BEULAH — The small, tan space heater central to a felony embezzlement case took center stage in a Benzie County courtroom as Honor Village President Dennis Rodzik recounted the heater’s purchase and predicted its future.
“At the end of the day, it’s going to be destroyed,” Rodzik said.
Rodzik was acquitted Wednesday of a charge of embezzlement by a public official over $50 in 19th Circuit Court when a jury found him not guilty of the crime. Rodzik’s burst of applause and an audience member’s sobs of relief followed Judge David Thompson’s reading of the verdict.
Rodzik was accused of purchasing the heater, wrenches and epoxy for his personal use with the Village of Honor’s money.
The trial was the end to just one of the controversies surrounding Rodzik. He faces a recall election May 3, in which voters will choose between Rodzik or Honor Village Trustee William Ward for the village president post. Rodzik also is involved in an ongoing case in which he accused village trustees Richard Fast, Kathy McManus and Ward of violating the state’s Open Meetings Act.
The embezzlement case was simply a matter of political dispute between a fractured village council, said Rodzik’s attorney Craig Elhart. He asked jurors not to let a small-town argument become a criminal conviction.
He set a black, plastic coffee pot on the jury stand to illustrate what he called the “tempest in the teapot” mentality.
“We’ve got everyone inside here arguing about what should have been done, and outside nobody cares,” he said, placing his hand on the pot.
Rodzik took the witness stand to detail events leading to the purchases. He said he bought the heater last year after returning from a trip to Florida to find his furnace out and pipes frozen. He said he intended to borrow the village’s heater, but found one of the two village-owned heaters outdated and unsafe. He said he purchased a new one, took it home, but intended to return it to the village to replace the one he considered unsafe.
Rodzik described the contention he encountered in his relationship with Doug Durkee, the village maintenance employee. He said Durkee brought his personal tools to the village instead of purchasing new tools, which was within his power.
That’s why Rodzik claimed he purchased a set of wrenches.
“The tools we have in our village hall, it’s embarrassing,” he said.
Rodzik used the tools to work on his Pontiac Bonneville, which he said he uses for his duties as village president. The tools were kept in the village’s garage.
Benzie County Prosecutor Sara Swanson asked jurors at the end of the trial to put politics aside. She argued Rodzik purchased the items with village money for his personal use, without gaining approval of the full village council. The village had no use for the items, she said.
“What this is about is a village official who abused his power,” Swanson said.