Slew of charges brought against former Michigan House leader and his wife

 April 18, 2024

Michigan's former House leader and his wife landed in legal hot water this week after both were hit with criminal charges. 

According to the Associated Press, Lee and Stephanie Chatfield are accused of absconding with campaign money for personal use.

State attorney general points to "unregulated slush fund"

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel maintains that the couple's alleged scheme involved tapping into several political funds as well as something known as the Peninsula Fund, which is categorized under federal law as a social welfare organization.

She explained how the latter was not obligated to disclose the names of its donors and functioned as an "unregulated slush fund" for Mr. and Mrs. Chatfield.

The state attorney general asserted that during one 14-month stretch, Mrs. Chatfield used Peninsula Fund cash for more than $132,000 worth of personal expenditures charged to her husband's credit card.

In another example, Lee Chatfield's brother is said to have cashed a $5,000 check drawn from one of the political funds before handing back $3,500.

AG demands campaign finance reform

Nessel asserted that Chatfield managed to raise some $5 million over a six-year period, $2 million of which was collected in 2020 alone.

"To call him, as many have, a prodigious fundraiser would not be an exaggeration," Nessel was quoted as saying before slamming her state's laws governing campaign finance.

"The Michigan Campaign Finance Act is effectively toothless, useless and utterly worthless as a deterrent to these crimes," the Associated Press quoted her as saying.

"The misuse of social welfare funds is not a new practice in Lansing. And while Lee Chatfield may have exploited the system a little bit more than others, no one political party alone has perverted or abused it," she added.

Charges arose from sexual assault investigation

That same theme was taken up by Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in a social media post, stating, "It is alarming to me that, because Michigan’s disclosure, ethics and transparency laws are so weak, the evidence that led to today’s criminal charges was only discovered as the result of separate unrelated allegations."

The Associated Press noted that the charges of embezzlement and running a criminal enterprise came about as the result of a 2022 investigation into allegations that he sexually assaulted his sister-in-law.

For her part, Chatfield’s attorney complained that "[i]t took almost 2 1/2 years for the AG’s office to come up with charges" and added, "It's going to be pretty flimsy if it took that long."

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