Ex-Romulus Police Chief Michael St. Andre pleads guilty to public corruption
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on May 29, 2014 at 7:12 AM, updated May 29, 2014 at 7:24 AM
With about two months until he and three of his former officers were scheduled to go on trial in Detroit, former Romulus Police Chief Michael St. Andre has accepted a plea deal and admitted guilt to three felonies related to public corruption.On Wednesday, St. Andre pleaded guilty to a count each of embezzlement by a public official, misconduct in office and the most serious, conducting a criminal enterprise, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.In exchange for his plea, the Wayne County Prosecutors Office dropped seven other felony charges. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office did not reveal in a statement late Thursday afternoon whether St. Andre would be required to testify against his co-defendants.
The ex-law enforcers wife, Sandra Vlaz-St. Andre, in February received 7 to 20 years in prison for her role in the corruption, which involved skimming money from the city’s forfeiture fund and filing fraudulent expense reports, the funds with which investigators say the St. Andres bought a tanning salon in Westland, made unexplained deposits into their bank accounts in excess of their income, paid for home improvements and funded vacations.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said the investigation revealed that Michael St. Andre handpicked a members from the Romulus Police Special Investigations Unit to conduct investigations into Michigan Liquor Control Commission violations, prostitution, and narcotics trafficking at the two adult clubs, the Landing Strip Bar in Romulus and Subi’s Place in Southgate.
Those officers are now St. Andre’s co-defendants, former Detective Sgt. Richard Allan Balzer, former Detective Richard Bruce Landry and former Detective Donald Ralph Hopkins.
For a year, from January 2010 to January 2011, the crew conducted covert operations that the Special investigation Unit supervisor was hidden from and never filed a complaint with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, Worthy said.
The officers are accused of buying prostitutes “for personal gratification” during the course of their investigation.
The Prosecutor’s Office says $49,000 in forfeiture funds were never accounted for.
Additionally, from 2006 to 2011, St. Andre and complicit subordinates filed false expense reports and otherwise siphoned forfeiture funds.
Once the external state police investigation began in 2009, because a whistleblower came forward, St. Andre is accused of attempting to bribe or intimidate witnesses.
He’ll return to court for sentencing before Wayne Circuit Judge Michael Hathaway on Oct. 17.
Three Romulus cops plead no contest in corruption case
Romulus — Three Romulus police officers pleaded no contest Tuesday to charges stemming from a police corruption case and will lose their certification to be employed in law enforcement.
According to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, pleas were submitted by Richard Balzer, Donald Hopkins and Richard Landry.
Balzer pleaded no contest to one count of embezzlement by a public official and misconduct in office. Hopkins and Landry pleaded no contest to one count of embezzlement by a public official. All remaining counts against the men were dismissed in return for the plea, prosecutors said.
Restitution will be determined and they will lose their certification to be employed as police officers.
Sentencing is Oct. 29 before Wayne County Circuit Judge Michael Hathaway.
The case caps a three-year investigation by the Michigan State Police that resulted in dozens of charges. The former chief, his wife and the officers were accused of embezzling more than $100,000 in drug forfeiture funds and running a criminal enterprise from 2006-11.
In May, former Romulus police chief Michael St. Andre pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a public corruption investigation.
St. Andre pleaded guilty to one count of conducting a continuing criminal enterprise, punishable by up to 20 years in prison; embezzlement by a public official, punishable by up to 10 years behind bars; and misconduct in office, punishable by up to five years in prison.
He is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 17 by Hathaway. His wife, Sandra Vlaz St. Andre, was sentenced in February to 7-20 years in prison.
Two other officers, Larry Droege and Jeremy Channels, were found guilty on related charges after a trial that ended in March. Channels was sentenced to three years of probation; Droege received 18 months of probation.
Prosecutors maintain the defendants pretended to be investigating the Landing Strip Bar in Romulus and Subi’s Place in Southgate. The fraudulent probes, investigators allege, were a ruse for hiring prostitutes from nearby strip clubs and fabricating expenses for which they were later reimbursed.
In one year alone, the officers were accused of spending $40,000 in forfeiture funds on prostitutes, marijuana and alcohol, according to prosecutors. Michael St. Andre was accused of using $75,000 from the funds to pay for trips and to buy his wife a tanning salon business.