Green Charter Township, outside Big Rapids in Mecosta County, boasts a population of only 3,239 residents.

But this ordinarily quiet agricultural area with rivers and creeks teeming with trout and bass and wooded acreage bursting with herds of deer and other wildlife has been riven by dissenting factions and alleged improprieties, including felonious nonconsensual recording of township officials.

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The township’s divisions have been exacerbated by the Oct. 2022 announcement that Chinese manufacturer Gotion Inc. was planning to build a $2.36 billion electric vehicle battery in the township, a project that Gotion and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation say will create 2,350 jobs, nearly doubling Green’s population.

In fact, the MEDC and state and local officials offered Gotion up to $1.14 billion in taxpayer-funded subsidies, including a $125 million Critical Industry Program grant; $540 million to create a Mecosta County Renaissance Zone; and a Strategic Site Readiness Program grant valued at $50 million. State and local tax abatements and utility incentives further sweetened the deal.

The deal sparked an outcry from both residents and politicians who expressed concerns about the industrial toxic chemicals and minerals’ environmental impact on the local watershed. Others worried that the township’s small-town atmosphere would be upended by major industrial manufacturing and the concomitant influx of workers.

Weighing just as heavily for some in the community and throughout the state and country was an explicit article in Gotion’s bylaws mandating the company “perform its duties in accordance with the Constitution of the Communist Party of China and other Party Regulations….” This also generated concerns that the EV battery plant was little more than a ruse for spying on the nearby National Guard camp in Grayling, where U.S. troops have been training Taiwanese soldiers to protect their homeland from a potential Chinese invasion.

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From two townships to one
Since the Gotion announcement, Green Charter Township became increasingly divided between two opposing factions, dubbed No-Gotion and Pro-Gotion. The No-Gotion faction succeeded in their recall effort of five board trustees and the resignation of two others – the entire seven-member township board – last November.

Ultimately, the heat from public and political pushback prompted Gotion to scuttle its original plans to build part of its plant on 115.33 acres in Big Rapids Township, which is adjacent to Green Township, where the manufacturer is currently in the process of cutting trees before plant construction. In all, two plants are planned, which will cover approximately 260 acres.

The dust had barely settled after the board recall in November when the new occupants of the township hall became suspicious that something was as nearly rotten in Green Charter Township as it was in the state of Denmark back in the days of Prince Hamlet.

Throttled emails
The first signs of intrigue were related to throttled emails that the newly appointed Township Supervisor Jason Kruse said were more than dubious.

Green Charter Township Supervisor Jason Kruse

In phone interviews with The Midwesterner, Kruse explained that the previous Township Board had contracted with information technology company Internet Services, Inc. ISI, Kruse said, set up shop in the basement of the township hall and was granted access to the building.

Shortly after taking office, Kruse began experiencing difficulties with his emails, his township-provided phone, and the Township Hall copier.

“I noticed that I wasn’t receiving any emails from Gotion or anything related to [Gotion Vice President of Manufacturing] Chuck Thelen,” Kruse said. “I was at the local gas station, I was getting a cup of coffee, and a few guys approached me, and they said, ‘You know Chuck is trying to get a hold of you,’ and I said, ‘Well, I don’t know how he could be getting a hold of me, I don’t see an email, I don’t have a phone call, and my phones were kind of down anyways.”

After Kruse paid a personal visit to Thelen to apologize, he said, he returned to his township office. Within 15 minutes, according to Kruse, all of the missing emails were in his inbox.

After the recall of the prior board, Kruse said, the township’s contract with ISI remained in place, an arrangement Kruse and the current board are trying to scuttle.

In January, Green Charter Township Attorney Seth Koches sent a termination letter addressed to ISI and its co-owner Steven Wright.

In that Jan. 5, 2024, document, obtained by The Midwesterner, Koches asserted Wright had withheld access to passwords and passcodes necessary for township officials “to access vital Township records to effectively operate and maintain municipal business.”

