BY BENJAMIN J. GOHS AND CHRIS FAULKNOR
Charlevoix County Prosecutor Allen Telgenhof is once again under scrutiny for his use of county credit.
The Charlevoix County Board of Commissioners—concerned with what appears to be a pattern of improper use—suspended Telgenhof’s credit card privileges and sent the matter to law enforcement officials in recent weeks.
“There is an investigation into possible misuse of a credit card,” said Det. First Lt. Richard Simpson of the Michigan State Police 7th District Headquarters in Gaylord. Simpson said he received the information (on Monday Aug. 14) and that he should have an update on the matter in the coming weeks.
When asked about the current credit card issue, Telgenhof talked about a request by a Charlevoix County resident in 2015 to have a grand jury investigate Telgenhof on a number of allegations including domestic violence and misuse of county credit cards.
Telgenhof said that, since the judge found no reason to form a grand jury, there was no wrongdoing on his part.
“In sum, she stated that I had no intent to defraud anyone, I did not financially benefit from the transactions, and I did not use the card without permission,” Telgenhof told the Boyne City Gazette in a Friday Aug. 18 e-mail. “I am confident that, after the investigation is complete, the outcome will be the same.”
According to documents, obtained by the Boyne City Gazette through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Charlevoix County Clerk’s Office, Telgenhof has again made numerous personal and “inappropriate” purchases using a credit card held by the county.
Minutes from a July 19, 2017 Charlevoix County Personnel/Internal Government Committee meeting claimed Telgenhof owed the county $674 in personal charges he made using the county credit card.
“(Charlevoix County Board Chairman Joel) Evans would like the credit card suspended until his personal charges are paid,” it stated in the minutes. “After the personal charges are paid, the committee will review use of the card with the prosecutor to determine if or when it will be reinstated.”
$48.40 for Hertz car rental – Chippewa County supposed to pay
$18.49 interest for the month
$215.54 – Hertz car rental for a personal trip
$32.75 – Hertz car rental for a personal trip
$9.25 in interest for the month
$149.91 – Enterprise car rental, Chippewa County supposed to pay
$105 – REV transcription services, Chippewa County to pay
$70 – REV transcription services, Chippewa County to pay
$25.25 – interest for the month
Total of $674.59
On July 26, a payment of $223.40 was received from Chippewa County
Balance owed by Telgenhof, at that time, for personal charges was then $451.19.
In an e-mail from Telgenhof, on Tuesday July 25 to the county clerk and board of commissioners, he explained he was working on having the Hertz charges of $248.29 and the Enterprise charges of $149.91 for a total of $398.20 put on a different credit card.
“If these charges are not transferred as I have been promised within the next week, I will pay those amounts directly to the county,” Telgenhof stated. “I have no idea where your figure of $674.30 comes from but I am not paying that amount as under any scenario I do not owe that amount. I assume the difference is related to work I was assigned to do for Chippewa County by the attorney general.”
Involving the Police
The first rash of incidents occurred back in 2014 with nearly a dozen unauthorized charges using county credit and/or taxpayer funds.
The last time this happened, Telgenhof was admonished by the board and required to repay the money … but no further action was taken.
Charlevoix County Commissioner Chris Christensen (R-District 2) said it wasn’t any particular charge but an “ongoing pattern” of violating the county’s credit card policy which has caused the board of commissioners concern enough to involve the law.
“The board’s ultimately responsible for taxpayer money and, in that responsibility, I think we had to ask for another set of eyes to look at this,” said Christensen, who declined to comment in detail on the matter. “At this point, I’m not at liberty to speak on it. Specific questions should be directed to the state police.”
He added, “I don’t want to put anything out there that’s counterproductive.”
The Charlevoix County Sheriff Office was originally asked to look into the matter but—as is the normal course of business—it would be a conflict of interest for the local police to investigate the local prosecutor.
“We were asked to look at it and immediately turned it over to the state police,” said Charlevoix County Sheriff Chuck Vondra, who added, “I don’t think it’s a real clear cut case.”
Sept. 24, 2015 – At the audit committee meeting, Telgenhof’s use of the county credit card for tips on meals was discussed.
“Telgenhof was cautioned and reminded that this has been discussed in the past both verbally and in writing and is not an acceptable practice,” it states in the meeting minutes.
July 2016 – Letter sent to Telgenhof for misuse of credit card.
Sept. 24, 2016 – Audit Committee discussed and addressed inappropriate charges on the prosecutor’s credit card.
April 12, 2017 – Audit Committee denied authorization of badges, at a cost of $329, and a letter was sent requesting contact. No follow-up was made.
April 27, 2017 – Charges on the credit card were addressed, with Charlevoix County Human Resources Director Kevin Shepard to get an explanation from Telgenhof.
May 25, 2017 – County inquired about the bills an contact was made with Chippewa County.
