Lawmen For Hire: Cop Fights to Keep His Secret Mercenary Army
300 residents. 100 reservist cops who paid handsomely for their badges. One embattled police chief, trying to hide the names of his pay-for-play deputies. Welcome to Oakley, MI.
Oakley is a hamlet barely the size of a gnat on a Michigan map, but it has a cyclopean police problem. The 300 person town is farming out its law enforcement to 100 wealthy, mostly anonymous out-of-towners who pay big money to become reservist cops—complete with bulletproof vests and special gun permits. And while outrage has mounted over Oakley’s glut of faceless reservists, the top cop there continues to lord over a pay-to-play-police racket.
Now, state lawmakers and the feds are closing in with new laws and investigations focusing on town’s cop kingmaker to force him to out his secret posse.
But Oakley Police Chief Robert Reznick said there’s no way he’ll give up the names. ISIS, he claimed, maybe after his auxiliary police force. “These are brutal people who absolutely have no value of life,” Reznick told me. “Whether or not it’s far-fetched doesn’t matter. Why would you want to put them in harm’s way?”
Oakley’s reservist force isn’t unique. In fact, they are a routine part of police departments throughout Michigan. But few towns have turned volunteer cops into a money-making machine like Police Chief Robert Reznick. In his last interview since lawyering up entirely months ago, The Daily Beast got a firsthand account of how Reznick runs his cop shop.
“I bring in thousands and thousands of dollars,” Reznick told me back in October. “Without that money from the police department the town would not be running.”
“I bring in thousands and thousands of dollars,” the police chief said. “Without that money from the police department the town would not be running.”
The formula worked for years in Oakley, where Reznick served as chief. This past year, Reznick was hired to be the police chief in nearby Waterloo Township, as well (PDF). Once there, Reznick pulled the same pay-for-play reservist move. A donor list acquired by The Daily Beast reveals a doctor named Jonathan D. Rose giving Waterloo’s police force a 2013 Chevy Tahoe worth almost $50,000. A man named Albert Rabil shelled out $25,000 cash. And Harry A. Brink, the owner of US Speedo, a time device manufacturer, gave Waterloo’s police department $10,000.
Last May, Harry Brink made headlines when he was caught trying to make shoddy loans in return for lux cars while running an illicit pot enterprise. When Brink was busted with 200 pot plants, sources close to the case told The Daily Beast, had $500,000 in cash.
Waterloo is now disbanding its police force. “We stopped patrol Feb. 1,” a Waterloo Township cop named Bob said. He added that Chief Reznick was working on “a part-time kind of basis” to help their fire sale of weapons and equipment. “We’re going to sell off whatever is of any value to other departments in the county and meanwhile we’re getting police services from the county and the state.”
Oakely, on the other hand, has doubled down on Reznick—despite the fact that the police department was shut down from September through November because it was unable to get insurance because of the ongoing investigations.
Oakley only stretches one-square mile, has a single streetlight, a grain elevator, a bar and a couple churches. But Reznick nevertheless maintains his force of 300 reservists to “police” the town. Almost every single one of his reservists lives more than an hour away. And these tourist lawmen don’t have to do much beyond plunking down thousands of tax-deductible dollars. The auxiliary cops range from high-powered attorneys, celebrity doctors and even NFL players.
To get an Oakley badge and an ID these wannabe cops pony up $700 for a bulletproof vest, $400 for their weapon, and a couple hundred for the uniform, Reznick said.
Reznick said his cop perform house checks when locals are on vacation, as well as wellness visits for the sick and even deliver hams to residents each Christmas. Most importantly, perhaps, the reservists pay up. Reznick said $30,000 of the funds went into the town’s Playscape, renovated the Village Hall, fit the police department with a new cruiser and a golf cart, and helped officers acquire new shotguns.
In 2011, Oakley also managed to get some almost $30,000 to purchase 85 bulletproof vests courtesy of Uncle Sam (PDF).
But Oakley couldn’t collect the armor in time, and since then Oakley reservists “ended up picking up the bill” and buying the bulletproof vests, Reznick said.
Stranger still, Oakley reservists are granted special firearms permits, which give them the ability pack heat almost anywhere in Michigan—including places deemed off-limits to civilians. Place like casinos, bars, stadiums, and daycare centers.
Why the pseudo cops would need to carry an unrestricted pistol permit, don a cop uniform, and wear a bulletproof vest in a town virtually without felonies is anyone’s guess.
“There isn’t any crime,” Chief Reznick conceded. “The surrounding Township and adjoining county all have crime… The reason we don’t have any is because of the police presence is here.”
The “reserve officers have no authority to perform law enforcement functions for the Oakley Police Force,” according to the Attorney General. Minting civilians as police reservists was done under “the wrongful assumption of governmental power.”
But these supposed heroes of law enforcement don’t want their identities revealed. And for months, Oakley’s police chief has vowed those names would never come out. “Who gives a shit who is on the reserve unit,” Reznick said about keeping the names private. “These are people who don’t want their names out there, that do good for the community and do good for town and do good for individuals.”
