Embezzlement charges filed against ex-state House leader Lee Chatfield; sex assault case dropped

Former Michigan Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield has been charged in a scheme of alleged self-enrichment against state, campaign, and non-profit funds. Chatfield’s wife, Stephanie Chatfield, was also charged with two felonies. 

State Attorney General Dana Nessel announced 13 counts against Chatfield, 35, accusing him of "rampant and flagrant misuse" of political nonprofit funds on Tuesday.

The attorney general said that additional charges could be included later. The investigation into the alleged sexual assault of his sister-in-law Rebekah Chatfield, who claimed he groomed her since she was 15, is closed without charges.

"We do not have sufficient evidence under the relevant criminal statutes," Nessel said. "Our investigation failed to produce evidence to meet proof beyond a reasonable doubt - the standard that must be met in order to bring charges. We commend Rebekah's strength, her bravery, and her courage in stepping forward to tell her story.

"Her disclosure led to our office's full investigation into allegations of other criminal activity. Were it not for her, we likely wouldn't be here today announcing charges at all." 

Chatfield is alleged to have illegally converted to his own personal use funds from the 501(c)(4) Peninsula Fund, his own electoral political action committees, The Chatfield Majority Fund and The Chatfield Majority Fund 2, and the state budget of the Michigan House of Representatives.

Among the allegations leveled include lavish vacation trips while using the Peninsula Fund, as well as for personal credit card expenses.

"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," said Nessel.

Chatfield if convicted, would join former House Republican Speaker Rick Johnson, who is doing hard time for taking bribes from those in the cannabis industry.

The attorney for Chatfield told Tim Skubick, "We are prepared to fight them every step of the way."

MUSKEGON, MI - OCTOBER 17: Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives Lee Chatfield speaks during a campaign rally on October 17, 2020 in Muskegon, Michigan. After testing positive and reportedly recovering from the coronavirus, President Trump

Nessel said Chartield 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 his pocket, and sublet an apartment, paid for by the Peninsula Fund, for his own profit. 

Records allegedly show that Charfield signed reimbursement forms for days he was actually in Phoenix, Arizona, Puerto Rico, Detroit, and one case, for mileage reimbursement for when he took a flight to Pellston instead of driving.

"Chatfield's calendar, personal credit card and Peninsula Fund spending indicate that many of these times he sought travel reimbursements, but a trip from Lansing to his home district was never made," Nessel said. "Of the 42,337 miles Chatfield sought reimbursement for, approximately 21,280 miles appear to be associated with trips never actually taken equating to $12,000 $12,299.84 of taxpayer money that was improperly reimbursed."

Chatfield, a Republican who is no longer a state lawmaker, was House speaker in 2019 and 2020 when the GOP controlled the chamber. He has been under investigation since his sister-in-law said he sexually assaulted her. Chatfield has denied the allegations and said they had a consensual affair.

Nessel said additional charges may come as more information is unearthed, noting the deliberate and time consuming effort of the investigation.

"Let me be clear - the investigation remains ongoing," she said. "We have definitely not ruled out additional charges against the Chatfields and many others, but we are confident in what we have alleged and charged today and felt as though (it) was important to at least begin the legal process."

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

Stay with FOX 2 for more information on this developing story.

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