YPSILANTI, Mich. – A hidden camera investigation by the Local 4 Defenders revealed an Eastern Michigan University employee is accused of installing secret cameras to capture video of his relative and her boyfriend during sex acts because he had a crush on the boyfriend.
Michael Pickerel, who works in the dean's office, has been placed on administrative leave in wake of the allegations.
Pickerel pleaded guilty to financial crimes and admitted to police that he set up the secret cameras, the Defenders have learned.
Pickerel's alleged actions didn't take place on school property but at a home he was renting in Ypsilanti and a side security business he was running to make extra money, according to authorities.
An American flag flies outside the well-maintained home, and inside, hidden cameras were set up secretly in the bathroom and bedroom to record the people living inside during their most intimate moments, officials said.
One hidden camera was in a bathroom electrical outlet, and another was in a Blu-ray player in the bedroom, authorities said.
"What I did was wrong, and I fully admitted that, but there isn't much I can do about it," Pickerel said.
Pickerel volunteers in the multimedia ministry at Oakwood Church in Saline and works at EMU. For more than 20 years, Pickerel has been in technical support and currently works in the dean's office.
He didn't spot the Local 4 Defenders' hidden camera when the Defenders showed up at his office at EMU.
"The two people who were on video elected not to press charges," Pickerel said. "The U.S. attorney was trying to push them because this was part of my 'history of manipulation' and 'how I was so masterful in manipulating the judicial system.'"
Pickerel's trouble started when he refused to pay 15 security workers $2,600 in overtime at his side business. When federal investigators asked about that, Pickerel said he did pay and offered documents, officials said.
Those documents were fake, and federal officials charged him with falsifying records and lying to federal investigators, authorities said.
Investigators seized his computer, and on it they found dozens of videos of people in the middle of sex acts who appeared to have no idea they were being recorded, according to officials.
Eastern Michigan students said they wonder where else Pickerel placed cameras.
"Oh, God, no," said Katie, an EMU senior. "I don't like that. That's creepy. That's an invasion of privacy. Maybe Eastern should look into that. That creeps me out."
"They should look harder, see who this person really is," EMU sophomore Hadi Ansari said. "They need to investigate much harder."
The two people who were secretly recorded were Pickerel's relative and her boyfriend, police said.
Pickerel told police he was attracted to the boyfriend and pleasured himself while watching the recordings, according to authorities.
The victims decided not to press charges, so the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office dropped the case.
"I was surprised that the people that he videotaped did not press charges," Local 4 security expert Steve Dolunt said. "I understand one was a family member, but it's still a violation of privacy."
Dolunt said Pickerel's lack of integrity is a concern.
"You're videotaping me in a sex act and that's OK?" Dolunt said. "I have a problem with that because my other problem is, who else are you doing this to?"
Pickerel has two convictions for lying to federal officials about paying his employees.
Before the sentencing, Pickerel asked his pastor and several Eastern Michigan faculty and staff members to write letters to the judge on his behalf. They penned glowing letters of Pickerel's abilities and impeccable character, but none knew about the secret videos, Pickerel told the Local 4 Defenders.
When the Defenders told his pastor and colleagues about the cameras, most were upset, saying they wouldn't have written the letters if they knew all the information.
Pickerel was sentenced to two years of probation. His church and employer were never notified about the secret sex recordings.
In a written statement, EMU told Local 4 Pickerel was put on administrative leave pending an internal investigation when school officials found out about the recordings.
Here's the full statement from EMU:
"Eastern Michigan University holds our employees to the highest standards of conduct, as detailed in our employment policies and various collective bargaining agreements.
"University Human Resources administration first learned of this matter on Friday, June 7, and an internal investigation began immediately. We are as concerned as anyone about the individual's criminal finding, as well as the secret recording that appears to have taken place inside the individual's private property and does not involve the university.
"The employee was placed on administrative leave the morning of Monday, June 10, while the university commences its investigation into this matter. Administrative leave is a process the university may employ under the terms of the employee's Collective Bargaining Agreement.
"Letters in support of the individual, written by other employees last fall, were written personally, and not in any way on behalf of the university, or with its knowledge."