But some of the who’s who on Chief Reznick’s reservist roster have leaked out. They include: Michael S. Kent, a fixture on infomercials for the face-lift procedure Lifestyle Lift. The plastic surgery outfit was under investigation by the attorney general’s office in both New York and Florida when customers claimed the surgery was overhyped.
Kent’s lawyer Ken Zorn on Wednesday told The Daily Beast the doctor forfeited his badge: “He’s already gotten rid of it some time ago.”
Jason Fox, is one of a pair of NFL players who defend Oakley from across the country. The Texas native is currently a tackle for the Miami Dolphins.
Asked about Fox being an Oakley reservist while he’s based in Miami, Reznick answered that pro football players can protect and serve even from afar. “Most NFL team players don’t live in the state of the team that they play in most of the time.”
Asked about other out-of-towners who are also reservists Reznick became nonplussed: “So what if they are?”
Reznick, who said he earns $500 a month salary as Oakley’s chief, claimed he only turned to reservists when Oakley’s denizens chickened out. “Nobody ever stepped forward and said ‘Well do it. We’ll serve.’ It’s also expensive. You have to buy your uniforms and you gotta pay for the equipment.”
Still, the reservists’ names remain hidden. That could change. Especially afterSaginaw News reporter Brad Devereaux faced off against the predominantly pro-police chief board in Oakley and filed a Freedom of Information Requestand was flat out told “No document exists.”
“How can a government have a bunch of supposed citizen-reservists and no list of their names,” attorney Philip Ellison, who represents several Oakley residents fighting against the village to release the names of the reservists, told The Daily Beast. “It was a bureaucratic lie in the worst way.”
Then in October, an Oakley reservist tossed a Hail Mary to keep the names anonymous. ISIS. Yes, ISIS!
In a letter dated Oct. 15, Herschel Fink, a notable copyright and libel lawyer who reps The Detroit Free Press, warned that releasing the names would deliver a death sentence to Oakley’s reservists.
Fink cited an FBI bulletin released two days prior suggesting “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and online supporters call for attacks against law enforcement and government personnel.”
This week, when The Daily Beast reached Herschel Fink about the ISIS letter, he had little to say. “I have no clue. You probably have to talk to the police chief. There’s nothing much I can tell you.”
Reznick said there are a litany of reasons to protect his reservists’ identities. “The ISIS claim and the terrorist claim are only part of it,” Reznick added. “The majority of them are friends of mine and I’m going to protect them.”
Beyond the reservist controversy, Reznick has managed to dodge accusations of his own misconduct. One alleged incident took place before Oakley’s annual biker rally hosted by the local Oakley Family Tavern in September 2013.
Reznick fanned out with over a dozen of his reservists that day to deal with over “600 bikers.”
“They’re yelling over the loudspeaker, you could hear them all over town. ‘Ladies: show us your fucking tits.’” Reznick said. “That’s not the kind of thing that should be going on in a small community like Oakley.”
Family Tavern co-owner Shannon Bitterman said the police presence was overkill and that Reznick wanted revenge for a failed romance.
“[Reznick] was bothering our barmaid for months and months asking her to work for him and clean his house,” Bitterman told The Daily Beast.
When the advances were rebuffed, Reznick threatened violence. “The last straw was he came into the bar and told her that he’d put her in his trunk and take her for a ride.”
The woman was so spooked, she went to work everyday wielding a kitchen knife.
Reznick blamed that incident on a big confusion about a missing knife, not a malicious threat: “The barmaid had to take a knife out of the kitchen and she never took it back so they were out of knives.”
Yet another accuser appeared on Facebook saying Chief Reznick stalked her in Perry, Michigan, where he was once on the police payroll.
“Reznick stalked me for a while before making his move,” she wrote last week. “He had set up a life with me without ever meeting me.” Reznick allegedly demanded to be invited to her house for a “relationship.” She said she was forced to sign a statement that his overtures were reciprocated or else “he threatened to arrest me.”
Reznick said he’s innocent. “The lady said I didn’t do anything wrong,” Reznick told me. “I took a polygraph and passed.”
Perhaps. But Reznick and his mini-army are now facing new troubles. On Feb. 10 the state’s Attorney General put out a formal document accusing Oakley, and specifically Police Chief Reznick, acted illegally by letting its “improperly-appointed” reservists run rip shod.
Oakley’s “reserve officers have no authority to perform law enforcement functions for the Oakley Police Force,” because they fail to meet state standards, according to the Attorney General’s brief, released last week. Minting civilians as police reservists was done under “the wrongful assumption of governmental power.”
A bill is moving through the State Legislature proposing to help regulate towns like Oakley whose reservist programs operate without any oversight.
State Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker told The Daily Beast Wednesday she is hoping a reservist regulating bill passes. “You should have a governing structure that sets the parameters on what reserve officers can and cannot do.”
The names of the donors, who essentially are all of Oakley’s reservists, may be outed by March unless the Village of Oakley decides to fight the case in Michigan’s Supreme Court.
As for Reznick, he’s been ordered to appear in circuit court in Corunna, Michigan on March 4 to testify about the secrets of the reservist program. But the police chief told The Daily Beast he’ll never sing. “When I give people my word I’m going to give them my word. They want me to protect their anonymity and I told them I would.”