School board member accused of threatening phone call

Smith claims to be target of ‘political hit job’

DAVISON TWP. — A school board member and candidate for the Genesee County Board of Commissioners has been accused of making a threatening phone call to a political rival of a friend just two weeks prior to the Nov. 3 general election.

Matthew Smith, who serves on the Davison Board of Education and is the Republican candidate for the 9th District County Commission seat, has been accused of making a harassing phone call to the Houghton County Clerk in March.

Genesee County Clerk John Gleason contacted the local media, including the Davison Index, on Oct. 12 offering an email from Houghton County Clerk Jennifer Kelly to the Michigan Attorney General’s office.

The email provided by Gleason, purportedly from Kelly to the AG’s office, says: “On March 6, 2020 I received a private call at 1:01 a.m. that has forever changed my life. You currently have the case there for review for charges. It has been 7 months today of utter Hell that I have been through. How I have been living in fear is horrible!”

Kelly claims she was awakened by a phone call on March 6 which lasted more than two minutes in which the male caller (she said there were three people on the line) identified himself as a TV 6 WLUC-TV reporter and asked to come film her home.

She said she denied the request and the man then claimed he was with the TLC program “Hoarders” and he suggested she should clean her home, Kelly told the Index Oct. 13.

She claims the caller said he was going to make sure she was not re-elected and threatened to poison her dogs and “throw them in a dumpster.”

Kelly said she ended the call after the alleged threat and called the sheriff in Houghton County immediately. The next day she said she made a police report.

“He called from a private number. I begged the phone company to retrieve the number. They did and the sheriff’s department verified it was Matt Smith,” said Kelly, a Democrat who is seeking re-election to her office Nov. 3.

According to police reports, a Det./Lt. Saaranen from the Houghton County Sheriff’s Department had Kelly listen to one of Smith’s campaign ads and asked her if she recognized the voice on the phone as belonging to him.

“Kelly advised in her opinion it was in fact the same voice that called her on March 6, 2020,” the report stated.

From there, she said authorities in Houghton County connected her Republican political opponent, Justin Kasieta, who is also a representative for State Rep. Greg Markkanen, to Smith because they are Facebook friends.

Kelly said there have been no other incidents of negative campaigning between she and Kasieta.

According to police reports, Kasieta admitted he was involved in the call, but he claims it was Smith’s idea and phone. He also said Smith used obscene language during the call, but he said he did not threaten Kelly’s dogs.

However, The Daily Mining Gazette in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula reported Tuesday Kasieta’s attorney, Matthew Eliason, issued a statement in which Kasieta expressed sympathy for Kelly, and said he had not made or suggested the phone call.

The Gazette reported further Kasieta’s latest statement does not name Smith, who is referred to only as a possible “overzealous Kasieta supporter.”

Kasieta again denied knowledge of any threats and said he does not condone threats of any type, the Gazette report said.

Smith denied the claim and filed a police report March 20 in which he told Ofc. Chad Hayes of the Davison Township Police Department an unknown suspect was using his telephone number to make prank phone calls.

“Matthew believes this has been happening for 18 months,” said Hayes in the report obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Davison Index. “Matthew believes, as do I, that the suspect is using a phone app to make these prank calls.”

A search warrant was granted to Davison Township Police Department Det. David Sohmer on April 29 to obtain Smith’s Verizon phone records. According to the report, the call log confirmed a call was placed from Smith’s phone to Kelly at the date and time she reported receiving the threat.

Sohmer concluded in his report that if a call had been “spoofed” it would not show up on Smith’s account detail record. On May 5, Sohmer turned the case over to the Michigan State Police for further investigation due to it involving multiple jurisdictions.

Ryan Jarvi, press secretary for Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, said the AG’s office was unable to comment on the case at this time.

Smith issued a statement to the Index Wednesday evening in which he only referred to the allegations as “false.”

He went on to accuse Gleason of timing the disclosure of the information to coincide with the final days of his campaign for the Genesee County Board of Commissioners seat.

He is challenged in that race by Democrat Gary Peppin of Davison.

“At a time when my family is going through a very emotional loss of my grandfather due to COVID, my political adversaries have started political games by leaking false allegations to the news media to gain political advantage 20 days from the election,” said Smith in his statement. “It is an awful feeling to be accused of making threats when you did not. It speaks to the dirty politics that Democrat Genesee County Clerk John Gleason has been intervening with this and is engaging in a political hit job.

“It is sad that once again John Gleason is using the power of his office to influence an election because his candidate of choice is my opponent. Politics can be so nasty and disgusting sometimes.

“My community knows me. I look forward to continuing to serve my community and expanding my public service to the county level.”

Gleason said he did not bring attention to the case as a political move.

“If Gary Peppin walked in my house, I wouldn’t know him,” said Gleason. “I’ve called him a few times, but I’ve had no long conversations with Gary.”

Gleason added he thinks Smith is trying to shift the blame away from himself regarding the allegations by Kelly.

“Matt’s whole adult life he’s always blamed other people for trouble he’s caused,” said Gleason. “If he actually said that (his statement) then he’s ‘spoofing’ my influence.”