LANSING, MICH (WZZM) - There is no doubt Michigan Department of Corrections Lt. Charles Levens is a very important state employee. His job is to investigate, locate and arrest fugitives and former prisoners who aren't following the rules.
But Lt. Levens is in the news Friday for something he never expected. He's listed as the highest-paid state employee in Michigan according to records released by Michigan's Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB).
Those DTMB records show Lt. Levens earned $408,334.44 in 2016. The data shows he received a nearly $120,000 raise from 2014 to 2016.
The 13 Watchdog team talked with Lt. Levens from Saginaw on the phone Friday morning and told us he was shocked to see his name at the top of the list because he actually earns 25% of what was posted.
"All their numbers are ludicrous and I had no idea where those numbers were coming from," Lt. Levens said. "My salary isn't even close to that."
The entities obtained the compensation data through the Freedom of Information Act so taxpayers could "fact check claims about salaries, verify data from other open records requests, and hold government spending accountable."
"Taxpayers are the employers of government employees," Mackinac Center Community Engagement Manager Anne Schieber Dykstra said. "When you work in the private sector your salary information is private but it's a different situation when you are working on the public dime."
Our investigative team reviewed some of the Mackinac Center's data and had some questions why it appeared thousands of Michigan Department of Corrections employees were earning inflated salaries. Hundreds of them, in fact, were out-earning Gov. Rick Snyder by more than $100,000. Gov. Snyder earns $159,300 annually.
It turned out the salary information turned over to the Mackinac Center by DTMB was wrong.
"I can definitely confirm that the problem was on our end," DTMB spokesman Kurt Weiss told the 13 Watchdog Team. "We had an error to a segment of our data that resulted in wrong salaries primarily for corrections. We think at this point it’s limited to 4,000 records and our goal is to get the corrected records to the Mackinac Center (Friday)."
Late Friday, Weiss said the correct records were sent to the Mackinac Center and its partners. He said less than 1% of all the salaries that were provided in the information request were wrong.
Lt. Levens in our phone conversation clearly wasn't happy about being at the top of an incorrect list of salaries but took it in stride, telling us he received an awful lot of calls and visits from friends asking him about the big money.
"I got a heads-up from my boss that I might be in the spotlight," Lt. Levens said.
Schieber Dykstra is concerned the state made the mistake.
"Imagine an individual seeking the same information that might have gotten the same incorrect information," Schieber Dykstra said. "That's what's good about putting it in a big public database so that other people can observe those discrepancies if there are some."
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