A couple of years ago, Ryan Matthew Gubbins saw a chance to start his own business.
He worked for a company that ran drug and alcohol tests through the 86th District Court. He learned the business. Later he learned the company was about to be dropped by the court.
Gubbins had served on an advisory committee for Sobriety Court and had developed relationships with the staff and judges. He saw an opportunity.
Gubbins started Tri-County Monitoring in May, 2011, and soon he owned one of the places where district court defendants and misdemeanor probationers could go if they were ordered by a judge to have alcohol breath tests or drug screens.
Defendants are often ordered by judges to have once or twice daily PBTs to ensure they are following the rules and staying sober. Typically, the breath tests cost $3 each; the drug screens cost $15.
Gubbins’ business was one with a steady, ever-renewing and involuntary customer base.
Last winter, however, one of the clients at Tri-County stopped coming in to blow PBTs and Tri-County failed to alert the woman’s probation officer.
Court officials, after several months, got tipped off.
Now Gubbins has lost his business and he could lose his freedom, at least for a couple of months.
AT FIRST, BEYOND SUSPICION
Around the courthouse, Gubbins, 31, had been known as a family man -- devoted husband and loving father. He would sometimes bring his children with him when he needed to deliver documents to the court.
He had friends there and went out to dinner with the people he worked with.
At first, when people at the court learned that the woman, who had pled guilty to impaired driving in 2011, had missed daily PBTs, they didn’t suspect wrongdoing on Gubbins’ part, according to testimony and court filings. Officials believed they had caught a probationer who somehow found a way to get out of the breath tests she was supposed to take each morning.
Probation officer Dawn Wagoner called Gubbins with an inquiry after the woman’s boyfriend tipped off the court that she wasn’t following the terms of her probation. Wagoner just wanted to see the woman’s drug and alcohol testing sign-in sheets. She first asked on May 20, and the fact that Gubbins didn’t immediately provide them was odd, according to testimony.
Soon Wagoner suspected that this was more than a case of a woman missing her court-ordered testing. Gubbins’ demeanor and his evasiveness made Wagoner suspect something was wrong at Tri-County, her supervisor, Pam Blue, would later testify at a preliminary examination.
EVASIVENESS PROMPTS QUESTIONS
Within days Wagoner and Blue decided they needed to launch an aggressive investigation of Tri-County.
Aggressive, at least, according to Gubbins’ attorney, Ken Petterson, who sought to have the charges dismissed conducted an unconstitutional search of his client’s home.
Wagoner had received photocopies of three sign-in sheets from Tri-County that the woman had purportedly signed, but she thought something was wrong with the documents, according to testimony.
Wagoner and Blue confronted Gubbins at his office. He said the originals were at his home in Lake Ann. The women decided all three of them should go to Lake Ann right away.
That was around 4:30 p.m. on June 4. Soon the three would drive to Gubbins’ home in search of the records.
“While en route to Gubbins’ home, Wagoner was driving directly behind his vehicle and ‘surveilling’ him during the entire ride, making note that he was on his cell phone,” Petterson wrote in his motion for dismissal. “Upon reaching the residence, Wagoner and Blue invited themselves inside, contrary to the allegation that Mr. Gubbins invited them into his home.”
RECORDS NOT AVAILABLE
Next, according to motions and court transcripts, the three waited for hours at Gubbins home.
Gubbins told Wagoner and Blue that the sign-in sheets they were looking for were in the car his wife was using. They were there, he said, so they could be taken to storage.
There were details that made Wagoner and Blue more suspicious when they arrived at Gubbins’ home, according to court documents. No one was supposed to be home, yet a television was on and there was an open can of pop that was sitting out. The can appeared to be cold.
Wagoner and Blue were determined to get to the bottom of what was going on. They decided to wait for the records as long as it took. They even waited at the home while Gubbins drove to the grocery in Lake Ann to purchase a charger for his phone.
