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Aides to former Speaker Chatfield charged with embezzlement, conducting criminal enterprise

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LANSING — Top aides of former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield have been charged with embezzlement and misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars from campaign committees, a lobbying firm and nonprofit organizations.

Charges against Anne and Rob Minard, a married couple who served as director of external affairs and chief of staff for Chatfield respectively, were announced Thursday by Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Nessel alleged that the Minards used their professional relationships in Lansing to embezzle and misappropriate at least $525,000 through illegal means.

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“With today’s charges, we allege that Anne and Rob Minard didn’t just skirt around Michigan’s anemic regulation of political spending, but knowingly, willfully and overtly violated the law for their own personal enrichment,” Nessel said. “We intend to prove again that this was no accounting error, but a repeated pattern of illegal activity and continuing criminal enterprise.”

The Minards have been charged each with one count of conducting a criminal enterprise, one count of conspiracy to conduct a criminal enterprise, three counts of false pretenses between $1,000 and $20,000, one found of false pretenses between $20,000 and $50,000, one count of embezzlement of $100,000 or more and one count of filing a false tax return.

Anne Minard was additionally charged with two counts of embezzlement between $1,000 and $20,000 and two counts of false pretenses between $1,000 and $20,000. Rob Minard was also charged with one count of false pretenses between $1,000 and $20,000.

Nessel alleged the Minards used their positions of power to embezzle money from organizations for their own personal gain, including inflating or fabricating reimbursements, improperly removing funds from nonprofit accounts and misrepresenting documents without approval from nonprofit administrators.

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The nonprofits involved in the investigation include the Peninsula Fund, Make Michigan First and Protecting Michigan’s Future Fund. Nessel said these organizations are distinct from the common perception of charitable nonprofits.

“These types of nonprofits are not giving charitable gifts to sick children or communities in need,” she said. “They are functional conduits of dark money campaign donors that can accept unlimited contributions from corporations without publicly disclosing their donors.”

Nessel said the alleged actions were the product of lackluster campaign finance laws and a culture of political influence in Lansing.

“Of course these alleged crimes were likely to occur,” she said. “The environment of money, influence, power and the feeble regulation in place, the ineffectual reporting standards, the sheer volume of transactions, the staggering sums of money can also easily become vulnerable to fraudsters to conmen and conwomen.”

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“Today, we’re alleging that that is exactly what the Minards did,” she said.

Nessel said that Michigan’s lackluster campaign finance and reporting requirements for politicians enabled the Minards’ alleged actions.

“It is the weakness of these laws that has made it so easy for people with ties to our government representatives and big money donors alike to skirt the system for personal benefit, while also skirting any legal responsibility for their bad behavior,” she said.

Chatfield, the Levering Republican who represented the 107th House District from 2015 through 2020, has been embroiled in a series of controversies since leaving office, ranging from accusations of sexual assault to financial improprieties.

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A sister-in-law of Chatfield filed a complaint with Lansing police in late December 2021 alleging he sexually abused her starting when she was 14 or 15 and he was a teacher at her Christian school in northern Michigan. He has denied it, admitting to multiple extramarital affairs but saying their relationship began later and was consensual.

Nessel said Thursday that the investigation into these accusations and any other criminal referrals involving Chatfield remain ongoing.

“Although the initial referral did not pertain to the Minards specifically, as the investigative team continued to uncover and review evidence, it became very apparent that they were intimately involved in a massive amount of financial misappropriation,” Nessel said. Nessel said that additional charging decisions may be brought later on and that the investigation is still ongoing, including those involving Chatfield directly. Her office has obtained millions of documents throughout the investigation, she said.

Nessel said the charges shouldn’t be seen as political, stressing that the funds which the Minards are alleged to have stolen from were likely established to support Republican causes and that Republicans held considerably more power in Lansing until recently.

“This is not partisan,” she said. “This affects the public trust — it affects people’s ability to know who’s influencing who and how, and how much influence they have. And that goes for both parties.”

The Minards will be arraigned in East Lansing on Jan. 3, 2024.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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