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Iowa Court of Appeals Overturns Pieper Conviction

Nov 9, 2017

The Iowa Court of Appeals has reversed the 2016 conviction of Michael Pieper. He was accused of misconduct in office while serving on the Green Bay Levee and Drainage District Board of Trustees.

The three judge panel, in its 12-page ruling, ordered the district court to vacate Pieper’s conviction and drop the charge against him.

Background

The ruling states that “in or about 2011, the district learned it would receive FEMA funding to restore and reshape its levees that sustained flood damage in 2008.” At the time, Pieper was one of three members of the district’s board of trustees and the owner of a company named MEPCO.

MEPCO was awarded the contract to rehabilitate the levee.

“At this time, Pieper was serving as the Board’s chairman. Pieper agreed that he would abstain from the issues related to the contract before the board,” per the ruling.

An apparent dispute surfaced in June 2012 about whether MEPCO removed soil from an unauthorized area to use on the levee, potentially destabilizing another portion of the levee.

“It was determined that the removal of this soil weakened that part of the levee and the Army Corps of Engineers directed that the levee had to be restored back to its original design condition or the district risked ‘being thrown out of the federal program’ and losing federal assistance for repair of the levee in the event of a catastrophe or loss,” per the ruling.

The district’s board, including Pieper, met on June 28, 2012.

An unofficial copy of the minutes written soon after the meeting did not mention anything about the removal of the soil by MEPCO. But a revised version of the minutes from late July 2012 said that the board approved the location where MEPCO removed the soil as an approved site for soil removal.

One of the other members of the board disputed the minutes, saying that did not occur.

“[Trustee Michael] Walker refused to sign the July 2012 minutes at the August 2012 meeting because he did not believe the July 2012 minutes reflected what was discussed and approved at the June 2012 meeting.”

Felonious Misconduct in Office

Nearly three years after the meetings in question, Lee County Deputy Sheriff Stacy Weber interviewed Pieper about the meeting minutes. Pieper was eventually charged with felonious misconduct in office.

A jury found Pieper guilty in October 2016.

During the trial, Vic Pierrot and Kim Ransdell testified that Pieper did not ask them to revise the minutes from the June 2012 meeting. Pierrot’s last meeting as clerk of the Board was June 2012 with Ransdell replacing him after that.

Walker testified that there was never a motion to allow MEPCO to remove soil from the site in question.

Reversal

Pieper appealed his conviction, stating that there was not enough evidence to convict him presented in trial.

“Here, there is simply no evidence that Pieper acted in any way to falsify the June 2012 meeting minutes,” said the Court of Appeals in its ruling. “Assuming without deciding that the information changed in the revised June 2012 minutes before the July 2012 minutes was false, the evidence does not show that Pieper made the changes or directed Ransdell to make those changes. There is no question the changes were to MEPCO’s benefit, but that does not demonstrate that Pieper made those changes and thus falsified the minutes.”

“Because the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction of felonious misconduct in office, we remand the case to the district court to vacate his conviction and dismiss the case.”