Oakland County

Outgoing auto theft board member challenges MSP head

Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe
Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe
David Guralnick
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Brighton Township — An outgoing member of the state Auto Theft Prevention Authority sparred Thursday with the director of the Michigan State Police at a board meeting concerning the alleged misuse of funds, saying he believed he was not reappointed to the board for expressing concerns.

Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe, a veteran law enforcement officer who has been on the authority's board for nearly eight years, again pressed State Police Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue about answers to allegations from a federal lawsuit filed by suspended Lt. Scott Woodard, the board’s former executive director.

“I firmly believe the only reason I am not being reappointed is my dispute with you,” McCabe told Etue during the meeting at the MSP's Brighton Post, saying he was confused after learning recently he would not be reappointed by Gov. Rick Snyder.

Last year, Woodard questioned the payment of more than $14,000 for computer equipment and salary expenses of two state police employees. After Woodard was put on leave as executive director, McCabe brought the issues up for board discussion and defended the MSP lieutenant at a meeting in July.

Michigan State Police chief Kriste Kibbey Etue.
Michigan State Police chief Kriste Kibbey Etue.
Jake May / AP

An internal inquiry by state police found no mishandling of funds but McCabe said it was not a complete investigation and that several board members, including himself, were never contacted by investigators. The state auditor general is completing a special audit of ATPA funds and is expected to release its report next month.

Regardless of audit findings, McCabe said Woodard’s career has been damaged and now he, McCabe, is was being told his expertise in anti-auto theft efforts were no longer required on the board.

“I firmly believe the only reason I am not being reappointed is my dispute with you,” McCabe told Etue.

McCabe said Woodard was “a man of character and high principles, and what he did took a lot of guts. He came forward with what he believed was wrongdoing … and he’s paid the price. He’s never going to get his reputation or career back.”

Etue, who said she has led the board for nearly a decade and is retiring this year, responded: “I had nothing to do with any appointments or non-appointments. … If you have concerns, you can contact the governor’s appointment officers.”

The State Police commander also said that McCabe, after talking with Woodard, should have immediately brought concerns to the attention of the board.

“I don’t need you telling me about my duty or integrity,” McCabe snapped. “I have been a police officer for 41 years. 

"I may be going away but these issues are not going away.”

McCabe also told the board it might be time for supervision of the auto theft authority' to be transferred from the state police.

McCabe has supervised anti-auto theft units for the Oakland County Sheriff's Office and participated in statewide Help Eliminate Auto Theft efforts. After Thursday's board meeting, he reiterated his frustration at not being reappointed.

“It really doesn’t make any sense — I have more expertise than anyone else on the board regarding auto theft prevention,” he said. “I have heard it's because the governor has a strict rule against his appointees serving more than two terms. I don’t think that is true and can’t help but feel this is a punitive action taken because I supported Scott Woodard and asked for answers to his questions and more.”

The unpaid authority board post is one of dozens the governor fills by appointment every year. A Snyder spokesman said McCabe and a second member were not reappointed because of policy.

“He (McCabe) had already served two full terms and was not eligible for reappointment,” said Kurt Weiss, a spokesman for Snyder. “Mark Wagonschultz no longer works in the auto insurance industry and therefore was not eligible for reappointment as  a representative of auto insurers.

“… The service that Mike and Mark provided to the board over the years is very much appreciated,” Weiss said.

Wagonschultz was not at Thursday's meeting.

ATPA bylaws and a gubernatorial guidebook for appointments do not reflect any barriers to multiple-term appointments. McCabe said at Thursday's meeting that at least 23 other people serving on state boards were reappointed after serving more than two terms.

Woodard, a 27-year police veteran with 23 years as a trooper, disclosed his concerns to McCabe and others more than a year ago that auto theft funds were being diverted to pay state police salaries and buy computer equipment. He went on a medical leave after an “investigatory suspension with pay” starting July 3, according to state police spokeswoman Shanon Banner.

State police officials have not elaborated on the investigation of Woodard other than saying it concerns an “off-duty” activity not involving the auto theft authority.

The state auditor general is reviewing the authority's finances following Woodard’s allegations of misuse. The authority is funded by about $6 million annually from $1 fees on every vehicle license plate issued in Michigan.

The agency coordinates anti-auto theft efforts and distributes grants to law enforcement agencies across Michigan.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

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