Houghton County clerk’s opponent allegedly linked to threatening call
HOUGHTON — At least two people, including her opponent in the November election, were involved in a late-night threatening phone call to her house in March, Houghton County Clerk Jennifer Kelly said.
An investigation by the Houghton County Sheriff’s Office and Michigan State Police identified the caller as Matthew Smith, a candidate for the downstate Genesee County Board and a member of the Davison Community School board. Houghton County’s incident report also identified another person listening in on the call — Justin Kasieta, Kelly’s opponent, also a representative for State Rep. Greg Markkanen.
“I never, ever expected my opponent to be involved with this,” Kelly said in an interview. “I just knew that that night somebody scared the living bejesus out of me.”
After months of waiting, Kelly finally received clearance to go public from the Michigan State Police detective investigating her case, Kelly said.
During Tuesday’s Houghton County Board meeting, Commissioner Glenn Anderson called on Kasieta to drop out of the race.
“In my humble opinion, we can’t have a county clerk that will be either arrested before or arrested just after the election being our county clerk,” he said. “Whether you like him or not, I think that’s just crossing a line. We’re talking conduct that’s certainly illegal. I’m just disgusted.”
Shortly after 1 a.m. March 6, Kelly received a call at home from a private number, according to the Houghton County incident report. The male caller first identified himself as a WLUC-TV reporter and asked to come film her home; when she denied the request, the man then claimed he was with TLC’s “Hoarders” and that she needed to clean her home, the incident report stated.
After that, Kelly said, the man stated, “I am going to make sure you are never re-elected, you f—ing b—-.” He also allegedly said he would “poison her dogs, kill them and throw them in a dumpster,” according to the incident report. Kelly then hung up and called the sheriff’s office, the report said.
“I was going around the house and shutting all the curtains, locking my door and making sure the door on the back of my garage was locked,” Kelly said in an interview. “And I stayed up all night, checking them over and over again, watching and peeking out the windows.”
Phone records from the Baraga Telephone Company indicated the call came from a downstate number traced to Smith. After the sheriff’s deputy played a tape of one of Smith’s campaign ads, Kelly said the voice was that of the person who called her, the incident report stated. Smith may have been the same person who had called her office earlier the previous week asking who was running for clerk and treasurer, Kelly said.
Smith was found to be connected to Kasieta through Facebook, where they had contact including liking each other’s posts, the incident report said.
After being contacted by the Sheriff’s Department, Smith denied making the call and said friends of his might have spoofed his number, the report said. The call showed up on a record of Smith’s Verizon account, which a spoof call would not have, Davison Township Police Det. David Sohner said in an affidavit establishing probable cause for a search warrant.
In a statement by Kasieta relayed to the Houghton County Sheriff’s Office, he said he had only listened in on the call from Smith; Smith had also come up with the idea, Kasieta said in the statement.
He agreed Smith had used foul language. However, he denied Smith had made any threat against Kelly’s dogs. Instead, Smith had said only that the state of Kelly’s house is dangerous for the dog,” Kasieta said in the statement.
The incident continues to take a toll, Kelly said. For several months after the incident, she said, she had to move a heavy set of drawers in front of her bedroom door to feel comfortable sleeping.
“I’m not a super-religious woman, but I know we’re not supposed to treat each other like this,” she said. “I don’t even want an apology if it comes down to it. I never want to hear from them. Never.”
In the incident report, Smith is listed as a suspect in the use of a telephone for threats, while Kasieta is listed as a witness.
Houghton County had forwarded the report downstate to Genesee County, the report indicates. The case is currently being looked at the state Attorney General’s office, Kelly said. The Attorney General’s office declined to comment on the matter Friday.
In a statement released Tuesday by Kasieta’s attorney, Matthew Eliason, Kasieta expressed sympathy for Kelly, and said he had not made or suggested the phone call. The statement does not name Smith, who is referred to only as a possible “overzealous Kasieta supporter.”
Kasieta also denied knowledge of any threats, and said he does not condone threats of any type.
“He wishes Ms. Kelly and her pets the best in the election and hopes that she will focus on the real issues such as community engagement, government transparency, and free and fair elections, rather than diverting community and state resources to investigate a prank call,” the statement said.
Smith did not respond to a request for comment emailed to him Monday. When called Tuesday, his voicemail was full.