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Nessel: Clinton County foster, adoptive parents abused children for 'financial gain'


MATT MENCARINI   Lansing State Journal

LANSING — The Michigan Attorney General’s Office has issued arrest warrants for two Clinton County couples in what the office has described as a conspiracy to adopt dozens of children and then cover up physical and psychological abuse "all for personal financial gain."

Jerry and Tamal Flore, and Tammy and Joel Brown are the subject of the warrants, the AG’s Office announced during a Monday afternoon news conference in downtown Lansing. All four had previously been charged, but those cases were dismissed by a prosecutor and judge.

"The allegations in this matter are heinous and egregious," Attorney General Dana Nessel said. "In the area of child abuse, the harms caused to an individual's mental health are often, unfortunately, overlooked. Abusive behavior by any parents — adoptive or biological — is unacceptable and will not and cannot be tolerated."

Nessel said her office is giving the Flores and Browns until Friday to turn themselves in to law enforcement.

David Carter, an attorney for Tamal Flore, said his client will turn herself in by Friday, but he criticized the investigation and prosecution.

"It seems to me like they're grasping at straws and trying to save themselves from a civil suit," Carter told the State Journal.

Mary Chartier, Joel Brown's attorney, said in a statement that the previous case was dismissed due to lack of evidence.

"We believe the same result will occur this time around," she said. "We won in court once, and we’re confident that we’ll do so again."

Additional messages were left seeking comment from attorneys who represented the Flores and the Browns during the past prosecutions. The AG's Office has brought more charges than they previously faced.

Joel Brown, 54, faces five charges, including first-degree child abuse, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. He's also charged with conspiracy to commit child abuse and interfering with a crime report.

Brown is a former child advocate with the children's services agency within the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Nessel said. She added that he was placed on unpaid leave in 2022 and has since been fired.

Tammy Brown, 53, faces three charges, including first-degree child abuse and conspiracy to commit child abuse.

Jerry Flore, 58, faces 11 charges, according to information the AG's Office released, including six counts of first-degree child abuse, conspiracy to commit child abuse and interfering with a crime report.

Tamal Flore, 56, faces 17 charges, including six counts of first-degree child abuse, six counts of third-degree child abuse and conspiracy to commit child abuse.

"These egregious allegations highlight not only a moral and legal failure of those entrusted with the children’s care," Nessel said, "but a failure in our systems to ensure children placed in custody are properly taken care of."

Dozens of children since 2007 were under care of the Flores and Browns

Nessel said during the news conference that since 2007 nearly 30 children had been placed in the care of the Flores and Browns.

Nessel said on Monday "the children who are alleged to be victims in the case, the minor children who are the subject of the charges, are no longer in the Brown and Flores homes."

She added that her office is "urging" the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to review the arrangement to ensure all the children are safe.

The charges detailed in the arrest warrants relate to eight children the couples have had under their care, Nessel said. Others the office believes were abused are now past the statute of limitations for charges. She called on lawmakers to amend state law to extend the statute of limitation for child abuse.

The center of the case against the Flores and Browns is that they conspired together to bring in children from homes where they had been abused.

They then "subjected them to prolonged, routine and systemic mental and physical abuse under the guise of discipline," Nessel added, "and all for personal financial gain."

She said they were "easily able to manipulate" the system and received more than $1 million that should have gone toward care for the children.

Past cases ended with dismissals

All four previously had been charged by Clinton County prosecutors.

The Flores, Olive Township foster parents, were charged in late 2021 with multiple counts of second-degree child abuse.

Clinton County Prosecutor Tony Spagnuolo dismissed those charges in April 2023, saying only that he did so "because there was a continuing further investigation." He declined at the time to elaborate.

Police had said in that case that the longtime foster parents beat children with a boat oar, threw them down stairs, locked them in bedrooms for days, forced them to sleep in closets or on the laundry room floor, and withheld meals from them. The charges involved multiple children and stemmed from incidents that occurred as far back as 2014, officials said at the time.

A separate, related criminal case against Tammy and Joel Brown was dismissed in 2022 by Clinton County Judge Michael Clarizio. The Browns had been charged with first-degree child abuse.

That case, also prosecuted by the Clinton County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, ended when Clarizio ruled prosecutors had not presented enough evidence at the preliminary hearing for the case to move forward. 

Clinton County prosecutors alleged that the couple knew their daughter was being hurt and traumatized while living with Jerry and Tamal Flore.

Defense attorneys for both couples said when cases were dismissed that their clients maintained their innocence, criticized local prosecutors for the way they handled cases and had amassed evidence in defense of their clients.

On Monday, Clinton County Sheriff Sean Dush said he brought the case to Nessel's office because the Clinton County prosecutor's office had been struggling with staffing issues.

Contact reporter Matt Mencarini at 517-377-1026 or mjmencarini@lsj.com. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @MattMencarini.

2023 Dec 4