A married couple who once held senior positions in former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield’s office have been accused of embezzlement. During an arraignment hearing held in an Esat Lansing District Court on Jan 3., the couple entered not guilty pleas to counts of conducting a criminal enterprise, conspiring to conduct a criminal enterprise, embezzlement, making false pretenses and filing a false tax return. The personal recognizance bonds for each defendant were set at $50,000. Personal recognizance bonds are paid when defendants violate their bond conditions. The couple are due to appear in court again on Jan. 19 to attend a probable cause conference.
According to prosecutors, the couple wrongfully obtained approximately $525,000 between 2018 and 2022. This was when they worked for former House Speaker Chatfield. The man was Chatfield’s chief of staff, and the woman was his director of external affairs. Former House Speaker Chatfield has not been charged in connection with the couple’s alleged activities. Prosecutors say the couple committed white-collar crimes by claiming expenses that were actually paid by groups including nonprofit organizations and campaign committees.
Political consulting firm
The couple established a political consulting firm in 2011 and a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization after being hired by former House Speaker Chatfield. Prosecutors believe they used these organizations to earn fees and claim expenses that they did not incur or were paid by other parties. The man and woman could each be sent to prison for up to 95 years if they are convicted on all counts.
Criminal cases involving fraud, embezzlement or bribery are usually settled at the negotiating table. The penalties for committing white-collar crimes are severe, which puts prosecutors in a strong negotiating position. If the prosecutors in this case can back up their allegations with financial documents and electronic data, a plea agreement is likely.