In one of his motions, Petterson noted that Wagoner’s previous job was as a Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s detective. He wrote that she turned those skills on Gubbins that evening: “Wagoner continued to interrogate Gubbins, while at no time advising him of his constitutional right to remain silent and without informing Mr. Gubbins that a search warrant could be required for the records that were owned by Tri-County Monitoring.”
PLAY THE WAITING GAME The three had arrived at the residence at around 5 p.m.
At around 6, Gubbins explained to Wagoner and Blue that his wife was in Clare helping someone move.
Later in the evening, the probation officers learned Gubbins’ wife was near Benzonia. She was getting closer.
Wagoner and Blue were skeptical, according to testimony and Petterson’s motion. They knew Gubbins and his wife. Wagoner was incredulous that his wife would just leave and put him off for several hours.
Blue said: “We kept asking him when his wife was going to be back, and he said she does this all the time, taking off, and he didn’t know when she would be back. We told him we would wait. So we did.”
Gubbins’ wife finally arrived home at around 8:20 p.m.
The original sign-in sheets were eventually in the hands of the probation officers.
Gubbins was later charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy. His preliminary hearing was held on Aug. 30.
At the prelim, Christopher Tholen, the assistant prosecutor, said motive wasn’t a part of the case against Gubbins.
“We don’t have to prove why he did it. Maybe he felt sorry for her. Maybe something else. But what actually happened is pretty clear. She stopped showing up for her tests,” Tholen said. “He assisted her in doing that by saying, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ll figure it out.’” Blue, the probation department supervisor, explained that the sign-in sheets for the woman on probation raised serious suspicions.
In one, a box was created on the sheet for her signature when at the time there should have been an empty column in which to sign. In another it appeared her signature had been gone over several times. A third signature didn’t look like the others.
Investigators say Gubbins conspired with the woman so that she wouldn’t have to take the tests.
Blue said at first Gubbins denied the signatures were forged before he changed his story several times and then admitted what he had done.
“He admitted that he had felt bad for her, because she had a real problem with substances, and... she had not been testing for some time,” Blue said. “She had called him and said, ‘I’m not going to be able to test because my car broke down,’ and he said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’”
‘SLIPPED THROUGH THE CRACKS’
Circuit court Judge Philip Rodgers ruled against Petterson’s motions for dismissal, including the one that argued the search of Gubbins’ home for the records was unconstitutional. Prosecutors had argued that Tri-County was an agent of the court and that it held the records on behalf of the court.
Gubbins pled guilty to one of the charges -- obstruction of justice -- and the conspiracy charge was dismissed.
Though the charge is a felony that carries up to five years in prison, it appears unlikely Gubbins will go to prison when he is sentenced on Nov. 22.
Petterson said he calculates that Michigan sentencing guidelines call for a sentence of around zero to six months in jail.
He said he believes what happened was an innocent mistake followed by a rash decision to cover it up.
He disputes the allegation from investigators and prosecutors that there was an agreement prior to the discovery of the skipped tests between Gubbins and the woman.
“They were looking for some kind of nefarious connection between these two and there wasn’t one. They never found one,” Petterson said. “When he realized the records weren’t current, he allowed her to come in and sign the sheets.”
He said there was no friendship or affair between the two and Gubbins didn’t benefit financially through what happened, though prosecutors alleged Tri-County collected money for PBT tests which never happened.
Petterson said Gubbins deserves leniency.
“This was an isolated incident,” he said.
“He’s got no criminal record of any kind. This is his first offense.”
AN ISOLATED CASE
Court officials also believe this was an isolated case. They have not found other instances of people ordered to take alcohol or drug tests through the court who were allowed to slide at Tri-County.
Carol Stocking, the 86th District Court administrator, said she has confidence in the current testing facility, which is run by Addiction Treatment Services.
Gubbins’ company was fired once the falsified records were discovered.
Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Robert Cooney said the case prompted a discussion led by District Court Judge Michael Haley, about conducting the drug and alcohol tests through the court in an effort to make them more affordable for defendants. That would enable judges to order more frequent testing, he said.
“You can only charge people so much for this testing,” Cooney said.
Gubbins, reached by the Northern Express, said he didn’t want to comment until after he is sentenced.