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Records: Police searched Lee Chatfield's family school in sex assault probe

Northern Michigan Christian Academy
Police in January executed a search warrant at Northern Michigan Christian Academy in Burt Lake. (Bridge photo by Kelly House)

Police investigating sexual assault allegations against former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield have searched the Christian school run by Chatfield’s father, Bridge Michigan has learned.

It’s unclear what, if anything, Michigan State Police officers took from the Northern Michigan Christian Academy (NMCA) during their Jan. 27 search. But newly public court documents obtained by Bridge Michigan indicate detectives sought records tied to Chatfield’s employment at the Burt Lake church and school, from personnel files and preaching certifications to yearbooks and photographs.

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It’s at least the third police search tied to allegations that Chatfield sexually assaulted his now sister-in-law for years beginning around 2010 or 2011, when she was a teenage student at the school where he taught and coached, and continuing for more than a decade, throughout Chatfield’s time in office. 

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A spokesperson for Michigan State Police would not provide details about the search.

“This remains an ongoing investigation, and we do not publicly discuss ongoing investigations,” spokesperson Shanon Banner said in an email.

Spokespeople for Attorney General Dana Nessel, whose office has joined the criminal investigation, also declined to comment, citing an open investigation.

Records obtained through a Bridge Michigan request to the 89th District Court in Cheboygan County show that police sought and obtained the search warrant after Superintendent and Pastor Rusty Chatfield refused to cooperate with investigators during an earlier visit to the school. Reached by Bridge Michigan on Monday, Rusty Chatfield declined to comment.

Rusty Chatfield
Rusty Chatfield, who runs the Northern Michigan church and school embroiled in sexual assault allegations against Lee Chatfield, declined to comment on a recent police search of the school. (Bridge file photo)

Lee Chatfield’s sister-in-law, 26-year-old Rebekah Chatfield, told Bridge Michigan in December that the former Michigan House speaker groomed and then repeatedly assaulted her beginning when she was 15 or 16 and dating Lee’s younger brother, Aaron.

Lee Chatfield has denied the allegations, claiming through his lawyer that the two began a years-long affair when both were consenting adults — one of multiple admitted affairs by a lawmaker who campaigned on a slogan of “Faith, Family, Service.” 

Chatfield’s lawyer, Mary Chartier, did not immediately respond to a Bridge request for comment on Monday.

Lawyers for Rebekah Chatfield, who had previously ordered NMCA officials to preserve documents in anticipation of a lawsuit, praised the police search as evidence of a “credible, zealous investigation.” 

“I think they're doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing, and that is securing evidence,” said attorney Jamie White.

Local and state police began investigating after Rebekah Chatfield filed a police report in December. The attorney general has since joined a probe that appears to include the alleged assaults and Chatfield’s spending while in office.

Investigators in February seized a cell phone belonging to Aaron Chatfield, who is now married to Rebekah Chatfield. 

Days later, they raided the home of two close Lee Chatfield associates, Rob and Anne Minard, seizing computers, a briefcase, and paper bags full of documents. Court officials have blocked the public release of records related to those searches.

Chatfield’s finances and frequent travels while in office have come under renewed scrutiny since the allegations, following comments by Aaron Chatfield about his experience as an unofficial chauffeur who often shuttled Lee to strip clubs and rendezvous with women and witnessed his brother’s frequent out-of-town travel. 

Aaron Chatfield worked for Lee’s campaign before he said his brother helped secure him subsequent jobs in the Legislature and then at Grand River Strategies, a consulting firm hired to help run the House Republican Campaign Committee.

Chatfield was speaker of the House from 2019 to 2021, when he left the Legislature because of term limits.

 Lee Chatfield
State police are investigating allegations that former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield sexually assaulted his now-sister-in-law for years beginning when she was a teenage student at the school where he taught. (Bridge file photo)

A Bridge Michigan investigation with the Michigan Campaign Finance Network reported that a nonprofit tied to Chatfield, the Peninsula Fund, spent nearly a half-million dollars on travel and food in 2020, Chatfield’s last year in office. Anne Minard was a board member. 

Because of Michigan’s lax campaign finance laws, the public has little way of knowing where the money went.

The Minards also worked full-time as senior staff in Chatfield’s office while simultaneously operating a consulting firm that raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars from Chatfield’s campaign and connected super PACs. 

As Bridge Michigan reported in January, Rebekah Chatfield is not the only NMCA student to report that a teacher sexually assaulted her. After a 13-year-old student told school officials in 2004 that a teacher assaulted her on a school trip, they failed to contact police or child protective workers. 

Instead, school leaders quietly dismissed the teacher, urged the student’s parents to homeschool her, and forbade the student from mentioning the matter again, according to police reports and Bridge Michigan interviews with the former student.

The January search appears to be connected only to Rebekah Chatfield’s allegations. 

In an affidavit filed Jan. 26, State Police Detective Sgt. Nathan Groya sought court permission to seize any paper or digital evidence of Lee Chatfield’s employment or Rebekah Chatfield’s enrollment at NMCA.

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Groya noted that he and officer Dave Geyer had visited the school a week earlier, but Rusty Chatfield refused to answer any questions.

While the criminal investigation proceeds, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have proposed a host of reforms to Michigan’s government ethics laws in response to the Chatfield allegations.

House Republicans want to restrict lobbyists’ spending on elected officials and ban sitting elected officials and their families from being paid by campaigns and political organizations, among other proposed reforms.

House Democrats, meanwhile, have proposed a bipartisan committee to investigate Chatfield’s actions. And Republican Senate leaders have said they plan to propose reforms of their own.

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