ALPENA - Attorneys got several hours into a preliminary examination of evidence against business man Phillip L. Lindle Thursday, but had to declare a continuation because Prosecutor Ed Black had other cases to handle that afternoon.
No date has yet been set for the hearing to resume.
Only one witness gave testimony.
Mark McClutchey, a special investigator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Lindle conspired to defraud the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance food stamp program of around $63,000 between August 2010 and March 2013.
He accused the 56-year-old of permitting Bridge Card holders to buy non-food items, including cigarettes, dog food, and energy drinks. He also provided synthetic marijuana disguised as promotional gifts.
More than 20 people were disqualified from the food stamp program as a result of the investigation into Z's Crossroads and eight were arrested.
Lindle's daughter, Vanessa Lindle, was among them, and her preliminary examination Thursday on similar charges also was adjourned.
Under questioning by Black, McClutchey said during a Huron Undercover Narcotics Team operation a confidential informant made four specific purchases at the truck stop between May and October of 2012.
In one instance, the informant purchased four freezer-burned steaks for $200 and received four packages of synthetic marijuana priced at $50 each. Another time, he purchased a two-pound sleeve of ground beef, which was past its expiration date, two hams and a loaf of meat for $154.05, and also received drugs.
Black handed 88th District Court Judge Theodore Johnson copies of the photographs McClutchey took of each buy, including packages of the meat, packets of drugs and receipts.
As additional evidence, McClutchey presented a report showing that Bridge Card purchases increased dramatically after August 2011.
In April 2011, those sales were around $1,237 for the month, he said, which is normal for a truck stop. But by April the following year, they had grown to $9,765 for the month. Then, in July 2012, when synthetic marijuana was banned, Bridge Card purchases dropped back to normal levels.
McClutchey said his investigation and interviews with a dozen witnesses also indicated Lindle was behind the fraud. Witnesses said Lindle would be called by phone to give approval to new Bridge Card customers, who wanted to buy drugs. The customers would be instructed by employees to buy packages of meat out of a freezer at the back of the store in order to receive them.
Defense attorney Dan White challenged McClutchey's evidence, contending Lindle was providing a valid promotion: customers purchased food, not the drugs. Lindle, wearing a sports jacket and glasses, appeared involved in his own defense Thursday, helping to adjust documents on an overhead projector and writing notes to White at certain points. He was joined at the defense table by his daughter, and another family associate.
Wife, Vickie, also was in court. Z's Crossroads has been in her name since 2008, and is held by Lindle Investments LLC, which also names her as owner and single member. Additionally, she is designated agent for Auston's Bar & Grill and Standard Express of Michigan. She also signed food stamp agreements.
On one document, though, Phil Lindle signed permission for Z's Crossroads to be inspected by food stamp representatives, identifying himself as a "helper."
White spent most of his cross examination questioning McClutchey about the details. He said the agent did not bring is case notes to court and was not able to provide detailed lists of items that were improperly purchased.
"The bottom line is this is tracking all of the food stamp receipts, but it doesn't lay out which particular products were eligible and ineligible," White said.
White also said he requested copies of the video and audio tapes of the undercover buys several times, but did not receive any. However, he did receive documents, including sworn statements from witnesses in McClutchey's handwriting.
"Why the dickens didn't you record the statements of these witnesses you're going to parade in here?" White asked.
The investigator replied that based on standard procedures he wrote them in his own handwriting so he could read them, then had each witness make corrections and sign the document as sworn testimony.
White also noted that most of the witnesses had committed food stamp fraud themselves and were afraid of prosecution if they didn't cooperate with McClutchey. And one employee, who also gave a statement, was terminated and had a criminal record, he said.
Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.