Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 10, 2011

Prosecutor won't file charges in Meijer case

Probe had focused on allegations of perjury

BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY
bmcgillivary@record-eagle.com

TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County's prosecutor won't file criminal charges related to Meijer Inc.'s illegal campaign activities in two Acme Township elections because the possible crime he probed occurred in another jurisdiction.

"I'm done," Prosecutor Alan Schneider said on Friday. "I'm not going to pursue it."

Schneider said the late stages of his investigation, including a sealed investigative subpoena, focused on allegations of perjury against former Meijer attorney Timothy Stoepker of Dickinson Wright PLLC in Grand Rapids.

Stoepker testified under oath in a 2007 videotaped lawsuit deposition that he had no knowledge of Meijer's clandestine involvement in a 2005 referendum election in Acme Township. But documents that arose during that suit indicated otherwise, and a witness served with an investigative subpoena confirmed Stoepker's involvement, Schneider said.

Stoepker did not return messages left at his office on Friday. His attorney would not comment.

Schneider said he can't file charges because the alleged perjury didn't occur in Grand Traverse County. Stoepker's deposition in a 2007 lawsuit against Meijer by former Acme Treasurer Bill Boltres took place in Grand Rapids.

"It maybe should have occurred to me that it took place elsewhere, but the way it was presented, we just assumed it was Grand Traverse County," Schneider said.

Boltres' suit against Meijer was filed in 13th Circuit Court in Grand Traverse County. Meijer turned over documents after Stoepker's deposition that confirmed the retailer's illegal role in the 2005 Acme election.

Meijer paid more than $190,000 in state fines and $4.2 million to settle civil lawsuits, but never faced criminal charges.

"I don't have any regrets," Schneider said. "Some citizens made a complaint, we followed up on it for three-and-a-half years, and we litigated the issues. You don't always get what you want."

The Meijer saga could shift locales -- to the Kent County prosecutor for potential criminal follow-up, and to the state attorney grievance commission, which probes allegations of wrongdoing committed by lawyers.

"Ethically, (Schneider) has an obligation to report to the grievance commission if he has knowledge of wrongdoing," said Traverse City attorney Mike Dettmer, past president of the Michigan Bar Association. "He needs to forward his findings because there is already a pending investigation against Stoepker."

Detroit attorney Matthew Abel filed a grievance commission complaint against Stoepker in 2008 after he learned that Stoepkers contracted with a public relations firm, now known as SeyferthPR, to work clandestinely on behalf of Meijer to recall the Acme board in 2007. The same public relations firm worked with Meijer and communicated with Stoepker on the 2005 referendum.

Abel said his grievance commission complaint remains open.

"It's been three years and no one has been held accountable," Abel said.

Schneider said he's obligated to forward his criminal case findings to Kent County because he believes a crime occurred during Stoepker's deposition testimony. He'll wait to speak with 13th Circuit Court Judge Philip Rodgers, who presided over the original lawsuit, before sending anything to the grievance commission.

Paul Brink, spokesman for Concerned Citizens of Acme Township, said members of his group are disappointed no additional steps can be taken locally.

"It's certainly our hope the matter is not dropped and the prosecutor in Kent County will pick it up from here," Brink said. "The record shows (Stoepker) ... was not just aware of the covert electioneering in Acme, but he was a participant."