Monday, April 27, 2015

Ex-Berrien commissioner sentenced for embezzlement

Wooley receives nearly 3-year term in prison
Christine Cox

Robert Wooley

Tuesday, April 21, 2015 11:30 am | Updated: 1:32 pm, Tue Apr 21, 2015.
By Debra Haight Tribune Correspondent

ST. JOSEPH — Former Berrien County Commissioner Robert Wooley was sentenced to a minimum of nearly three years in prison after pleading guilty to embezzling more than $300,000 from the North Berrien Senior Center,  where he was the director.

Wooley, 62, of Coloma was sentenced Monday by Berrien County Trial Judge Sterling Schrock. Wooley, who according to his attorney has a gambling problem, had pleaded guilty in March to two embezzlement counts and resigned his position as a county commissioner at that time.
Berrien County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer Smith said Schrock imposed a sentence of 34 months to 20 years in prison and ordered Wooley to pay $317,000 in restitution on the embezzlement over $100,000 charge involving the senior center.
Wooley was also sentenced to a concurrent jail term of 120 days for attempted embezzlement over $20,000 and less than $50,000 involving money taken from the North Berrien Fire and Rescue department. Restitution was reserved in that case as there is still a question as to how much he owes.
Wooley also faced a contempt charge for violating bond conditions by visiting the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City four times in recent weeks. Smith said Wooley was arrested April 10 after video from the casino showed him there on April 9 and reports from other people put him there on three previous days. The sentence on the contempt was one day in jail.
Smith reported that Wooley apologized and said the situation got out of control. He said he would pay the money back over time.
While Wooley didn't admit directly to having a gambling problem, his attorney, Andrew Burch, said Wooley has a problem with gambling. Wooley told Judge Schrock that he had done good things during his tenure at the senior center and that his embezzlement hadn't hurt the center's operations directly but had dwindled the center's reserve funds.
Smith said Schrock sentenced Wooley to a term that was in the middle of the sentencing guidelines of 30 to 50 months in prison. Schrock noted that a prison sentence was also warranted to deter others from doing similar acts. He added that unlike drug addicts who try to get help for their addictions, Wooley had never stopped or tried to get help.
For her part, Smith said she was satisfied with the sentence.
"I think it was a fair result," she said. "We agreed with the probation department, who recommended a 36-month prison term. He lived all of his adult life as a law abiding citizen and he's done a lot of good things. I think this is fair. This is huge for someone of his age to be going to prison for the first time."
Wooley was the director of the North Berrien Senior Center, which serves Coloma and Watervliet, from 1996 to last year. He was also treasurer of the governing board of North Berrien Fire and Rescue. He represented the Coloma and Watervliet area on the county board before his resignation.
A press release from the prosecutor's office in December stated the investigation showed that funds from the senior center operating accounts were forwarded to an investment account in the name of the center with Wooley as an authorized signor.
"The center’s board was unaware of the existence of the investment account," the release stated. "Records indicate funds were transmitted from the investment account to Wooley’s personal account over the course of the years 2007 to 2014."
Smith said it's believed that Wooley embezzled money from the senior center and then took money from the fire department to cover up some of the money he had taken from the senior center. The fire department embezzlement was discovered more recently and a final number on how much money was taken hasn't been determined.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Judge Schrock sentences children to life

About 4 years ago, Berrien County Judge Sterling Schrock announced that a white boy between 16 and 17 years old had murdered his step father by beating him to death.  The boy told several people his intention beforehand.  He had been troubled a troubled child and teenager.  Schrock said prison would not do the boy any good and sentenced him to 5 years probation.  

On the very same day, 20 minutes later, a black boy - the same age - was in court.  He had hit a white man on the head one time with a pipe and killed him.  The judge state that he would send him to prison for the rest of his life without possibility of parole, plus he gave him an additional 10 years just in case “somehow you get a parole on your life sentence, you are never going to get out ever again.”

Then, a young boy who attempted to stop the assault received 15 years in prison and the judge’s language was criminal. It gets even worse: a very young girl who was seen talking to the young boy was given 10 years in prison. This is what people in Berrien County, Michigan call justice for black people.  Judge Sterling Schrock should be disbarred.

