Smith gets year probation for phone call to Houghton County Clerk
FLINT — A Genesee County man who made a late-night harassing phone call to Houghton County Clerk Jennifer Kelly on behalf of her political opponent in March 2020 was sentenced to a year probation Tuesday.
Matthew Smith, 24, pleaded guilty in November to malicious use of a telecommunications device, a six-month misdemeanor.
Smith was sentenced under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, which will expunge the conviction from his record if he successfully completes probation. He must also complete 240 days of community service outside his community of Davison and write an essay of 1,000 words or more on the dangers of political bullying.
He is also required to stay out of Houghton County during his probation and cannot contact Kelly.
During the phone call, Kelly said, Smith threatened to poison and kill her dogs, and also insulted the state of her home after claiming first to be a TV reporter and then to work for the show “Hoarders.” While apologizing for the call, Smith denied making the threats Tuesday.
Smith’s attorney had requested not adding community service not be included because of Smith’s pre-existing roles, including serving on the Davison school board and chairing the Genesee County Republican Party.
The school board censured Smith last month for ethics violations stemming from the case. The vote barred him from running for board president and stripped him of his committee assignments.
Community members are also conducting a recall effort against Smith. The petition had garnered about half the necessary signatures as of last month.
During his plea hearing in November, Smith said he had made the call “with the intent to annoy (Kelly).” During Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, Kelly said she felt Smith’s comments violated the plea agreement made in November and falsely minimized the call.
“He didn’t call me to discuss politics, he didn’t invite me to coffee to discuss his friend running against me,” Kelly said during Tuesday’s sentencing hearing. “He called me to scare me. He succeeded. To live how I have for the past two years has been more than I can tell you, your honor. I’ve hid in my own home. I’ve been afraid to go outside. I have avoided functions. I have feared losing my animals, that I love more than I could tell you.”
Smith made the call for his friend Justin Kasieta, who was running against Kelly in the clerk race. She later found Kasieta had been listening in on the call, as was Jake Putala, who also worked for State Sen. Ed McBroom. Kelly defeated Kasieta in November 2020.
“What did I do to deserve such a call?” she said. “The answer clearly is, it’s very political. I have a job, and three men chose to call me at 1:01 in the morning, threaten me, intimidate me and scare me enough to try to make me withdraw so his friend could have my job. Well, I didn’t withdraw. I won my election and I’ve continued to pursue these charges.”
Smith repeatedly denied making threats against Kelly’s pets, saying he is a dog owner.
“People in my community are signing recall petitions, they’re signing different things, thinking i’m an animal abuser, and that’s simply not true,” he said. “But I tell you this, Judge, I’m sorry for disturbing Ms. Kelly. You should never call an elected official and criticize them and disturb them late at night, and I pledge to you that I will never call Ms. Kelly or anybody ever again and disturb them.”
Judge William Crawford said Smith did not violate the plea agreement. If both parties always had to agree completely on the version of events, “there would never, ever be a guilty plea,” Crawford said.
However, he said Smith had undermined his credibility multiple times. Smith had claimed his call to Kelly was about telling her how to perform her job; Crawford found that improbable, saying “We know you don’t call at one o’clock at night to explain her official duties.” He also wondered why Smith had not been charged with lying to Davison police. Smith initially denied he made the call and filed a police report claiming someone had spoofed his phone number. Phone records indicated Smith had made the call.
“Right now, if I had to decide whether or not you made those statements regarding the poisoning of a dog, I have no reason to doubt Kelly’s credibility, but you do have some issues with yours,” Crawford said.