FRIDAY, July 28 — First Ward Lansing City Council Member Ryan Kost has changed his story about being unaware for the last 13 years that he owed over $10,000 to Eaton County District Court stemming from an auto accident.
Kost, who is on the Aug. 8 primary election ballot, first maintained he didn’t know about the debt until this week.
However, presented by City Pulse with contrary evidence yesterday, he admitted to knowing about it for nearly two years.
Until last night, Kost claimed ignorance about the $10,345 in outstanding fines, fees and restitution expenses stemming from a 2010 misdemeanor conviction for leaving the scene of an accident causing injury.
But court records show Kost responded to a collection letter from 56-A District Court in Eaton County in August 2021.
The debt was first reported by the Lansing State Journal on Wednesday. Kost was quoted by the outlet as saying, “I didn’t know I owed anything from 13 years ago, but I certainly will be paying that immediately.”
He made the same claim in a face-to-face, recorded interview with City Pulse yesterday afternoon at a southside eatery. In that interview, he claimed to have never received any notification or communication from 56-A District Court about the debt. He said a letter from the court could conceivably have been thrown away.
“It might've been in the mailbox,” Kost said, but that his husband “grabs the mail too, and I don't see it for weeks or he just throws it away. Or what happens is it gets piled up. And I assume that's the junk pile. And I've done this before and thrown it away.”
However, subsequent to that interview, Amy Eztel, the 56-A District Court administrator, confirmed yesterday the court had communicated with Kost in August 2021 and that Kost confirmed that the communication had occurred. Both Kost and Eztel said he had responded to the court collection letter by asking for a copy of the court file, which was provided to him.
He said he subsequently requested a copy of the recording of the hearing because he believed he had gone to jail for a year in lieu of having to pay the fine, fees and restitution for the 2010 accident.
“I never heard back from them,” he said when reached on Facebook. “I again assumed that what I believed to be the original agreement was upheld. My assuming was my fault.”
Asked again today why he first told both City Pulse and the Journal that he was unaware of the debt but then admitted that he had received the 2021 collection letter, he repeatedly refused to give a direct answer.
Instead, he said, "I was under the impression what I thought to be the original deal was upheld, so when they informed me a few days ago that was not the case, I was ignorant to as why it was still there."
Kost has begun repaying the debt, Etzel said.
“Several days ago, a wage assignment was filed with the court,” Etzel wrote City Pulse in an email, referring to a standing deduction from his salary as a state Department of Health and Human Services employee.
Kost has already paid $100 and has agreed to a garnishment of $50 every two weeks, according to the court records.
“I can pay more,” he said in an interview yesterday. “And I do plan to pay more because, again, I take responsibility when I make a mistake.”
Then 22, Kost was charged with failing to stop at the scene of an accident causing injury. He was not represented by a lawyer during any of the proceedings. He said he entered a guilty plea in the case believing that he could either pay the fines and restitution or he would serve time in jail.
Such deals were known as “pay or stay” deals. They were legal in Michigan until 2016. Under such deals, a judge could put a person in jail for not paying court-ordered costs.
Kost chose to be jailed. He said he believed that after he served a 365-day sentence in the Eaton County Jail, he was done with the legal system.
The case arose from an accident at Waverly and Lansing roads. Kost admitted he had fled the scene because he “panicked.”
“I certainly paid the price for making a mistake, and I own my responsibility in the misdemeanor charge,” he said. “I did it. It was wrong. I'm sorry.”
The Journal also reported that Nathan Janssen obtained a personal protection order against Kost in 2013. The two had been in a dating relationship and Jannsen alleged Kost stole money, bit him several times, hit him, causing a black eye, and had high blood-alcohol levels on a home test. The PPO was signed by then-Circuit Judge Judge Laura Baird, the Journal also reported. Jannsen did not respond to a message on Facebook seeking comment.
Kost is seeking reelection to the First Ward for a full, four-year term. He won a one-year term last November against Brian Daniels, who had been appointed following the resignation of Brandon Betz. Kost beat Daniels by 56 votes.
In the August primary, Kost will face D. Taft, 48, a perennial candidate who is suing the city for racial discrimination, among other claims. The other candidate is newcomer Michael John VandeGuchte, 29, a team leader at Meijer who has lived in Lansing for 10 years. The top two vote-getters will advance to the November election.
The Journal reported that Taft was convicted of three felonies as an adult — welfare fraud of $500 or more in 1998 in Muskegon County; and fleeing an officer and obstructing or assaulting an officer in 2003 in Kent County. He was also convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence in 2003 in Van Buren County, public records show, according to the Journal.
Taft said he was working to take advantage of Michigan’s new “Clean Slate” law, which may result in his convictions being sealed.
Kost said he has atoned and continues to atone for the situation by picking up garbage, planting flowers and helping citizens — first as a resident and now as an elected official. That he is his “continuous and final apology” to the community.
“You fuck up and you learn from your mistake, but you take the consequences. The consequences sucked. I'm not justifying anything by that. I'm telling you that I learned. People move on. We're all better for it. I'm now a sitting Council member 13 years on, doing all I can to make the community better.”
(Berl Schwartz contributed reporting to this story.)
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