The question was asked of Judge Schrock on Dec. 15, 2014 and again on Feb. 27, 2015, what is the evidence against Rev. Pinkney?  The judge could not say.  The prosecutor produced no evidence, only an all-white lynch mob jury.

Sterling Schrock’s true character has been misinterpreted, ignored, and even forgotten.  We the people must stand up to racism.  This judge has failed his oath.  He must be removed! We the people must say NO MORE!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Berrien County Court Continues Racist Campaign Against Rev. Edward Pinkney

Civil Rights leader unable to gain justice in southwest Michigan

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
St. Joseph, Michigan

Another post-conviction motions hearing took place on April 14 in St.
Joseph, Michigan involving the conviction by an all-white jury late
last year of a leading Civil Rights activist, Rev. Edward Pinkney.
People traveled from throughout the state of Michigan and across the
United States to support the Berrien County leader who many feel has
been denied justice by a corporate-controlled racist system in the
southwest region of the state.

Rev. Pinkney, the leader of the Black Autonomy Network Community
Organization (BANCO), was present in the courtroom in St. Joseph,
Michigan, the seat of Berrien County. Defense Attorney Tat Parish
requested that the handcuffs be taken off of Pinkney, but to no avail.

Judge Sterling Schrock, who continues to preside over the case where
the BANCO leader was convicted on five felony counts for forgery
involving the purported changing of dates on recall petitions designed
to remove Benton Harbor Mayor James Hightower, denied the request
saying it was up to the discretion of the Michigan Department of
Corrections (MDOC). No MDOC officials appeared to have been in the
courtroom since Pinkney was transported to the Berrien County jail the
night before from Coldwater where he is being held on a sentence of
30-120 months.

There were two motions heard before Judge Schrock resulting in
decisions that clearly violate the civil rights of Pinkney, a
long-time organizer in the county. The first of the egregious
decisions stemmed from a prosecution motion requesting restitution to
Mayor Hightower due to purported harm done to him by Pinkney during
the recall campaign of 2014.

The judge ordered that Pinkney pay restitution to Benton Harbor Mayor
James Hightower, who is up for re-election this year, in the amount of
$1,736.17, saying the politician suffered economic and psychological
damage due to the recall campaign aimed at removing him from office in
2014. Hightower did not even bother to appear in court and the
prosecutor Michael Sepic, who submitted the motion, argued on his

Human resources director Susan Leach of Lakeland Hospital where
Hightower is employed in addition to his mayoral post, was subpoenaed
to testify by the defense. She reported that Hightower is a salaried
employee and did not lose any pay during the course of the recall
campaign and the trial of Pinkney, where he testified. Nonetheless,
the court ruled against Pinkney.

Motion for a New Trial Denied

The other motion presented by the defense requested a new trial based
on the connections which existed between juror Gail Freehland of
neighboring Three Oaks and the family of Sharon Tyler, the Berrien
County Clerk, who was a key witness in the prosecution of Pinkney.

Relationships were clearly established through a series of witnesses
called by the defense.

The former juror Ms. Freehland was called to testify saying she did
not have any social relationships with the Berrien County officials in
question. Other witnesses called by the defense not only substantiated
a connection but longtime friendships between these elements in the

Tyler’s partner, Danny Gross, the former president of Three Oaks
village, was also subpoenaed to testify by the defense. He did admit
that he had known Freehland “all her life” but said he was not aware
if the former juror was acquainted with his partner, Berrien County
Clerk Sharon Tyler.

Gross owns a restaurant in the county and stated that Freehland had
been in his business. The former Three Oaks leader acknowledged that
his daughters were around the same age as Freehland and that they knew
each other.

Later Gross’ daughter Jody was called to testify and stated that she
has “known Freehland for thirty years.” She mentioned during her
testimony that she sees Freehland at least once or twice a year and
that they were friends of Facebook.

Later Gail Gross, another daughter of Danny, testified that she and
Freehland “attended the same school system” although Freehland is
younger. When asked by defense lawyer Parish if the two were friends,
Grosse said “she considered her a friend.”

Prosecutor Sepic said the defense arguments seeking to draw
connections and social relationships between these personalities
involved in the trial of Pinkney were “preposterous.” Later saying
that there was no connections established.

