LANSING (MCT) — A Michigan National Guard investigation produced allegations of widespread theft, moonlighting, destruction of government property and nepotism at an equipment maintenance facility at the Camp Grayling military training base.
The investigation, completed in January, recommended criminal investigations and the immediate removal of seven people, two of whom are lieutenant colonels.
“Many ... employees thought it was allowed to ‘look the other way’ when theft (wood, copper, diesel, time) was occurring, and the majority aimlessly followed direction when told to throw thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment away,” investigating officer Col. Scott Doolittle said in a January memorandum to Gen. Gregory Vadnais, adjutant general of the Michigan Army and Air National Guard.
The report was turned over to the National Guard’s criminal division, which concluded in late June that no criminal investigation was warranted, base spokesman Lt. Col. Bill Humes said Friday. Ultimately, two lieutenant colonels retired, two master sergeants were fired from their full-time federal government jobs at the base, two other sergeants received two weeks of unpaid leave, and one master sergeant was not disciplined, Humes said.
“This is exactly how the system is supposed to work,” he said.
The scandal at the country’s largest U.S. National Guard training facility extends to the nearby city of Grayling in the middle of Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula, with allegations of longstanding and too cozy relationships between those who buy supplies and services for the Maneuver and Training Equipment Site (MATES) at the base and vendors and contractors.
But the two fired master sergeants, Master Sgts. Joe Smock and Renee Reed, are pushing back at appeal hearings that were set for Tuesday and Wednesday until they were postponed by military officials late Friday. The master sergeants say the probe, prompted by an anonymous letter, was based largely on hearsay and that the allegations lack specifics and are false. They question the disparate treatment received by the seven named in the report and ask why no criminal investigation was conducted, if the allegations had merit.
The investigation “was about four or five people who colluded to bring down those people they didn’t like,” said Ben Banchs, business manager for the Laborers International Union National Guard District Council, which represents Smock and Reed.
The wide-ranging but informal investigation led to the dismissals of Smock and Reed and the retirements of Lt. Col. Chris Golnick and Lt. Col. Mike McNamara after Doolittle’s report referenced a “Grayling mafia” and said the MATES suffered from “toxic leadership” and lack of discipline.
“I am concerned for the safety and well-being of all persons who have come forward and provided detailed accurate statements against persons who are ‘well-connected,’ ” Doolittle said in the memo to Vadnais. Doolittle, whose regular job is as a Grand Rapids police sergeant, didn’t specify who he thought would endanger the safety of witnesses.
Doolittle did not return messages asking for comment Friday. But some of the allegations in his report were:
- MATES personnel threw away “hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of new and used equipment and parts,” including shock absorbers, engine and transmission parts and electronic equipment, on the orders of Golnick and McNamara, so the facility would look better for an April 2013 inspection.
- Several people who worked at the facility were running businesses on the side using government equipment and time, including a stock trading operation and a lawn care business.
- Theft was widespread and worsening, and appeared “to have started with nuts/bolts, progressing to tools, progressing to bigger tools, to time, to copper, to diesel (fuel), and to wood.”
- Theft of time involved abuse of leave time, such as “trash can” leave, in which leave time would be requested and granted but the request would be thrown in the trash so there was no record of it having been used.
- Lack of discipline, with personnel not wearing proper uniforms and addressing one another by their first names.
- “Fractured or completely broken” communication, with the mutual animosity between Golnick and McNamara so strong that McNamara told the investigator he only talked to Golnick when he had to.
- Nepotism in which relatives were hired and, in some cases, reported to relatives.
- An inappropriate too-close friendship between Golnick and Reed, who are both married to other partners. He spent considerable time in her work area and the two worked out and socialized together. Doolittle’s report said there was no direct evidence they had a sexual relationship, but their closeness made many at the facility uncomfortable and some felt Reed received favored treatment.
- Doolittle said he heard it was common to give base business to friends who lived in Grayling, and one supplier gave two MATES employees a chartered fishing trip and allowed hunting on his land.
Golnick, contacted through a third party, declined comment. McNamara did not respond to a phone message left at his home.
Smock and Reeds will challenge their firings at an administrative hearings before a high-ranking military officer. New dates for those hearings have not been set after Friday’s postponement. Both are asking to be reinstated.
The allegations against Smock mainly related to theft.
“I maintain I never stole anything,” Smock, who remains with the Michigan National Guard as a weekend reservist but no longer works at the base, told the Free Press on Friday.
One allegation involved a witness seeing Smock carry a flat-screen TV to his truck, but Smock said he has a receipt to show Golnick personally paid for the TV set, and it was only delivered to the base.
Another allegation was that Smock put government-purchased tires on his son’s truck. Banchs said Smock has a receipt to counter that claim, too, and the equipment he allegedly used wasn’t even working when the alleged theft took place.
The allegations against Reed were that she hurt morale and discipline by having an inappropriate relationship with Golnick, and that she improperly used government vehicles.
Banchs said the allegations related to Golnick amount to “innuendo,” and “they all stopped short of accusing her of having a sexual relationship.”
The Reed family owns a bar in Grayling, and the Reed and Golnick families are longtime friends, he said.
Reed denies the allegations related to misuse of vehicles, and those allegations are based on unsubstantiated hearsay or misinformation, Banchs said.