Sex crimes prosecutor gets plea deal after inappropriate relationship with rape victim | Michigan Radio
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Sex crimes prosecutor gets plea deal after inappropriate relationship with rape victim

Jun 10, 2021

Brian Kolodziej, the former Assistant Michigan Attorney General, has received a plea deal. Kolodziej was charged with two counts of felony misconduct in office last year for having an inappropriate relationship with the victim in a college rape case he was prosecuting, as well as allegedly tampering with evidence in that same case.

Brian Kolodziej, pictured here when he was with the Macomb County prosecutor's office, took a plea deal Wednesday.
Credit Macomb County Prosecutor

  

 

On Wednesday, Kolodziej struck a deal to get both felony charges dismissed. In exchange, he entered a “no contest” plea to two counts of willful neglect of duty by a public officer, a misdemeanor offense that carries up to a year in jail or a $1,000 fine. He’s also agreed to suspend his law license for five years. 

 

“The biggest reason for this plea offer was that suspension of his license for five years,” said Kent County prosecuting attorney Chris Becker, who was appointed special prosecutor in this case. Even if a jury had found Kolodziej guilty on the original felony charges, his license would have only been suspended for five years, Becker said. 

“Because the heart of either charge for me...goes to his character and fitness to be an attorney. And with speaking with the victim and what she wanted to see happen, that was one of the biggest things: she didn't want anybody else to have to go through something like this.”

Kolodziej’s attorney declined to comment Thursday. 

What happened: a sex crimes prosector becomes the defendant 

This all goes back to Central Michigan University. 

 

In 2016, then-CMU student Rachel Wilson said she was sexually assaulted by former student body president Ian Elliott. Elliott was initially charged, but an interim county prosecutor abruptly dropped the charges before the case went to trial. 

That’s when Kolodziej got involved. At the time, he was a new hire at the Michigan Attorney General’s office: a young, charismatic rising star on the state’s legal scene, Kolodziej had been an actor before becoming a lawyer and developing a speciality in prosecuting sex crimes in Macomb County. (Later, after his eventual resignation from the AG’s office, Kolodziej’s former colleague at the Macomb County prosecutor’s office said he’d left “really shady” red flags, including “flirtatious” relationships with victims.)  

 

Kolodziej saw Wilson’s story in the CMU student newspaper, and convinced the AG’s office to take it on. 

“The first day I met him, I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, no one has listened to what I have to say,’ Wilson told Michigan Radio in 2019. “‘No one has fought for what is right, and this person in front of me wants to do this.’”

Elliott was charged again, and the case went to trial. Kolodziej found additional witnesses to come forward against Elliott, including another victim, Landy Blackmore. 

The trial was marked by emotionally charged testimony, and Elliott ultimately pleaded no contest to one charge of criminal sexual conduct  and was sentenced to a year in prison. It looked like a win for Wilson, Blackmore, and the prosecution. 

But behind the scenes, things were unraveling. 

An inappropriate relationship and alleged threats of suicide  

The work of prosecuting a sexual assault case can be intensely personal, and by definition requires attorneys to establish a level of trust with victims: they must prepare for a trial that may involve victims’ sexual history, mental health, and intimate relationships.

And Kolodziej would gain that trust and put victims at ease by sharing about his own life, Wilson said. But months before the trial ended, Kolodziej crossed a line, she said, telling her he had feelings for her. Kolodziej was 41 years old at the time. Wilson was 24. 

“I really did feel those feelings for him,” Wilson told Michigan Radio in 2019. “Um, but then very quickly after, his behavior just was like odd and almost like possessive."

Kolodziej soon became possessive and erratic, she said, and when she tried to end the relationship, Wilson said Kolodziej repeatedly threatened suicide.  

“I can't even express to you how scary it is, to not only be getting like suicide threats from this person that's sending me the message that like, anything I do could be the nail in his coffin,” Wilson said in 2019. “Anything I say that upsets him could just be the one thing that pushes him over. But just as scary was receiving those texts, where it's like, I saw it in a flash of a moment: everything that I had fought for, everything, every fight that I had to overcome over three years, all of it was in his hands. And he was unstable.”

Wilson became frightened, she said, and began saving text messages and making audio recordings of their phone calls, some of which she provided to Michigan Radio. (Kolodziej’s attorney did not confirm or deny that the texts and audio provided to him by Michigan Radio before publication were his client.)

“I’m leaving my door unlocked,’” reads one of the text messages Wilson said Kolodziej sent her. “ I’m taking an ambien. My keys are on desk. Please get gun out of center console and shoot me in my sleep. No joke...the jury will see I wanted this. I don’t want to be treated like shit anymore. I’ve given you my all. I’m sorry it’s never enough. I try to give everything my all. Goodnight. Please follow all above instructions.”

A rape case unravels 

 

By the fall of 2019, Wilson was frightened enough to confide in a counselor at Central Michigan University. That counselor, she believes, alerted the police, who brought the matter to the attention of the Michigan Attorney General’s office. 

 

Kolodziej admitted to a relationship with Wilson and resigned in September 2019. Following an internal investigation, Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office allowed Ian Elliott to withdraw his initial plea, and instead enter a new plea to a lesser charge. Elliott was released from prison for time served. 

 

On Thursday, special prosecutor Chris Becker said Kolodziej modified reports involving witness testimony in Elliott’s case. 

“When you come to what a witness says and how they said it, whether you take out a sentence or even change some of the things...can have an impact on what the defense attorney receives. And we found at least a number of occasions where he modified things in that report that changed the tenor, if you will, and led maybe a defense attorney not to think about something. Where, if you have the full picture, you come to a different conclusion. 

“The biggest...example I might have, is the one of the girls came out and was alleging maybe a sexual assault [by Elliott.] And she said, ‘Well, I need to go to church. I went too far.’ Well if you take something like that out, is it she was raped? Or did she feel guilty afterwards? You can interpret that two different ways. And I think that’s incumbent on a prosecutor to argue about that in court…[but] when you take something like that out, that really changes what a defense attorney may be able to do.” 

Wilson did not respond to a request for comment on Kolodziej’s plea Thursday. But Becker said the plea deal meant she wouldn’t have to take the stand yet again. Wilson was scheduled to appear in court for Kolodziej’s preliminary exam next week, Becker said.   

 

“She’s been through a lot already. She's testified at least twice [in the Elliott case] and then looking at a third time going through the system…[If] this goes for the full trial, and how long is that trial going to happen? ...That could have been another year.” 

 

Ultimately, Becker believes this case shows the power prosecutors have, and what happens when they abuse it. 

 

“This is no doubt a black eye on the profession,” he said. “This is an example of how it could go disastrously wrong.” 

The only case that’s worse than this, Becker said, was Mike Nifong, the prosecutor who was ultimately jailed for withholding evidence in the Duke lacrosse case. 

“This is probably exhibit 1-A at the next level down. Especially the having a relationship with the victim. It’s just a shocking thing that I thought I'd never see, and hopefully never see again.”