Farmington School Officials Challenge Thomas More Law Center Bribery Claims
Howard Wallach says allegations tied to the sale of Eagle Elementary are based on a vote that was never taken.
At the close of Tuesday's Farmington School Board meeting, vice president Howard Wallach and board member Karen Bolsen challenged claims made against them in a June 13 letter sent by the Thomas More Law Center to Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.
The 6-page letter, a 21-page summary and more than 400 pages of exhibits document claims made by residents who are suing the district over the 2011 sale of the former Eagle Elementary School building to the Islamic Cultural Association (ICA), based in Franklin. Wallach and Bolsen only addressed charges of bribery and illegal campaign contributions.
The Center's letter claims that two days before an Oct. 18 vote to extend the closing date of the sale, "ICA members threw a fundraiser for School Board members Karen Bolsen and Howard Wallach who faced re-election in November 2011."
Wallach said the bribery claim is premised on a false statement. "This board did not vote to extend the closing date regarding the sale of Eagle on October 18 or any other date," he said.
Wallach presented a video clip from the Oct. 18, 2011 meeting, which showed that no vote was taken. At the time, the district's attorney, Joseph Fazio, informed the board that the district had requested the extension because of title company concerns related to the lawsuit.
Further, Wallach said, the referenced campaign event was billed as a "meet and greet", and he did not expect to receive any campaign contributions.
In fact, he said, at the time, his campaign had more than $2,000 in the bank, with a little over $1,000 in anticipated expenses. He said he donated a $1,500 surplus from his campaign account to the Farmington-Farmington Hills Foundation for Youth and Families.
Wallach acknowledged that he received two legal campaign contributions, totaling $300, at the Oct. 16 event, which he reported. Further, he said, the amendment that extended the purchase agreement was signed and delivered on Oct. 14, two days before the event.
The last substantial board vote on the Eagle sale, Wallach said, was June 14, 2011, months before the campaign event.
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Wallach also addressed the Thomas More Center's claims that the ICA has ties to terrorist organizations. He said several government departments have prohibited transactions with lists of organizations that have terrorist ties, and according to the district's legal counsel, the ICA is not on any of them.
"So please excuse me if I rely on the government in making my decision on such matters, rather than what people like you or I might find on the Internet, which may not be accurate," he said.
Bolsen addressed the Center's allegation of "illegal campaign contributions", acknowledging she received a $2,000 check from a couple that was reported as a single donation, thus in excess of the $1,000 per person legal limit. She said when her report was reviewed by the Oakland County elections division, she was told she had 30 days to revise the status of the contribution, and she chose to return $1,000.
"I did not take an illegal campaign contribution," she said. "If I had, I would have been cited by the Election Division of Oakland County, who administers the extremely detailed campaign finance laws of the State of Michigan for school board and other elections."
Bolsen said she had not heard from the Elections Division since her amended report was filed.
The Thomas More Center report also alleges that the district circumvented the Open Meetings Act, violated approved governmental practices for the sale of public property and based the sale on a rigged property evaluation. When the report was released, the district issued a statement that the allegations "are completely false. The District plans to rebut these claims in due course and in an appropriate manner."