TRAVERSE CITY — A judge took no action in a restitution hearing in the criminal case against former Grand Traverse County Jail Administrator Todd Ritter, but said the issue could be one for an appellate attorney.
The hearing Friday in front of 13th Circuit Court Chief Judge Kevin Elsenheimer had an unusual genesis, as recounted by Ritter’s attorney, Shawn Worden.
Chuck Welch, a supervisor with the Michigan Department of Corrections, told Worden he’d been contacted by Grand Traverse County Sheriff Tom Bensley, who had indicated to Welch that the financial debt charged to Ritter as part of his sentencing wasn’t correct.
Ritter had a 20-plus-year history with the sheriff’s department when he was forced to resign April 11, 2019, after an internal investigation found lewd text messages and explicit photographs of former inmates on his department-issued cellphone and laptop, the Record-Eagle previously reported.
Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg tasked the Michigan State Police to investigate, then filed a request with the state’s Attorney General’s office asking for a special prosecutor.
Assistant Attorney General Danielle Hagaman-Clark prosecuted the case, Ritter accepted a plea agreement and in January was sentenced by Elsenheimer to 16 months to 10 years in prison.
Ritter was also ordered to pay $11,307 in restitution — the amount of which was the subject of the hearing, requested not by Worden, as Elsenheimer initially understood, but rather by the MDOC.
An appeal would be of the sentence, not of the plea agreement, Worden said.
Hagaman-Clark said the amount was appropriate.
“I filed an extensive memorandum in this matter with the court prior to the sentencing back in January,” Hagaman-Clark said, referencing specific portions of that document.
“I stand by that today,” she added. “I didn’t come up with those $9,300 on my own. When asked what it cost the county, this was information provided to us in terms of all the different things defendant Ritter misappropriated, embezzled, whatever word you choose to use.”
At issue is $7,540 of the $11,307 in the restitution order, which Worden said may be inappropriate, though he also acknowledged he did not object to the amount at the sentencing hearing.
The $1,760 was properly assessed, Worden said.
The total restitution charged to Ritter includes $192.55 for a 2017 overnight stay in a Lansing hotel with a woman previously incarcerated in the jail that Ritter charged to the county; $55.40 for drug kits taken from the jail; $1,760 in boarding costs for a woman incarcerated in the jail who Ritter inappropriately promoted to trustee; and $9,300 county officials said was incurred when Ritter sent people who could have been incarcerated at Grand Traverse County’s jail to other jails in order to keep a preferred woman incarcerated in Grand Traverse County.
“I thought at sentencing there was a basis for the level and type of restitution that was ordered in this case,” Elsenheimer said.
“It is supported by the supplemental materials provided in the brief from the people in this case,” he added. “I think it was justified. I thought it was justified at the time of the sentence. In reviewing this matter for today’s hearing, I feel the same way.”
Elsenheimer said it was appropriate for MDOC to raise the issue, but he found no disagreement between the defense and the prosecution for him to rule on.
Ritter, who is currently lodged in the Charles Egeler Reception and Guidance Center in Jackson, has six months from sentencing to file an appeal, Worden said.
Neither Bensley nor Welch could be reached for comment at press time.