Two overdue library books have landed a married couple in Tecumseh, Michigan, in trouble with the law. Not only have the husband and wife been fined more than $200, but they were arraigned in court on Thursday, each charged with larceny of rental equipment. “We were appalled, totally appalled,” Catherine Duren, 44, said. “We didn’t commit a crime.” In the summer of 2014, Duren’s son checked out a Dr. Seuss book for Duren’s granddaughter from the Tecumseh District Library. But the book was misplaced and the library was sending notices to her son’s email, who was a minor at the time and never told his parents about the notices, Catherine Duren said. Catherine Duren said she wasn’t notified directly until October 2014, when she said she received notice from the library that the late charges were now going on her credit report, but she didn't understand that the book itself had not been returned. Both Catherine and her husband, Melvin, 63, have health problems that put them on disability, she said, so they only receive a small amount of money through Social Security cheques. Most of that money goes towards their medications, Duren said.
“We had no intent of not paying the fees,” she said, noting that she and her husband intended to pay the library fees eventually.
However, in May 2015, she and her husband received another letter saying the book would have to be replaced, so she went to the library in person to clarify the matter.
“They told me they would send me the charges with the late fees through the mail,” Duren said, noting that when she left the library that day, she gave them $10 to pay towards the late fees.
At around the same time, the couple went to the library and checked out the book "The Rome Prophecy." When they were moving to an apartment later that year, the book got misplaced, Duren said.
Right before Christmas 2015, the Durens received another letter in the mail from the library saying they had a charge of $55 in fees and to return or replace the books if they were lost. The library said the Dr. Seuss book was over a year overdue and "The Rome Prophecy" was approximately 8 months overdue, Duren said.
In late December, the couple found “The Rome Prophecy,” but Duren thought her husband had returned it and vice versa.
“I thought he returned it, he thought I returned it,” Duren said about the miscommunication, when they found the book still in their home in January.
That's when they finally returned it.
Later that month, the 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.
Duren said she was not able to go to Kellogg to pay the fees until Feb. 3, due to a $500 payment she had to make in January for her and her husband’s medication. When she finally went to Kellogg’s office to pay the fees for the overdue and lost library books, Kellogg said she also had to pay a "diversion fee" of $105 for each book. The diversion fees are used to help fund the unit.
“He refused to take my money, because I had to pay the diversion fee first,” said Duren, noting she tried to pay the late and replacement fees, which totalled $55, directly to the library. The library had to contact Kellogg to see if this was possible, and Kellogg told the library not to accept her money, according to Duren.
She then tried to send a money order through certified mail and she said Kellogg called them leaving "threatening" messages on their phone that they “circumvented the law.”
“He was so rude to me,” Duren recalled. “He treated me like a criminal.”
An acquaintance who is a lawyer, advised the couple to ignore the calls, until one day, the Tecumseh Police Department called them to say that they had to appear in court and that "there was a warrant out for a $100 bond on both of us,” Duren said.
The police wanted the Durens to come down to the station and turn themselves in, but Duren said she was bewildered that the situation had ballooned from misplaced library books, so she told them, “You can go ahead and serve your warrant.”
The police showed up at their home this week, took the $200 bond paid in cash, and “they never arrested us, no fingerprinting, no handcuffs,” Duren said.
When the couple appeared in court on Thursday, they pleaded not guilty to larceny of rental equipment, which carries a maximum sentence of 93 days in jail and a $500 fine, according to police.
The fees and the brouhaha over the matter are taking a huge toll on the couple, said Duren, who noted that her husband is being tested for cancer and that she is in stage-three of kidney disease. The library charges should be the last of their worries right now, she said.
“If we intended to steal a book, why would we go in legally to check them out?” she said.
The Durens are scheduled to appear in court on May 3.