Koches’ letter continued: “To date, Jason Kruse, the Township Supervisor, has requested this information and you have refused to provide it.”

Koches added: “ISI does not get to pick and choose what information it retains and what information it produces to the Township. For example, the Supervisor is unable to access his Township email account because ISI refuses to provide the appropriate access codes and passwords. ISI’s conduct in this regard is not only unprofessional but actionable.”

Steve Beilfuss is the co-owner and director of ISI. He was present at a Jan. 9, 2024, Green Charter Board of Trustees meeting, which the Big Rapids Pioneer covered.

“They have had access to the things they have denied having access to, and they have refused to take us up on our offer to help them gain access to the rest,” the Pioneer reports Beilfuss as saying. “What Jason (Kruse) is forgetting is all the phone calls and emails back and forth. We told them we had all the stuff we wanted to give them and asked when they wanted it, and they didn’t respond. They had access to the email system within two or three days.”

According to Kruse, his township emails would be bottlenecked for days before finally being dumped in a deluge after several days. Worse, he alleged, ISI had the ability to screen all incoming and outgoing township emails. Kruse further alleged in his conversation with The Midwesterner that ISI erased his Gotion and battery plant files.

Bugged phones and surveillance cameras
Chris Long is a software engineer and concerned citizen who conducted a “private investigation” of ISI. In an interview with The Midwesterner, he alleged that not only was ISI monitoring emails, but as well phone calls and activities captured by strategically located video cameras.

“Someone was clearly passing information to [former Green Charter Township Supervisor] Jim Chapman and people on the other side, telling them what was going on, who was there [at the Township Hall],” Long said.

“ISI wouldn’t give passwords to the new board,” he continued. “Clearly they’ve heard phone calls. I’m sure they’ve heard phone calls on those phones, which is why the Township needed to get rid of the phones.”

Long explained that Township officials were administered phones that operated using a voice-over-internet protocol, directing all calls to filter through ISI’s servers.

The phones given trustees, Long said, were “probably compromised, especially since they’re VoIP phones that are running through Steve Wright’s servers.”

As for the cameras in the building that were taken down by Kruse, Wright noted “there were certain cameras pointed in certain areas of the building. For example, there was a camera pointed at the playground that went straight to Steve Wright’s room in the basement to his servers. Why was it going there and not to the Township?” he asked.

As for the cameras mounted inside the building, Young said, “They could literally watch what the clerk was doing or the supervisor or the treasurer at any point in time and nobody would know.”

‘Unauthorized’ FOIA fulfillment
“The clerk and I both had noticed that we had inconsistencies with our e-mail and the inconsistency was that we weren’t receiving emails in a timely fashion and how that looked is that these emails would all of a sudden drop so we’d have several days of dropped emails when we first got in there,” Kruse said. “So, we wouldn’t get emails when all of a sudden, we have a bunch of emails that would drop in and in our inbox days later. We’re like, ‘Well, this is weird. I’ve never seen this before ever.’”

Additionally, asserted Koches, ISI fulfilled a Freedom of Information Act request despite not possessing the authority to do so. Kruse told The Midwesterner that much of the FOIA-requested material pertained to video and audio recordings of private discussions regarding the Gotion project. Additionally, the Township Board had previously denied the same FOIA request subsequently fulfilled by ISI.

Source: Only Things Gotion Facebook page

Beilfuss claimed ISI was granted authority by Kruse to fulfill the FOIA request, which sought all recorded materials after the new board took control. Kruse told The Midwesterner and Koches maintains in his letter that only the Township FOIA Coordinator can process FOIA requests to ensure that all materials are “reviewed for potential exemptions/redactions under the FOIA statute, which is usually done by the Township Attorney.”

Both the county prosecutor and the Michigan State Police were notified of the Township’s allegations.

Green Charter Township Trustee Kelly Cushway is one of the new trustees elected last November.

