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YEAR IN REVIEW: Area courts, trials drew heavy media coverage in 2019

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SHIAWASSEE AREA — Numerous high-profile criminal cases received intense media coverage in 2019, and included violent crime, drugs and sexual abuse, among others.

Some of the cases include a man who shot a police officer in the face, a woman who shot her estranged wife and her new girlfriend, the former Oakley police chief who was sentenced to federal prison for running an illegal gun ring, a man who caused the death of an 84-year-old Korean War veteran while fleeing police, as well as numerous drug and criminal sexual conduct trials.

Numerous lawsuits were filed in 2018 against Sheriff Brian BeGole and are currently pending, including a federal suit alleging favoritism in the county’s towing rotation, a suit contesting the denial of a FOIA request and a wrongful termination/whistleblower lawsuit filed by a former guard at the jail.

Crime spree

Joshua Rosebush, 30, was convicted by a Saginaw County jury Oct. 4 of 28 felonies for shooting Saginaw Township police officer Jeff Koenig in the face during an attempted traffic stop.

“I’ll never forget it,” Saginaw County assistant prosecutor Blair Stephenson said after the verdict. “This was a once in a lifetime case.”

The verdicts brought to a close a three-week-long trial that included over one week of jury selection, and testimony from nearly 40 witnesses.

Koenig testified during the trial that as he approached the vehicle Rosebush was driving and he’d pulled over at approximately 2 a.m. for not having its lights on, he only planned on telling the driver to turn on their headlights.

Instead, Koenig testified that Rosebush said, “nighty-night” immediately before shooting him once in the face and again in the shoulder as the vehicle fled the scene.

Rosebush stole other vehicles and eventually was spotted the following day driving on I-69 in Shiawassee County where Det. Lt. Scott Shenk spotted him.

Shenk followed the suspect off the freeway onto South Woodbury Road where a confrontation ensued, and Rosebush was shot in the face and arrested.

Rosebush was sentenced Nov. 29 by 10th Circuit Court Judge Andre Borrello to a minimum of 75 years in prison on the 28 felony counts.

Rosebush will be eligible for parole when he is 107 years old.

Love triangle

Sherry Mandel, 58, of Owosso, was sentenced in Saginaw County to a minimum of 20 years, nine months in prison for the December 2018 shooting of her estranged wife and her new girlfriend in Chesaning.

She told 10th Circuit Court Judge Manvel Trice III that “love makes you do crazy things,” before receiving her sentence.

“You have her statement, and I won’t read it for the record,” Saginaw County assistant prosecutor Daniel Van Norman said at Mandel’s sentencing hearing.

“The defendant faced the victims and said, ‘I hope you and your whore are…,’ and was whisked out of the courtroom before she could finish the sentence.”

Mandel also stated in the pre-sentence investigation report that she “accidentally shot her wife and her whore.”

Mandel showed up at the home with a handgun, forced her way in and, following a confrontation, shot her wife and the other victim.

During a struggle for the gun, Mandel also was wounded in the leg, which allowed the women the chance to flee.

Mandel barricaded herself inside the home following the shootings, but surrendered to police after a brief standoff.

The two victims were transported to Saginaw for medical treatment and later released.

Mandel was convicted by a Saginaw County jury in September after a week-long trial.

Trice called Mandel’s crimes “just reprehensible.”

‘A white streak’

Doran Duncan was convicted of first-degree murder, carrying a concealed weapon, firearm possession by a felon, operating while intoxicated causing death and reckless driving causing death — all of which stem from the May 18, 2018, incident that ended in a collision with the vehicle of 84-year-old George Ramos, who was killed in the crash.

Numerous witnesses testified during the trial that Duncan had been fleeing police at a high rate of speed through Lennon. LeeAnn Enser, who works at the Lennon Cafe, testified she saw a “white streak” go through downtown Lennon at what she estimated was 70 to 80 mph, followed by police cars moments before Duncan slammed into Ramos’ vehicle.

Duncan was convicted by a jury after about 2 1/2 hours of deliberations in August, and sentenced to life in prison without parole by 35th Circuit Court Judge Matthew Stewart in October.

Stewart called Duncan one of the most selfish defendants to come before his court, in part because he has seven children by four different women and is estranged from all of his children.

‘I wonder if he still thinks it’s a game now’

Former Oakley police chief Robert Reznick was sentenced to one year and a day in federal prison in July for his role in running an illegal firearms scheme.

Reznick’s sentence was the culmination of a yearslong legal battle between the Village of Oakley and Dennis and Shannon Bitterman and Francis Koski that concerned Oakley’s reserve police force.

According to court records, Reznick fraudulently used his position as a police chief to obtain reduced prices on firearms, ammunition and other equipment from suppliers located both in and outside of Michigan. He then sold the merchandise to reserve officers for his personal profit.

Oakley officials refused to release names of the reserve officers, but were eventually forced to do so by a Saginaw County Judge.

The names included Kid Rock (Robert Ritchie) and other prominent politicians and athletes.

Dennis and Shannon Bitterman, whose Freedom of Information Act lawsuit ultimately led to the investigation into Reznick’s administration, said they were disappointed by the relatively short length of Reznick’s sentence.

“He told my wife it was all just a game to him and he never loses,” Dennis Bitterman said after the hearing. “I wonder if he still thinks it’s a game now.”

Online records for the United States Bureau of Prisons indicate Reznick is currently serving his sentence at McCreary USP in Pine Knot, Kentucky.

