Tecumseh, MI -- Like a dystopic nightmare, a couple from Michigan faces not only large fines, but jail time over failing to return two library books — one of which is a classic by Dr. Seuss — despite their attempts to resolve the matter.
Catherine Duren allowed her son to use her library card to check out the “Hatful of Seuss” collection for his daughter in 2014.
Catherine’s husband, Melvin, also faces charges after keeping the thriller, “The Rome Prophecy,” for eight months — though he returned it in January after receiving a letter about the missing book.
Now, the couple faces up to 93 days in jail and a $500 fine for late library books.
Catherine was originally alerted to the late books when fees showed up on her credit report in 2014, as library notices about the slip-up were being sent to her son’s email address. She didn’t realize she would be required to pay for the lost item because, Catherine says, she had been told by the library that late fees and notices would come in the mail.
“They told me they would send charges with late fees through the mail,” Catherine explained to ABC News. “We had no intent of not paying the fees.”
Their awful predicament shows a number of crossed messages and miscommunications — and even threats from police. Though the couple found Melvin’s book in December, each thought the other person had returned it — but they eventually realized the mistake and turned in the copy.
They’ve already shelled out hundreds in fines, and had to appear in court for an arraignment hearing on April 14, where each of them were charged with larceny of rental equipment. The reason why will likely infuriate you. According to ABC, after they returned the book Melvin had checked out:
“[T]he newly established Economic Crimes Unit of the Lenawee County Prosecutor’s Office, led by Detective Robert Kellogg, sent a notice that the couple would be prosecuted for larceny of rental equipment if they did not pay the fees. The Economic Crimes Unit investigates crimes concerning the intent to steal, such as using bad checks or retail fraud.”
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And that crimes unit charged an additional $105 diversion fee — which is used to fund its existence — for each book. Catherine attempted to pay Kellogg directly, but the detective scoffed, telling her she would be required to pay those diversion fees first — even though she approached him with the total original fee amount and the replacement cost for the lost Dr. Seuss book.
“He refused to take my money because I had to pay the diversion fee first,” she said. Catherine had previously tried to pay the library directly. In fact, she even attempted to send a money order through the mail to resolve the issue that never should have been an issue — but in return, according to ABC, Catherine was subjected to “threatening messages” from the detective.
“[Kellogg] was so rude to me,” she said. “He treated me like a criminal,” and told her they had “circumvented the law.”
Eventually, they ignored Kellogg’s threats — until a message from the Tecumseh Police Department warned they would have to appear in court over the matter, and “there was a warrant out for a $100 bond on both of us,” Catherine explained.
Astonished at the hullabaloo over misplaced library books, Catherine told them they would have to serve that warrant.
Alarmingly, police came to their residence and took the $200 in bond cash — but never arrested or processed the couple.
Clearly, the police have created the legal issues for this couple, as crossed signals — not intent — are at the heart of the matter. The Durens performed their due diligence in attempting to resolve the issue once they realized their error — but have been oddly met with strong resistance.
But if the Economic Crimes Unit had been formed to investigate crimes of malintent, it missed the mark in this case — by far. As Catherine asserted:
“If we intended to steal a book, why would we go in legally to check them out?”
She added, “We were appalled, totally appalled. We didn’t commit a crime.”