Berrien County Judge Dennis Wiley has ruled that a civil suit alleging fraud and civil conspiracy against County Commissioner Teri Sue Freehling, her late husband Patrick’s estate and Drain Commissioner Christopher Quattrin will go to trial. Judge Wiley wrote in his ruling “Plaintiffs allege in their complaint that the Freehlings formulated a plan to obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars of Berrien County funds through fraud, for their own personal use.” Wiley ruled that plaintiffs in the case, Hartzler Excavating and Doug Hartzler, have “sufficiently alleged facts that could justify recovery” in the case. Hartzler is suing Quattrin, Freehling, and the estate of Freehling’s late husband, Patrick, for damages alleging fraud and conspiracy. Hartzler founded his company on the advice of Patrick Freehling, with Wiley ruling Commissioner Freehling had a “clear conflict of interest” when she voted on several drain contracts for which Hartzler was renting equipment from her husband.
In 2017 and 2018, the contractor paid Mr. Freehling roughly $400,000 for the equipment, but claims in the suit he has not been paid by Quattrin for at least three jobs and that an employee he fired then started his own firm and is now receiving the majority of drain commission contracts. Wiley found in favor of Quattrin that he has immunity in regard to the awarding of contracts, but denied all other motions from the Freehlings and Quattrin to dismiss the case. No date has been set for the next hearing in the civil case. Retired Berrien County Judge John Dewane is also conducting an investigation at the request of the Berrien County Board of Commissioners to find out if any county board rules were broken. County Board Chairman Mac Elliott, however, denied a request from County Administrator Bill Wolf to seek an investigation by the state attorney general’s office into what Wolf said is “serial corruption” by elected officials.