COEUR d'ALENE - Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh said Wednesday he will now personally lead his office's work on a case against the now-closed CoiNuts shop in Coeur d'Alene and its owner Kevin E. Mitchell.
McHugh said the CoiNuts case was originally assigned to one deputy prosecutor, but it has grown too large and complex. That deputy has been taken off the case.
He said he and deputy prosecutor Tara Jalali will now begin analyzing documents related to CoiNuts, seeking to determine whether criminal intent existed when dozens of customers lost money in transactions with Mitchell.
"The reality is I'm going to be taking the lead on (the case)," McHugh said. "There certainly are a number of people who said they've lost money, and I believe that to be the case."
Many former CoiNuts customers have told The Press that Mitchell allegedly failed to deliver on purchased gold and silver, and that Mitchell often paid for the metals with bad checks. Mitchell, of Hayden Lake, hasn't responded to requests for comment.
McHugh said he understands the victims' desire to see Mitchell, 47, prosecuted as soon as possible.
"In a case like this it's not the best course" to hurry the process, McHugh said.
His office needs to consider the "full scope of criminal conduct"alleged, and complete a full review of information that includes police reports, bank records and civil lawsuits against Mitchell.
"We're going to take a look at all the information available," McHugh said. "We're going to make a sound (charging) decision."
The Coeur d'Alene Police Department said Tuesday it will continue to work with McHugh's office to seek formal charges stemming from "51 criminal offenses related to (Mitchell's) business practices."
Police Chief Wayne Longo declined to comment on the case.
The Press requested to speak with officers or detectives about CoiNuts and Mitchell. Police spokeswoman Sgt. Christie Wood responded to the request on Tuesday by providing a timeline of "case facts."
According to the timeline, in 2006 two incident reports were filed naming Mitchell in non-sufficient funds checks complaints.
Both cases were sent to the prosecutor's office "where they were declined prosecution due to it being a civil matter," Wood said.
Jump to 2010, when five more similar reports were filed against Mitchell, but prosecution again was declined for similar reasons.
On July 27, 2011, a non-sufficient funds report was filed against Mitchell, and Coeur d'Alene police detectives referred it to the "check-enforcement program" operated by the prosecutor's office.
On Aug. 5, 2011, the first report was filed for grand theft against CoiNuts, which was located at 296 W. Sunset Ave., just off U.S. 95. Several more reports followed.
On Sept. 20, 2011, police detectives interviewed Mitchell for approximately two hours, when he denied any intent to defraud customers.
"He said he had agreements in place with the people he wrote checks to and they didn't follow the agreement," Wood said. "He blamed the customer."
Less than a month later, Det. Brandon McCormick sent what police called "complaint requests" to McHugh's office for charges of criminal conspiracy and another felony for passing bad checks.
On Nov. 21, 2011, detectives obtained a search warrant and executed it to collect Mitchell's banking records, then provided that evidence to prosecutors.
Through 2012, police continued to receive additional reports involving Mitchell, with the final one received on Aug. 22. Those reports also were forwarded to prosecutors, Wood said.
On July 3, 2012, police requested that a charging decision be made.
On July 20, detectives requested at least one charge be filed and asked for a warrant to put Mitchell in jail.
"The prosecutor (who was) assigned stated that it was a very large case, and she had read through it once and was in the process of reading it again," Wood said.
On July 25, the police department received notification that the prosecutor's office had declined to prosecute.
Additional reports flowed into the police department in August about Mitchell and CoiNuts, Wood said.
Finally, on Nov. 9, Det. McCormick met with deputy prosecutor Shawn Glen and McHugh.
Wood said Glen and McHugh didn't believe they could "prove intent to defraud due to the civil agreements the victims had entered into with Mitchell."
Many of the victims agreed to take post-dated checks from Mitchell, Wood said, or agreed to delays in payment from him.
"(Prosecutors) declined to file charges for all of the cases," Wood said.
At one point, however, Sarah M. Mitchell, 30, Kevin Mitchell's step-daughter, had been charged with six felonies for work at CoiNuts. Those charges were dismissed in November by McHugh's office. Sarah Mitchell worked at CoiNuts.