‘You stole from Santa Claus’

Mary Lombardo, the former Steam Railroading Institute finance director, was sentenced by Stewart to at least three years in prison in September for embezzling over $200,000 from the nonprofit organization.

Lombardo was charged with felony embezzlement of more than $100,000 by prosecutors April 29 after SRI conducted a financial audit.

An Owosso police investigation found she had embezzled over a three-year period from 2015-18.

“It’s worth mentioning that it’s unlikely anyone will ever know the full scope of your crimes since you had ready access to cash payments that you pocketed, and you scuttled the office when you left,” Stewart said at Lombardo’s sentencing. “The victim is a nonprofit organization. So you stole from Santa Claus.”

In addition to the prison term, Stewart ordered Lombardo to pay $227,818 in restitution to SRI.

‘The Legislature passed this law with you in mind’

Todd Linnartz, of Owosso, was sentenced in March to nearly five decades in prison for meth possession, tampering with evidence, and giving meth to two minor teenage girls.

Before announcing Linnartz’s sentence, Stewart told the defendant that because his crimes involved giving drugs to minors and Linnartz’s prior drug convictions, his prison sentence was, in effect, being quadrupled.

“The Legislature passed this law with you in mind,” Stewart said, citing Michigan’s drug double statute, which increases the minimum and maximum potential prison sentences, and leaves open the possiblity of consecutive sentencing.

“Consecutive sentencing is a strong medicine, and it is reserved for situations justifying drastic deviation from the norm. Mr. Linnartz, that is you.”

Linnartz was convicted by a jury Nov. 30, 2018, of numerous felony drug charges arising from a Mid-Michigan Area Narcotics Team (MAGNET) June 21, 2018, raid on his 6666 S. Morrice Road residence in Bennington Tonship.

Criminal sexual conduct

Shiawassee County saw numerous criminal sexual conduct charges in 2019, including four consecutive trials toward the end of the year that resulted in acquittals and/or a hung jury.

Derick Edington, of Morrice, had already been charged with possession of meth, was also charged in May with two additional counts of first-degree CSC and providing meth to a minor.

Edington was sentenced to at least 10 years in prison in September on a separate meth case.

The CSC charges are still pending in circuit court, however.

Following a court appearance for the CSC counts, Edington attempted to jump over the rail of the third floor rotunda of the courthouse, but was restrained from doing so by court bailiffs and being chained to other inmates. Had he been successful in his attempt, he would have been seriously injured or possibly killed.

Jeffery Beard, 46, of Corunna, went through two CSC-2 trials. Stewart declared a mistrial in the first trial in October.

Prosecutors re-tried Beard on the charges, and he was acquitted by a jury Dec. 11 after about two hours.

Following the jury’s verdict, defense attorney Amy Husted said she was pleased with the outcome of the trial. “I had every defense attorney’s dream come true — an innocent client,” she said.

Nathan Lott, 31, of Owosso, was acquitted by a jury at his first CSC-1 (multiple variables) trial in October after just 31 minutes, and was released.

However, he was re-arrested and charged with identical counts just two days later, and the charges are pending in circuit court, along with a felony absconding charge.

The dates the newer CSC-1 offenses allegedly took place are different than those of the first trial, according to court records.

Lawsuits

Sheriff Brian BeGole is also facing numerous lawsuits alleging unfairly favoring one tow company over others, a wrongful termination/whistleblower suit by a former jail employee, and another that challenges the denial of a FOIA request by the Sheriff’s Office.

Towing rotation

Rob Lepley filed his lawsuit June 17 in the United States District Court’s Eastern District of Michigan. He claims BeGole “has been unfairly favoring one of (Lepley’s) competitiors, i.e. Allstar Towing,” by selective enforcement of the county’s towing policy, which resulted in Lepley’s company being removed from the tow rotation in November 2018.

The lawsuit claims the policy “was put in place by the defendant (BeGole) as an excuse in which to justify the removal of (Lepley’s) from the rotation which would benefit Allstar Towing, whose owner (Richard Gokee, Jr.) is (BeGole’s) friend.”

The business owner is seeking more than $25,000 in damages and reinstatement to the service rotation. A jury trial is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Sept 15, 2020, though it is possible the parties could settle out of court before then.

Whistleblower lawsuit

Kathy McGuckin, a former deputy corrections sergeant with the Sheriff’s Office, was fired in October for allegedly violating department policies and orders.

McGuckin is seeking monetary damages in excess of $100,000 for “loss of a career/job, past and future lost wages, loss of earning capacity, emotional distress, embarrassment and humiliation, damage to reputation, outrage and incurrence of attorney fees.” No court dates have yet been scheduled in McGuckin’s lawsuit.

FOIA denial

Philip Ellison, of Outside Legal Counsel PLC of Hemlock, is seeking a court order to compel the Sheriff’s Office to release records pertaining to a FOIA request by Owosso resident Lindsay Ruggiero.

According to Ruggiero’s FOIA request and lawsuit, she is seeking “email correspondence to/from Lt. Tamie Willson (Shiawassee County Jail Administrator) and/or Sheriff Brian BeGole” and Michigan Department of Corrections personnel.

The records appear to be related to the investigation into McGuckin, the former jail employee who was fired by BeGole in October.

No court dates have yet been scheduled in the lawsuit.

It’s likely the suit will be moved to another court’s jurisdiction to prevent a potential conflict of interest.

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