Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 21, 2011

Judge says Meijer's lead attorney lied

'I have an ethical responsibility to report it'

BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY
bmcgillivary@record-eagle.com

TRAVERSE CITY — The circuit court judge who oversaw all litigation involving Meijer Inc. and Acme Township said the retailer's lead attorney lied under oath.

Thirteenth Circuit Court Judge Philip Rodgers joined Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Alan Schneider in allegations of perjury against Grand Rapids attorney Timothy Stoepker to the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission.

"I believe it occurred, and I have an ethical responsibility to report it," Rodgers said.

Stoepker, of Dickinson Wright PLLC, represented Meijer in its dispute with Acme Township over a proposed store on M-72. The Grand Rapids-area retailer individually sued township officials and threatened them with financial ruin. Stoepker was called to testify in a countersuit filed by former Acme Treasurer William Boltres in 2007 over which Rodgers presided.

Asked during the deposition how big a role Meijer played in the two Acme Township elections, court documents said Stoepker responded: "I have no knowledge of that at all."

Investigative materials compiled by Schneider not only indicate Stoepker knew about it but "that he was involved in it," Rodgers said.

Neither Stoepker nor his attorney, Roger Wotila, of Cadillac, responded to requests for comment.

Schneider also sent his allegation of perjury, a felony, to Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth last week after determining Stoepker's testimony took place in Forsyth's jurisdiction.

The perjury allegation is the last possible criminal charge that can be filed after Schneider determined there was not enough evidence to charge Meijer or any of its employees or agents with a misdemeanor related to campaign finance violations. The corporation paid a $190,000 fine to the state, plus more than $4 million to settle lawsuits filed by township officials.

Schneider's evidence of perjury included: a copy of Stoepker's testimony; billing documents; the contract signed by Stoepker when he hired a public relations firm to influence a 2005 election; statements filed by Meijer with the Secretary of State detailing Dickinson Wright's involvement in a 2007 recall election; and a statement from Eileen McNeil, vice president of the public relations firm now known as SeyferthPR.

McNeil's statement, obtained by Schneider through an investigative subpoena, acknowledged Stoepker was her main contact with Meijer as she orchestrated her clandestine election campaigns.

Forsyth's office said it won't determine what to do with the referral until next week, at the earliest.

"We just all of a sudden got this out of the blue," said Chris Becker, chief assistant prosecutor in Kent County. "We just started to look into it."

Denny Rohn, president of Concerned Citizens of Acme Township and a part-time resident of Grand Rapids, said she's not concerned about Meijer's political influence on its home turf.

"It's a simple perjury charge. We know exactly what he said; he lied and should be held accountable," Rohn said. "Some justice should occur in this, and Tim Stoepker was obviously a ringleader and needs to be made accountable for what he did."