Parish said for the defense that “there is every reason to suggest
connections” and this was not disclosed during the jury screening
process known voir dire.

Consequently, Judge Schrock agreed with Sepic.  He denied the motion
for a new trial and re-emphasized that Pinkney did not qualify for
bond pending the outcome of his appeal which is being filed in an
attempt to overturn his convictions on the felony charges.

During the course of the trial in 2014, no witnesses were brought
forward by the prosecution who testified that they saw or believed
that Pinkney changed the dates on five signatures on the recall
petitions. Both the prosecution and the judge repeatedly stated that
the evidence against Pinkney was “circumstantial”, yet no
circumstantial evidence was ever presented.

Pinkney was then ushered out of the courtroom and transported bac to
state prison in Coldwater. His next step will be to bring the case
before the appeals court where many believe he has a good chance of

Demonstration Held Outside Court House

After the hearing ended, dozens of people remained behind to carry out
a demonstration outside the Berrien County Court. Activists from
Chicago, Flint, Detroit, Oak Park and other areas spoke out against
what they saw as a travesty of justice.

Berrien County is dominated by the Whirpool Corporation, a
multi-billion dollar firm. Pinkney and BANCO are staunch critics of
the company saying that it is behind the prosecution and imprisonment.

A demonstration against Whirpool products sold at Lowe’s Department in
Southfield, Michigan, suburb of Detroit, is scheduled to be held on
Friday April 24. Activists are attempting to expose the role of
corporations in the politics of Berrien County and southwest Michigan.
Related Web Sites



Monday, April 13, 2015

2012 Presidential Candidate will hold press conference in St. Joseph, Michigan

Jill Stein will attend Rev. Edward Pinkney’s evidentiary hearing tomorrow, Tuesday, April 14.

Following the hearing, Stein will hold a press conference outside the courthouse.

The hearing begins at 8:30am, Berrien County Courthouse, 811 Port St., St. Joseph, MI.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The Rogue Jury with Gail Freehlng

Hearing on Tuesday April 14 ~ 8:30am

Rev. Edward Pinkney returns to the Berrien County Courthouse, 
811 Port St., St. Joseph, Michigan

Tuesday April 14, 2015 ~ 8:30am
Judge Sterling Shrock presiding

Motion for a new trial based on the violation 
of Pinkney’s rights to impartial jurors

Jury Fixing:  The act or instance of illegally procuring the cooperation of one or more jurors who influence the outcome of a trial.

Rogue Jury:  A jury that ignores the law and evidence in reaching a capricious verdict.

Rogue juries include those that base their verdicts on unrevealed, deeply held prejudices;  on undue racism toward a party.  The verdicts often result in inappropriate punishment, convictions and prison.  A rogue jury’s verdict is not based on a desire to achieve a just, fair, or moral outcome.

Attorney Tat Parish, during my trial on Oct. 23, 2014, specifically asked the jurors, including Gail Freehling during voir dire while she was in the jury box, whether they knew or had connections with either of two important witnesses, Mayor James "the Puppet" Hightower, and the county Clerk Sharon Tyler.  This was around 4:18 in the video.

The jurors were also asked more than once whether they knew or had connections with any of the persons on the witness list (it included Sharon Tyler.)

Juror Freehling said nothing in response to these inquiries, did not honestly respond that she is a Facebook friend of Tyler, and did not state that she has contact with her through the Three Oaks Flag Day Parade (2010 to 2014).

The 2014 parade was held in June, a few months before my trial.  During voir dire the jurors were asked if they knew or had contact or connection with any police officers.  Again, Freehling did not respond.  She did not tell the truth which was that she knew and has had contact with a number of police officers.  Several police officers and law enforcement  officials are at the forefront of the Three Oaks Flag Day Parade.  And, there are a total of 14  law enforcement floats from Berrien County, 8 fire department floats, and 10 floats carrying elected officials.

Freehling is also Facebook friends with the under sheriff’s daughter, Kyra Heit.  She claimed she did not know her.

The jury at my trial was motivated by something other than the pursuit of truth and justice.  If the truth was told, the charges leveled against me in Benton Harbor are but the latest saga in a ruthless pursuit of naked corporate rule that is gripping the state of Michigan.  We must fight back and we will win.  We must say enough is enough!

