Helmuth could face criminal charges
February 23, 2011 - In last week's column, I opined on the two options I see facing Oxford Village Councilwoman Maureen "Moe" Helmuth as consequences for betraying the public's trust.
To me, she should either resign her seat on council or the public should petition for her recall.
I believe she's no longer fit to serve.
Helmuth's status as a council member aside, there is a third potential consequence for her decision to place a friendship above her duty as a public official.
Helmuth could face criminal charges for admitting that she helped a village employee cover-up an alleged embezzlement of $2,000 to $3,500 in property tax monies paid to the municipality.
Roughly five years ago, when Helmuth was employed as deputy village treasurer, she discovered the alleged embezzlement by the deputy clerk, but instead of reporting it, she loaned money to repay it and kept quiet about it until finally speaking up on Jan. 25 of this year.
I spoke with some legal experts and they seemed to agree Helmuth could be charged with misconduct in office, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
Helmuth's offense could be considered either malfeasance, which is the doing of a wrongful act, or nonfeasance, which is the failure to perform an act required by the duties of the office.
She could also face a charge of willful neglect of duty, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
Based on my conversations and research, it's unclear to me whether Helmuth was a public officer or public employee when she was deputy treasurer at the time of the alleged embezzlement, loan and cover-up. This is significant because misconduct in office applies only to public officers as distinguished from public employees.
However, it is very clear that Helmuth continued to keep quiet about the alleged embezzlement during her subsequent term as village treasurer from 2007-08 and for 16 months after her election to council in 2009. Both positions are defined as public officers and she had a duty to immediately report her knowledge of an alleged crime against the village, especially when the alleged perpetrator continued to work and handle money for the municipality. So, a misconduct charge could apply here.
Of course, all of this will be up to the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office to decide. I'm quite confident that if they believe a law's been broken, Helmuth will be charged.
One of the things that distinguishes this country from most of the world is the fact we follow the rule of law.
No matter who you are, what you do for a living or how much money you have, we are all subject to the same laws. We are all expected to obey the law and we are all subject to punishment when we break it. Prosecutions aren't based on whether or not we like a person.
The last time I checked we're not allowed to break the law as long as we're doing it to help a friend.
The last time I checked a public official isn't permitted to ignore their duty and disregard the law as long as they're doing it to help a friend.
The last time I checked we don't get a pass for violating the law if we volunteer with kids or have a big heart.
Blaming others, making sappy, cliche-filled excuses and tugging at people's heartstrings doesn't trump the law nor does it justify doing the wrong thing.
Right is right. Wrong is wrong. The law is the law.
What Helmuth admitted to doing was wrong and she should be subject to consequences.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.