Political sign thief accepts plea as trial begins
By Lisa Brody
Don Valente, 2020 Republican candidate for Bloomfield Township trustee, agreed to a plea deal for disorderly conduct and pleaded guilty on Thursday, December 2, as a trial for larceny of campaign sign theft for property less than $200 was scheduled to begin before Judge Kimberly Small at 48th District Court.
According to witnesses in the courtroom, as the trial was set to begin and the jury was waiting, the assistant prosecutor from the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office and Valente's attorney held a number of conversations and meetings with Small. Eventually, the original plea, larceny of campaign sign theft for property less than $200, was dropped and replaced by a charge for disorderly conduct.
Small explained the charge and his rights to Valente, and he voluntarily accepted the plea. A member of Small's staff confirmed the court action.
Sentencing of up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine is scheduled by the end of the year.
Valente, a retired attorney, had been accused of stealing political signs during the 2020 primary election. The crime is a misdemeanor, punishable by 93 days in jail and/or $500, or three times the value of the property stolen, whichever is greater. The signs stolen were for township candidates Bloomfield Township Supervisor Leo Savoie, Brian Kepes, trustees Neal Barnett and Michael Schostak and clerk candidate Thomas Smyly. Kepes, Barnett and Schostak all won their primary and general elections. Township police records indicate that about three dozen signs were found outside the garage on Valente's property.
A complaint was initially filed with the Bloomfield Township Police Department by a citizen who recognized Valente and saw him taking campaign signs for Savoie and Kepes in the vicinity of Long Lake and Telegraph. Bloomfield Township police initially investigated the complaint. They then expanded their surveillance review to other locations along Telegraph. The case was eventually turned over to the county sheriff's office because one of the candidates was a township police officer. A sheriff deputy confirmed to Downtown Newsmagazine in 2020 that at least three dozen signs and quite possibly more were found on Valente's property.
Both Savoie and Kepes gave victim impact statements in court on December 2, discussing Valente's impact on the political system and the residents of Bloomfield Township.
Noting the acceptance of the plea, Barnett said, “It's something, and it will be on his record.”