Rev. Edward Pinkney

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Help Us To Retroactively Revise the Unarmed Carjacking Statute

Gov. Snyder and the members of the legislature recongnized the need for sentencing reform thus they have created the CRIMINAL JUSTICE POLICY COMMISSION to ensure punishments match the severity of the crimes committed.

The punishment for an unarmed carjacking carries a punishment of up to life in prison plus consecutive sentencing for any other crime arising during the commission of the crime. This punishment is more severe than 2nd degree murder, manslaughter, criminal sexual contact 1st degree, and even an actual armed robbery. There is no rational basis for an unarmed carjacking to carry a lengthier prison sentence than any crime that involves one losing one's life, or for a crime in which one's mind, body, and soul are violated in the worst possible way imaginable. Also it defies logic that one convicted of an unarmed larceny offense faces a stiffer penalty than one convicted of an armed larceny offense.

Unarmed robbery carries a 15 year maximum sentence versus unarmed carjacking which carries a life sentence plus consecutive sentencing. Both of these crimes are unarmed larcenies however the difference in sentencing is like day and night.  For example, one person while unarmed takes a man's wallet from him containing $5000.00; this is commonly known as unarmed robbery.  Another man take's a man's vehicle from him worth $5000.00; this is commonly known as unarmed carjacking.  With all sentencing factors being equal, the unarmed rober would face a sentence of 5-20 years while the unarmed carjacker faces a sentence of 20-70 years.  This is simply unfair.

The punishment for the unarmed carjacking does not match the severity of the crime committed. Please contact Gov. Snyder at or at 517-373-3400 to ensure that the CRIMINAL JUSTICE POLICY COMMISSION reviews the punishment for the unarmed carjacking statute so that we can see a retroactive revision in the way we have sentenced unarmed carjackers.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

“We can win this fight,” says Rev. Pinkney from prison

April 2015

Rev. Edward Pinkney was handcuffed and ushered into the courtroom on the day of a hearing by two prison guards. The crowd of supporters in the courtroom immediately stood up and clapped (before the sheriff warned them to stop). Attend the next hearing on April 14 at 8:30 a.m. at the Berrien County Courthouse in St. Joseph, MI. PHOTO/DAYMONJHARTLEY.COM
jRev. Edward Pinkney was handcuffed and ushered into the courtroom on the MONJHARTLEY.COM
Editor’s note: Reverend Edward Pinkney wrote this article from prison. He remains enthusiastic about winning this fight, despite the concentration camp-like conditions he and the other prisoners are living under. He says over 150 people use the same bathroom, about five people are living in 9 x 12 cubes and he wouldn’t feed the food to a dog.
COLDWATER, MI — I, Michigan political prisoner, Rev. Edward Pinkney, am a victim of injustice. I was sentenced to 2 1/2 to 10 years for supposedly changing the date on five recall petitions to recall Benton Harbor Mayor, James Hightower. No material nor circumstantial evidence, no eye witness, and no confession was presented at the trial that would implicate me in the five felonies. Many believe that I, an international activist and leader of the Black Autonomy Network Community Organization (BANCO), am being punished by the local authorities for opposing the corporate plan of the Whirlpool Corporation, headquartered in Benton Harbor, Michigan. I say this is an opportunity to expose the Benton Harbor courthouse criminal enterprise and let the world know there is corruption from the top to the bottom of the totem pole where a lynch mob mentality reigns.
The Benton Harbor corporate structure has used similar charges to stop past efforts to recall or vote out of office public officials. In a majority Black city, as many Christian ministers do, I have always quoted the scriptures. I was even convicted for quoting scriptures in the People’s Tribune newspaper. This outrageous conviction was overturned on appeal. We must do this again. Rev. Edward Pinkney has become the face of resistance to the nation that the working class has no rights that the corporations are bound to respect. Any and all efforts must be made to overturn the charges against me as a step toward overthrowing the spread of this model to the rest of Michigan and the nation. This is not Black versus white, it is the haves against the have-nots, the rich against poor.
Any time you have an economic system that refuses to feed clothe and house it people, it must be overturned and replaced with a system that meets the needs of people.
We will win. God to me is knowing how and when to gather stones to fight for the truth. I believe that humans are not all evil, just misled. We will win this fight because humanity is greater than those that will destroy it. We will win because it has become clear to the people just who the enemy is and the solution is so simple.  A mass movement demanding a changed economic system, one that meets the needs of the people, not the corporations, is needed. We can win.

