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Ex-MI House Speaker Lee Chatfield, wife charged in alleged embezzlement scheme

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Posted at 12:29 PM, Apr 16, 2024

(WXYZ/AP) — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced that former state House Speaker Lee Chatfield is facing 13 charges related to alleged embezzlement of nonprofit funds. His wife, Stephanie, is also charged with two felonies.

In a press conference, Nessel outlined what she said were "various different schemes to embezzle, steal, and convert both private and public monies to fund a lavish lifestyle."

Watch Nessel's press conference below:

AG Dana Nessel announces charges against ex-House Speaker Lee Chatfield

“Our investigation has uncovered evidence that Lee Chatfield used various different schemes to embezzle, steal, and convert both private and public monies to fund a lavish lifestyle that his state salary could not possibly afford,” Nessel said. “While the entirety of our investigation is not yet completed, my department is moving forward with 13 charges against Lee Chatfield alleging rampant and flagrant misuse and misappropriation of political non-profit funds while Speaker of the House, including Conducting a Criminal Enterprise.”

Some of the charges include embezzlement from a nonprofit, conspiracy to embezzle from a nonprofit and more. In all, Lee Chatfield faces 13 charges, including conducting a criminal enterprise, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

Lee Chatfield has been charged with the following:

  • One count of Conducting a Criminal Enterprise, a 20-year felony; 
  • Four counts of Embezzlement from a Non-Profit Organization, $1,000 to $20,000, a felony punishable by 10 years’ incarceration and/or a $15,000 fine;
  • Three counts of Embezzlement by a Public Officer Over $50, a felony punishable by 10 years’ incarceration and/or a $5,000 fine;  
  • One count of Conspiracy to Commit Embezzlement from a Non-Profit Organization, $1,000 to $20,000, a felony punishable by 10 years’ incarceration and/or a $15,000 fine and an additional $10,000 fine; 
  • Three counts of Embezzlement, $1,000-$20,000, a felony punishable by 5 years’ incarceration and/or a $10,000 fine; and 
  • One count of a Felony Violation of the Charitable Trust Act, a felony punishable by 5 years’ incarceration and/or a $10,000 fine. 

Stephanie Chatfield has been charged with one count each of the following:

  • Embezzlement from a nonprofit organization, $1,000 to $20,000, a felony punishable by 10 years’ incarceration and/or a $15,000 fine 
  • Conspiracy to commit embezzlement from a nonprofit organization, $1,000 to $20,000, a felony punishable by 10 years’ incarceration and/or a $15,000 fine and an additional $10,000 fine. 

Nessel said that Lee Chatfield and his wife used money from his social welfare organization, the Peninsula Fund, as well as his electoral political action committees The Chatfield Majority Fund and The Chatfield Majority Fund 2, and the state budget of the Michigan House of Representatives to support a lifestyle and reimburse themselves for personal money that was spent on a credit card.
The state alleges Lee used nonprofit funds to pay off personal credit card expenses, sought improper mileage reimbursements from the House of Representatives for district-to-Lansing travel that never occurred, implemented a check kickback scheme to move PAC money through staff and back to himself and sublet an apartment, paid for by the Peninsula Fund, for his own profit.

According to Nessel, the Chatfields allegedly paid off $132,000 in charges on his personal credit card from the Peninsula Fund. Some of those charges include trips to Universal Studios and purchases at souvenir shops, groceries, restaurants, food delivery, bills from Apple, and more.

Watch our report from December where two Chatfield aides were charged:

2 former aides to ex-Speaker Chatfield charged with embezzlement, other charges

Nessel stressed the investigation is ongoing and additional charges against the Chatfields, as well as additional defendants, are still possible.

Lee Chatfield, a Republican who is no longer a state lawmaker, was House speaker in 2019 and 2020 when the GOP controlled the chamber.

His attorney, Mary Chartier, said she'll fight the charges "each and every step of the way.” She released the following statement to 7 Action News:

It took almost 2 and a half years for the Attorney General’s Office to come up with charges against Mr. Chatfield regarding supposed financial offenses.

We are prepared to fight them each and every step of the way. And we’re prepared to expose this for what it is—a baseless attack on a “prodigious fundraiser” for Republican candidates by a Democratic Attorney General. Her motives in this political prosecution are clear, and they have nothing to do with integrity.

The Attorney General did get one decision right today though by closing the meritless allegation of criminal sexual conduct.

While we don’t represent Mrs. Chatfield, it appears that she is being used as a pawn in a political prosecution, and we’re confident that her attorney will effectively fight these charges in court on her behalf.

A message seeking comment from Stephanie Chatfield's lawyer, Matt Newburg, was not immediately returned.

Lee Chatfield has been under investigation since his sister-in-law said he sexually assaulted her. He has denied the allegations and said they had a consensual affair.

Nessel said there was insufficient evidence to charge Lee Chatfield based on Rebekah Chatfield's allegations, though she praised her courage in stepping forward.

“Were it not for her, we likely wouldn't be here today,” the attorney general said.

Nessel said during a press conference that that part of the investigation was closed without issuing any charges.

Two people who were top aides to Lee Chatfield when he ran the House were charged last year with crimes including embezzlement from nonprofit funds created for political purposes. Rob and Anne Minard have pleaded not guilty.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.