TAWAS CITY — Felony eavesdropping charges against Hale Area School’s Superintendent Loren Ellsworth Vannest, who is on unpaid administrative leave, have been dropped.
According to documents from Iosco County’s 81st District Court, the Iosco County Prosecutor’s Office signed off on a motion to dismiss the case without prejudice, meaning officials in the prosecutor’s office no longer with to pursue the case. The order was signed May 29.
The dismissal “without prejudice,” however, means the case for the same charge could be again brought against Vannest at a later date should the evidence allow.
Prosecutor Gary Rapp was unavailable for comment as to why the case was dropped at press time.
Vannest’s dropped felony count of eavesdropping could have been punishable by up to two years of incarceration and/or fines of $2,000.
According to records, a warrant was original authorized for Vannest by Iosco County by Rapp on March 23 and, according to the Michigan State Police (MSP), Vannest turned himself in on March 28 and posted bond.
In December Vannest was put on paid administrative leave, following allegations that he had recorded a closed session meeting of a school board meeting. According to records the meeting occurred in Dec. 18 and was conducted in closed session to hear formal complaints filed against Vannest by a parent.
After the meeting was called into closed session, Vannest was the first witness interviewed and, following his testimony, board members allegedly discovered that he had left his cellular device in the room, after he had been excused from the closed-door meeting.
MSP troopers were contacted and a via a search warrant of the phone, a suspected recording was allegedly located on the phone.
Police records indicate that it was believed that Vannest allegedly left his phone on to record the closed session of the meeting to record/eavesdrop on the conversation and testimony of the witnesses and teachers who were called in for the complaint filed against him.
When police interviewed Vannest, he allegedly stated that he felt the recording was gathered by himself in error. Vannest allegedly admitted that he started the recording, but thought he stopped it at the beginning of the closed meeting.
After the investigation, the prosecutor’s office authorized felony criminal charges against Vannest for allegedly violating Michigan’s eavesdropping laws. Vannest was put on unpaid administrative leave, pending the outcome of the investigation.
Vannest’s duties were assumed by the district’s business manager, Michael Boensch, and Hale High School Principal Michael Bowman. Further action by the board concerning Vannest’s employment after the dismissal will be reported on.