhof for all the work he had done over the past year.

“The bottom line is that the baseball program—which I run the finances through a nonprofit that I formed, Charlevoix Baseball Inc.—owes that business some money, nowhere near the $3,900 he is claiming, but some money to be sure. (Plaintiff) owes me, and my old firm, some money.”

Telgenhof explained to Gendron that he wanted to resolve the situation but that the baseball program only had “maybe $100.”

“I didn’t hold back the money because we raise that money to go toward the kids, obviously,” Telgenhof stated. “I am wondering if there is any way that the school would consider ‘fronting’ the money or some of it to these guys and we’ll pay it back through the sign fundraiser next year.”

• Gendron responded in a July 1, 2013 e-mail.

“Throughout this year, I have refused to pay bills when the proper procedure for purchasing has not been followed. Our district is strapped financially and this magnifies the need to follow these purchasing procedures so there is no surprises at the end of the year,” Gendron stated. “At this time, I do not feel comfortable fronting money for a bill that has not followed correct purchasing procedure and is from the 2011-2012 baseball season.”
He further stated, “I would ask that you take care of this immediately and work out an arrangement with (plaintiff) for payment. It will not look favorable for the district, the baseball program, or your future as a coach if the district is named in a law suit it had no knowledge of.”

• Telgenhof then responded that he “resolved things” and that the law suit would be dismissed.

“I want to assure you and the board that I did follow purchasing procedures properly,” Telgenhof stated. “Since the items were ordered through an outside group—Charlevoix Baseball, Inc.—there was no P.O. and no payment made or expected by the school. The school was brought into this dispute as a pressure tactic and, obviously, it worked.”
He added, “I am going to dissolve that nonprofit and work completely through the school activity account, with P.O.s, in the future.”

Evans did not respond to the Boyne City Gazette’s request for comment by press time.