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Thetford Township police chief charged with embezzlement, obstruction in military surplus scandal

Genessee County

Thetford Township police chief Robert Kenny, age 45, has been arraigned on charges of embezzling funds from the U.S. military surplus program, as well as obstruction of justice. 

The Thursday arraignment follows his arrest Wednesday night. He has been released on $30,000 bail.

The embezzlement charge is a felony with a prison sentence of up to five years; obstruction of justice carries up to a four-year penalty.

Read more: Much of a tiny police department's more than $1.3 million in military surplus is missing

On behalf of the police department, Kenny acquired nearly 4,000 items from the federal surplus program since 2012, with a retail value of $2.7 million. (The actual value would be far less, because the items are used, and sometimes not in good condition.) Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell says in 2012 and 2013, Kenny took some of the items to a scrap yard, where he received three checks for a total of about $5,000, and either deposited them in his own bank account, or cashed them.

"Those three checks should have been placed in a Thetford Township banking account, not in Chief Kenny's personal account," says Pickell.

Pickell says the investigation is ongoing. Many of the other items are missing, and Pickell says it's possible there could be additional thefts discovered.  

Pickell says Kenny may have come to believe the rules did not apply to him.

"Chief Kenny may have started out with noble intentions," Pickell said at a press conference announcing the charges, "but depositing Thetford Township government money into his own personal bank account and gifting property to friends and employees is far from noble."
Kenny's embezzlement may not have come to light were it not for the dogged efforts of Thetford Township Supervisor Gary Stevens, and Township trustee Stan Piechnik. Piechnik began asking questions about the military surplus early on, in 2012, and Stevens joined him in putting pressure on Kenny after he was elected in 2016.

Along the way, both were vilified by supporters of Kenny. They also faced a recall election, which they won.

"They stood tall," Pickell said of the two men. "And they persevered in the light of an attempted recall. These are dedicated public servants."

Pickell says Kenny also staged a "discovery" of the missing $5,000 after the investigation began. He says Kenny arranged for a reporter to be present as a witness while his two police officers searched a military surplus trailer. One of the officers eventually found an envelope stuffed with cash with "LESO" written on it. LESO stands for Law Enforcement Support Office, the name of the military surplus program.

"When you tell a lie, and you live a life of deceit, you have to tell another lie to cover your deceit and lies," says Pickell. The staged event is the reason Kenny is also charged with obstruction of justice, rather than just embezzlement.

Kenny is passionately supported by a portion of Thetford Township's 7,000 residents.  One of them, John Sherman, started a GoFundMe page to help with Kenny's defense. It reads:

Credit Go Fund Me
Go Fund Me

As of 4:23 p.m. on August 23, 2018, the GoFundMe page had raised $925 of the $5,000 goal.

A special township meeting is expected to be held sometime Friday, to put Kenny on paid administrative leave.


Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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