“They talked to the prosecutor, and apparently, the prosecutor said it was nothing more than a civil matter and that they were booked solid, and they didn’t have time to deal with it,” Cushway told The Midwesterner.

Sweeping for bugs
Koches alleges that some of the materials turned over by ISI as part of the FOIA fulfillment were illegally obtained through surveillance equipment in the town hall and published online.

“These recordings occurred when the Township Supervisor was in his private office at the Township Hall speaking to other people, without knowing or consenting to being recorded,” Koches wrote. “In fact, none of the parties that were recorded by ISI appear to have had knowledge their conversation was being recorded.”

A pro-Gotion Facebook page was the first to make them public:

 

The community has the “Right to Know”. So here you go. Jason personally approved the audio and video release for the FOIA. The board had an option to review the information being provided. We are not aware that they did.

Posted by Anonymous participant on Tuesday, December 12, 2023

 

By request, Steve being escorted out of the township hall by a state trooper, exactly as previously described. And there was no swearing or cursing. I’ve also requested the audio of Steve falsely claiming to Jason Kruse that Tracy posted that he’d been arrested, and will post that when it becomes available. All of this video and audio was available to the new board by request, when they took over the hall. The previous board did not have access once the new board was sworn in. It’s security footage. The idea that the outgoing board was listening in, or could see inspector clouseau flipping them off, is parenoid delusion.

Posted by Tim Hahn on Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Koches categorizes the act as fitting the legal definition of eavesdropping, which is a felony under the Michigan Penal Code “punishable by imprisonment is a state prison for not more than 2 years or by a fine of not more than $2,000.00, or both.”

“We did sweep the place for bugs,” Kruse said. “We didn’t find anything so I’m not sure exactly how they were getting the audio of us in our offices.”

Long told The Midwesterner that he offered his own recommendations to the Board of Trustees on how to sever the Township’s contract with ISI.

“I told them if you’re going to get rid of them, you need to be prepared because if you plan to stop Gotion, you have to get rid of the internet company,” Long said. “Because that company, I guarantee you, has equipment in there [and] they have the ability to see all emails on whatever you’re doing.”

He continued: “So if you think that you can go in there, get rid of the board, and then get rid of Gotion, you have to get rid of the internet company. If you don’t, they’re going to be five steps ahead. Gotion’s going to be five steps ahead because Steve [Wright] will relay the information back to whoever, and that is exactly what we saw when they first were elected between the cameras and information and everything.”

Surreptitious circumstances
ISI is represented by Kased Law in Troy, who responded to Koches’ letter on Feb. 1, calling the eavesdropping accusation “nonsense” and stating: “We take offense with the aggressive tone and demands, in addition to the inaccurate assessment for curing any alleged breach of the Management and Maintenance Agreement….”

The response continues that ISI “values respectful dialog, and it will not be bullied or coerced into responding to such inflammatory letters and accusations.”

Kruse cites letters the township received from Gotion’s legal team at Warner Norcross + Judd last December. The Gotion attorneys alleged the Township was in breach of its development agreement with Gotion, which Kruse said references information that Gotion could have only obtained through surreptitious circumstances.

In the meantime, Kased Law, on behalf of its clients ISI, last week fired off a letter threatening Green Charter Township with a breach of contract lawsuit.

“ISI demands explicit assurances that the Township will not breach the Agreement’s terms,” the letter reads. “Specifically that the services will not be terminated outside the terms and conditions of the Agreement between the Township and ISI.”

Once again, Kased attorneys stated that Green Charter Township officials’ claims that ISI provided “insufficient access requests or other grounds that necessitate a breach of contract, these are patently untrue.”

For its part, Green Charter Township has changed phones and internet from ISI, and continues its legal maneuvering to remove the company from its office in the Township Hall basement.

The Midwesterner submitted emails to Gotion’s public affairs officials for comments, but received no response.