Friday, April 03, 2015

A Must Read: New article by Phil Bassett!

No Justice For Pinkney—Again 
By Philip A. Bassett

For a lesson in bigotry, lies and sheer negativity, you could try the Berrien County courthouse in St. Joseph, Michigan. I wouldn’t recommend it, though. Since 2006, I’ve been a witness there to many of the legal battles forced on Rev. Edward Pinkney and it has worn me thin.
The town of St. Joe itself is a little backward, to put it mildly. (Think movie town Pleasantville before the color change.) Residents of the almost all-white city seem to carry a perverse pride in how well they’ve barricaded themselves  from the mostly black folks across the river.
The main tool that keeps the status quo is that bloody courthouse. It stands guard over the St. Joseph River like a big ugly trophy, daring Benton Harbor residents to come across. Most don’t take the dare. In the words of Rev. Pinkney, “You couldn’t pay them to cross that river.”
Although court observing is never fun, here it seems worse. In addition to the hard benches and infinite rules (no book reading, for instance) court observers are subject to numerous other assaults—on your intelligence, conscience and dignity, to name a few. There seems to be an Alice in Wonderland-like logic that accompanies Pinkney hearings. Visitors tend to react in turns with puzzlement, amusement, anger, terror or frustration. Myself, I’ve taken to clutching my stomach and hightailing it out of there just as soon as the proceedings are over.
A close friend of his can’t even bear to attend Pinkney hearings anymore. She wants to support him but has a hard time watching the relentless assault on this African-American minister who is more than a little like Martin Luther King, Jr.
Always ready to challenge unfairness, Edward Pinkney has been fighting the legal system hard-core since 2000, after what could arguably be called his first political imprisonment. It was an insurance fraud case involving the paltry sum of $123, which begs the question of why it was brought to court in the first place. Pinkney served time, but used it to go within and make a life change, emerging from prison an ordained minister. Since then, he has been an almost daily presence at the Berrien County courthouse, either leading protests outside or monitoring individual cases inside.
He turned to the election system in 2005, spearheading a successful recall campaign against local councilman Glen Yarbrough, only to have the victory crushed a week later by a judge with an iron fist.
To back up the judge’s decision, the city clerk, an impeccable woman named Jean Nesbitt, was fired. Then the State went after Pinkney. They charged him with possessing another’s absentee ballot, which, believe it or not, is a felony crime with a penalty of up to five years in prison. (I did an informal survey of fifty or so people in Kalamazoo in 2006; more than half didn’t know possessing another’s absentee ballot is a crime, much less a felony.) Prosecutors claimed Pinkney touched five of the ballots, pumping up the penalty times five.
Of course, no actual evidence (like fingerprints) was ever offered when Pinkney was taken to court in 2006. In fact, the three week “trial” seemed entirely composed of smoke, mirrors and lies.
The prosecutor spent two full days of court time poring over Pinkney’s phone records, especially calls to the city clerk. The implication was that he and the clerk had somehow cooked something up, though it was never made clear what they were supposed to have done. The prosecutor spent two more days examining the applications for absentee ballots, which was a smoke screen since they had no bearing on the case. In addition, the State’s star witness was a woman with a known crack cocaine problem who kept contradicting herself.
None of this seemed to bother ten of the jurors, who voted to convict the reverend. Two held out, though, and the end result was a hung jury.
Normally, this is as far as the State takes it, but prosecutors brought Pinkney to trial again in 2007, this time securing an all-white jury and, therefore, the conviction. The reverend was put on a tether at first, then wrote an article slamming the judge, and was sent to prison for it in 2008.
Seeing this major slap in the face of the Bill of Rights, the ACLU got involved, fought the good fight, and got the reverend out of prison on appeal the following year.
Rev. Pinkney returned to his rigorous schedule of court-watching, attending meetings, leading rallies, making speeches and taking numerous phone calls. He served for a few years as president of the local NAACP chapter though he later broke ties with the organization, citing them as ineffective. He pushed hard for a city income tax that would place some of the burden on wealthier Whirlpool employees and shore up the city’s economy.
One of the more outspoken opponents of the tax was the mayor of Benton Harbor, James Hightower. Pinkney saw Hightower’s actions as not being in the best interest of city residents and became part of an effort to recall the mayor.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Many of us have circulated petitions; it’s not uncommon to dot an “I” or cross a “t”, when necessary. We might even have to correct a date or fill in a blank to make the signature valid. I know I have.
Imagine a police swat team coming to arrest you because there were a few of the aforementioned discrepancies. Imagine further that the government pins a forgery charge on you (times five) and makes it stick to the tune of two-and-a-half to ten years in prison. That’s exactly what happened in the case of Rev. Edward Pinkney.
To convict the reverend, the judge and jury had to ignore the fact that with all of Pinkney’s election experience, he wasn’t likely to be responsible for this mistake. Also, there was that troublesome lack of evidence tying the reverend to the “crime”. Finally, the judge had to ignore the fine print on every petition that states that alterers can be charged with a misdemeanor (only) punishable by a fine and/or up to 90 days in jail. That’s a far cry from what Rev. Pinkney got.
If all this goofiness doesn’t show the cracks in Berrien County’s justice system, I don’t know what does. Add to that Pinkney’s insistence that he didn’t make any changes and three witnesses testifying that another person changed several dates, and this starts to look like a strategic attack on a politically active American.
Welcome to the Berrien County court system, where fiction is as good as fact, as long as you have the arrogance and paperwork to back it up. In some cases, like Rev. Pinkney’s, you don’t even need the paperwork.
An evidentiary hearing will be held on April 14th to decide whether one of the jurors was biased by her friendship with the county clerk. It begins at 8:30 a.m. in the Berrien County courthouse. It should be an interesting showcase of how our system treats a political prisoner. Maybe I’ll see you there—if you think you can stomach it.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Corporation Literally Served Inmates Trash


