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Valente political sign theft case in legal limbo

By Lisa Brody

The larceny case involving a former Republican candidate for trustee in Bloomfield Township, Don Valente, for theft of campaign signs in last August's primary election, may have been dropped by the assistant Oakland County prosecutor after numerous delays and appeals on the part of Valente and his lawyer, unless Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald chooses to personally review the case.

Valente is a retired attorney.

In late July 2020, the Oakland County Sheriff's office has submitted an investigation into multiple thefts of campaign signs by a candidate for Bloomfield Township Trustee, Don Valente, to the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office for consideration of an arrest warrant after a complaint was filed with the Bloomfield Township Police Department by a citizen who recognized Valente and saw him taking campaign signs for township supervisor Leo Savoie and treasurer Brian Kepes in the vicinity of Long Lake and Telegraph. Bloomfield Township police initially investigated the complaint, with surveillance cameras confirming the thefts. They then expanded their surveillance review to other locations along Telegraph, where they saw numerous other signs for Savoie, Kepes, Tom Smyly, Eric Pernie, Neal Barnett and other candidates that had been taken.

Because Pernie is a Bloomfield Township police officer, the investigation was referred to the Oakland County Sheriff's Office to avoid a conflict of interest. Pernie, Savoie, and Valente all lost their respective races, and Smyly lost to Martin Brook in November.

Reports indicated that between 50 and 60 election signs were found by officers in plain view leaning against the outside of Valente's garage.

Neal Barnett, a long time township trustee who was re-elected in 2020, said he received a call from the assistant prosecutor handling the case informing him that Valente's attorney had made a motion in 48th District Court before Judge Kimberly Small to have the evidence – all of the election signs – thrown out. Small denied the motion, and Valente has appealed to Oakland County Circuit Court to have Small's motion overturned.

Barnett said the assistant prosecutor said the office had decided to drop the case at this point.

“That is a dangerous precedent to set,” Barnett said. “I wrote an email to the new prosecutor (McDonald) saying that.”

He said McDonald is now going to review the case. Calls and emails to her office were not returned to confirm that by press time.

“He's never even apologized to the community or admitted he did something wrong,” Barnett said. That is something that particularly bothers Kepes as well.

“What is most troubling is he violated a system we all swore to uphold – the Constitution of the state of Michigan,” said Savoie, noting Valente is still a licensed attorney as well as a former assistant prosecutor for Wayne County. “This guy has no respect for the system he was part of. They're allowing him to violate the public's trust. He was running for office. It's part of the integrity of the office.”

Valente had been a vocal opponent of Savoie and Kepes at township board meetings and in written campaign materials, but Savoie's wife Sally said it went far beyond vocal opposition.

“He harassed and threatened us for two years, including coming on our property and to our front door,” she said. “He stole signs in broad daylight. I was scared he could do worse. I can't believe as an attorney he can get away with it.”


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