BARRY COUNTY, Mich. -- A couple of off-duty police officers are accused of trading another man's property without his permission. It's left the recipients in a bind.
Glen and Karen Hayward make their living by raising beef cows and logging. It's peaceful country living. But when the Delton couple decided to sell a piece of machinery on Craigslist, they said a deal with a Mattawan police officer disturbed that peace.
In October 2015, the Haywards said they met Martin Jeff Heppler Jr. after posting a loader on Craigslist. It was a successful transaction.
The Haywards and Heppler Jr. later exchanged two other machines. But first, they said Heppler Jr. got his father's permission. His dad, Jeff Heppler Sr., is the co-owner of Riverview Excavating and the police chief in Galesburg.
"He turned to his son... he said, 'You know what? I think it's been here long enough. Get it the hell outta here,'" Hayward recalled Jeff saying.
So the Hepplers traded a Bobcat Skid-Steer for the Haywards' boom lift. Glen Hayward said he spent close to $7,000 restoring the Bobcat himself. His wife, Karen, then posted it to Craigslist to sell it for $11,000.
"The next day I get a call. It was Matt McAllister," Hayward recalled.
He said McAllister, the owner of M&M equipment in Battle Creek, asked to see the Bobcat. He showed up to inspect it.
"About 15 minutes later, I looked and here comes the Barry County police pulling in," Hayward recalled.
McAllister had called the cops and said the serial number matched a Bobcat he owned.
Hayward recalled McAllister saying, "'This Bobcat's stolen. It's mine,' and I said, 'I don't think so. I done put a ton of work into this.'"
Barry County sheriffs deputies and Emmett Township police impounded the Bobcat.
Hayward said, "I called Martin and said, 'Hey, what is going on here?"
He said Martin Heppler Jr. blew him off and said he didn't want to talk about it.
But police reports and transcripts paint a clearer picture. Back in late 2014, Matt McAllister asked the Hepplers to fix his Bobcat. But McAllister didn't want to pay the $10,000+ he later learned it would cost, including labor. So the Bobcat sat at the Hepplers' business for a whole year, until that ill-fated trade they made with Hayward.
Transcripts also reveal Martin Heppler Jr. admitted to lying to the investigating officer and to Matt McAllister about what happened to the Bobcat.
Detective Victor Pierce with Emmett Township told Heppler Jr.:
"You got an ugly monster goin' on here."
"This could be a PR [public relations] nightmare for you."
"They can call the press. So you need to think about winning the battle and losing the war."
Hayward said, "Hepplers went about it wrong by lying to the police. If they would have just not lied to Matt McAllister or the police, I'm sure this never would have happened."
According to the transcripts, the Hepplers considered the Bobcat to be abandoned and McAllister never paid for the $500+ for the repair estimate. But the detective took issue with Heppler, an officer of the law, failing to notify McAllister that he was going to get rid of it. McAllister also rented unrelated storage space from the Hepplers at the time.
When the Problem Solvers called Riverview Excavating and Snowplowing, Martin Heppler Jr. said "no comment" and hung up. His father, Jeff, said all parties are caught in the middle of this. He said he's frustrated and doesn't want to comment further given the situation is now in court.
Karen Hayward said, "We've done nothing wrong. We're the innocent party here, and we're the one that's being penalized here."
She added, "Give us the Bobcat back and let the Hepplers and the McAllisters fight that out with who owes what."
Martin Heppler Jr. is no longer with the Mattawan Police Department. It's not clear why.
He was charged with 'lying to a police officer,' according to the Calhoun County Prosecutor's Office. But despite his own confession, the judge felt the evidence wasn't strong enough and dismissed the charge.
Prosecutor Dave Gilbert said his office has appealed the judge's decision to the circuit court and is awaiting that ruling.
As for Matt McAllister, he expressed frustration with the Hepplers but didn't take up FOX 17's offer for an interview.
The Haywards filed a lawsuit to get the Bobcat back. All three parties are involved in the case. The court date set for mid-May has been rescheduled for October. The Haywards say the Bobcat continues to sit at the Emmett Township Police Department and are concerned about its condition.
The Haywards said the boom lift traded to the Hepplers was worth $4,000. They haven't received it back.