"Corporation Literally Served Inmates Trash"
Two weeks ago Progress Michigan uncovered emails revealing that a prison food provider served cakes nibbled on by rats to inmates. They’ve now discovered that employees from this same food vendor, Aramark, served inmates at another facility an equally unsavory meal: garbage. 
In an email exchange between the company’s general manager, Sigfried Linder, and the state’s Department of Corrections, Linder admitted that prisoners at Saginaw Correctional Facility were served food that was previously thrown in the trash. “Mr. Chisolm discarded the left-overs from the line before the last half unit was in the chow hall. He then realized that there were more inmates to serve so he rinsed them off, reheated them in the oven and instructed the inmates to serve them,” read one email. “They refused, so he and Miss Gibson proceeded to serve them to the remaining inmates.”
The privately contracted food vendor, which services “healthcare institutions, universities and school districts, stadiums and arenas, and businesses in 22 countries around the world,” has come under fire for serving contaminated food and engaging in gross misconduct in prison facilities statewide. After maggots and fly larvae were found near a meal-serving line, at least 150 inmates were quarantined for symptoms characteristic of the flu. One inmate sued the company for serving spoiled meat and moldy bread. In other instances, the company breached contract by simply failing to provide enough food. 
Detroit Free Press also discovered that one-fifth of Aramark employees were fired for unsanctioned sexual encounters with inmates, tried to sneak in drugs, and showed up to work inebriated. 
“The fact that inmates refused to serve this food, and yet an Aramark employee felt comfortable doing so, speaks volumes about the company’s corporate culture,” Progress Michigan’s executive director, Lonnie Scott, explained. “This is just the latest — and one of the most disgusting — examples of Aramark’s incompetency in our state. The public has a right to know what is really going on with this contract and it shouldn’t take thousands of dollars and FOIA’ed documents to get the truth.” 

But the company, which has fed inmates dog food, worms, and scraps of food from old meals, maintains a stronghold on correctional food service in Michigan. Despite threats to terminate its contract, Gov. Rick Snyder (R) won’t let go of the company, which claims it will save taxpayers $12-16 million. Prior to hiring Aramark, Michigan refused to partner with private food vendors that could not realistically save the state money in the long-run.