Judge throws out extortion case against TC resort owner

Sep 29, 2016

Bryan Punturo (right) during a June hearing in 86th District Court.
Credit Aaron Selbig

A district court judge has thrown out extortion charges against a Traverse City resort owner. Judge Thomas Phillips says the Michigan Attorney General’s Office failed to make its case that 58-year-old Bryan Punturo committed a crime.

State prosecutors alleged Punturo, owner of the ParkShore Resort on East Grand Traverse Bay, threatened the owner of a competing parasailing business. Puntoro allegedly convinced the victim, Saburi Boyer, to pay him $19,000 a year in exchange for not forcing him out of business.

Prosecutors say Punturo threatened Boyer numerous times via email, text and phone calls. He told Boyer he would “make his life a living hell” if he didn’t agree to the deal, and that he would “crush” and “bury” him.

“What Mr. Punturo did was, in my opinion, nasty, mean-spirited, reprehensible conduct. But there’s been no law presented that what he did was illegal.”

In court Thursday, state’s attorney Matthew Payok cited cases in other states that define extortion as threats that inspire fear. He said that was clearly Punturo’s intent.

“Mr. Punturo threatens to make Mr. Boyer’s life a living hell,” said Payock. “That is not a threat to legally compete. That is a threat to do something bad to somebody. It’s wrongful. It’s intimidation. That’s not normal business.”

Punturo’s attorney, Jonathan Moothart, argued the threats were only business-related.

”The statute prohibits a threat to commit an illegal act,” said Moothart. “It doesn’t prohibit the use of fear.”

While making his ruling, Phillips said that in Michigan law, there are two different kinds of extortion – threatening injury against someone or threatening to accuse someone of a crime. Phillips agreed with the defense that Punturo’s threats against Boyer were financial – and not personal.

“I think what the defendant did in this case, in his negotiations, was threaten Mr. Boyer with financial ruin, basically,” said Phillips. “What Mr. Punturo did was, in my opinion, nasty, mean-spirited, reprehensible conduct. But there’s been no law presented that what he did was illegal.”

State’s attorneys declined to comment on whether they will appeal to the circuit court.

Punturo was released from his bond. If he had been convicted, he could’ve faced 20 years in prison. A civil case against Punturo is still pending. Boyer is seeking $760,000 in restitution and damages.