July 12, 2017 – More discussion on the prosecutor’s credit card usage. Telgenhof discussed the matter with county officials. At that time, Telgenhof said a credit for some of the charges was coming and agreed to personally pay any fees generated by the issue.
July 15, 2017 – His line of credit was officially cut off in a July 15, 2017 letter from the Charlevoix County Board of Commissioners to Telgenhof.
“After reviewing the last credit card bill it appears that there were numerous personal and/or charges that are not allowed on county credit cards,” it states in the letter. “Also attached are the audit minutes from Sept. 24, 2015 that indicate you have been cautioned about the use of county credit cards both verbally and in writing.”
The letter further states, “Because this has been an ongoing issue that has been brought to your attention more than once, there is no alternative but to revoke your use of county credit cards effective immediately.”
July 20, 2017 – A letter addressing the board’s decision to suspend Telgenhof’s credit card was sent.
July 26, 2017 – Payment received from Chippewa County.
According to the April 12, 2017 Charlevoix County Audit Committee meeting minutes, a prosecuting attorney’s office credit card bill in the amount of $329 for badges was denied.
According to an April 12, 2017 letter on behalf of the Charlevoix County Board of Commissioners, signed by Evans, the audit committee rejected payment of the charge as inappropriate.
“The audit committee thoroughly discussed and unanimously agreed that the purchase of badges are not necessary to do the job of prosecuting attorney, do not allow additional access to crime scenes and/or courthouses and is not required by law,” it states in the letter. “Therefore, it is this board’s decision that this purchase was an inappropriate use of county funds and is not approved.”
The letter further states, “In accordance with the credit card use policy, any charges determined unacceptable and unapproved are subject to direct deduction from an employee’s pay, loss of credit card privileges and disciplinary/legal action may occur.”
Telgenhof was given until April 24 to pay the bill but, since no contact was made by him on the matter, the $329 was deducted from his pay.
When asked his opinion on the badge matter, Vondra disagreed with the county’s assessment.
“I think all of our prosecutors have had badges,” he said. “You don’t have to like it but it is not unreasonable—most prosecutors do.”
Vondra said there are times when a prosecutor may need to enter a crime scene, and that it is important for them to have official identification.
Credit Card Policy
In 2016, Telgenhof signed a county policy on taxpayer funded credit card usage which states that credit cards are not to be used to purchase meals or to pay for tips or for room service fees. Meals are paid by reimbursement only.
Credit cards are also not to be used for gasoline purchases, as the county reimburses on a mileage basis only.
“If a purchase would not allowably be made on an established county credit account should one be available, then it should not be put on a county credit card,” the policy states. “Any charges determined unacceptable and unapproved for payment by the county will then be deducted from an employee’s paycheck.”
The policy cautions that, “This does not allow for county credit cards to be used as a form of payroll deduction for personal charges—repeat offenders may be looked at for disciplinary and/or legal action.”
During the April 27, 2017 audit committee meeting, the audit committee raised multiple questions—including why a rental car to be paid for by Chippewa County was also being billed by credit card to Charlevoix County.
Evans wanted to know why Charlevoix County was being billed for expenses which Chippewa County likely would have been covering for times when Telgenhof prosecuted cases for them.
Additional questions Evans wanted answered:
• Who and on what date were you appointed to prosecute for another county?
• Number of cases appointed and the expected duration of these cases?
• How much time has/is this removed you from your position as prosecutor?
• Are you receiving any compensation? Pay? Mileage? Reimbursement?
At the May 25, 2017 audit committee meeting, the committee requested verification as to what expenses and compensation have been made to Telgenhof for his services as a visiting attorney in Chippewa County.
“Audit is concerned that Charlevoix County is covering expenses and wages of an employee that is not present and being taken away from his duties to this county on a regular basis,” it states in the audit committee minutes.
Telgenhof responded with documents showing the Michigan Attorney General’s Office authorized him to prosecute the cases in question.
Suspension of Credit
A letter regarding the suspension of Telgenhof’s county credit card was sent on July 20, 2017 from the Personnel/Internal Government Committee.
“The internal government committee reviewed the outstanding balances on the county credit card for your department. After review of the outstanding car rental charges we instructed the clerk’s office to contact both Hertz and Enterprise to find when credits would be issued for use of the wrong card on these outstanding charges and were told that credits would not be issued as they were unaware that an incorrect card had been used and it was already processed with the county credit card.,” the letter states.
“There was nothing that either company could do at this point. Presently there are charges totaling $674.30 that have been determined to be personal expenses. The internal government committee has suspended the prosecutor’s credit card until all of the personal charges are paid. After the personal charges are paid the committee will review the use of the card directly with you to determine if/or when it will be reinstated.”
According to the clerk’s office, Telgenhof has repaid all the fees in question.