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Arrest of Lena Epstein, U-M regent candidate, revealed in court battle

Lena Epstein waves on stage
U-M Regent candidate Lena Epstein celebrates at a Michigan Republican Party convention in April. Reports of Epstein’s arrest last September at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island emerged recently as part of a custody dispute in Oakland Circuit Court. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • Lena Epstein, running for U-M Regent, was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence last fall, according to a court filing 
  • A prosecutor confirmed the arrest but says he declined to file charges 
  • GOP delegates are to formally nominate regent candidates Saturday

LANSING — Lena Epstein, expected to secure a Republican Party nomination for the University of Michigan Board of Regents this weekend, was arrested in September on suspicion she had assaulted her boyfriend in front of her child while under the influence of alcohol, according to state police and a court filing by her ex-husband. 

Police investigated the incident at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island and referred the case for possible prosecution, according to Mackinac County Prosecutor J. Stuart Spencer, who told Bridge Michigan on Thursday that he ultimately decided not to file criminal charges after consulting with the alleged victim.

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The arrest and allegations were revealed in a divorce court battle between Epstein and Eric Medwed, her ex-husband who last month shared a state police incident report with an Oakland County Circuit Court judge while requesting modifications to their child custody and support agreement. 

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Epstein's "continued consumption of alcohol has inhibited her ability to put the child's safety and well-being first," an attorney for Medwed wrote in a court filing, alleging his ex-wife had relapsed after a “long and documented history of mental illness and substance abuse.” 

Her "behavior over the past year has been questionable and erratic,” Emily Long, Medwed’s lawyer, alleged in the court in the filing. 

The police report from the Sept. 2, 2021, incident has not been made public, but Medwed's motion to amend their child custody arrangement paraphrased and quoted the document at length. A full copy of the police report was provided to the court, according to the records. 

The filing indicates Epstein was arrested in September 2021 for suspected assault of her boyfriend in front of Epstein’s now-four-year-old daughter in a room at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

In a brief interview with Bridge Michigan, Epstein called the allegations "fake news" and offered to provide a reporter with some "real tangible gossip" that "does not involve me." 

Asked about the police report, Epstein argued the responding state police trooper had "tried to make an example out of me" and called the Mackinac Island incident a "nothing burger."  Epstein then ended the interview by calling the conversation "over" and hanging up. 

A spokesperson for the Michigan State Police confirmed Epstein was arrested Sept. 2 and that the matter was referred to the Mackinac County prosecutor for review. 

State and local police have not yet responded to public records requests for incident reports stemming from the encounter, which Bridge Michigan first learned of this week through an anonymous tip. 

According to a description of the state police report in her ex-husband's court filing, another guest at the Grand Hotel alerted security to a disturbance in Epstein's room on Sept. 2. When security called the room to check on the matter, Epstein alleged her boyfriend at the time was "being aggressive" and yelled "get this man out of my room!" 

When hotel security personnel knocked on their door, the boyfriend answered and had what appeared to be fresh scratch marks on his face. He re-entered the room before returning to the door with a bloody lip and blood on his shirt, according to the account. 

Security called Michigan State Police, who arrived to find Epstein's daughter wrapped in blankets and sleeping on the bed. The trooper reported smelling "a strong odor of intoxicants" on Epstein's breath. In a preliminary breath test, conducted two-and-a-half hours after security first made contact with Epstein, she allegedly registered a .076 blood alcohol level. The legal limit for driving, which Epstein was not doing, is .08.

Epstein is one of two presumed Republican nominees for seats on the U-M Board of Regents. State party delegates endorsed her at an April convention and are expected to vote on the formal nominations this Saturday in Lansing. 

Regents manage the university's $11 billion budget, oversee related financial decisions and are in charge of presidential hiring. Earlier this year, current regents hired biomedical researcher Santa Ono as U-M's 15th president. 

Epstein is general manager of Vesco Oil Corporation in Southfield. She co-chaired former President Donald Trump's successful Michigan campaign in 2016 but lost her own bid for Congress in 2018. 

Rudy Giuliani, Trump's former attorney, endorsed Epstein ahead of the April nominating convention and attended the Michigan GOP event in Grand Rapids, where he signed autographs alongside Epstein before delegate voting began. 

During the convention, Epstein unsuccessfully called on Michigan GOP Chairman Ron Weiser to resign and later celebrated her endorsement by declaring that she would eventually be elected president of the United States. 

Spencer, the Mackinac County prosecutor, said police referred the domestic violence case to his office but he took "no action” and did not prosecute. He declined to discuss specifics of that decision but spoke generally about similar circumstances. 

"A lot of times you get into situations where you have victims that will come forward and will say, 'Hey, I don't want anything going on,'" Spencer said. "We go through that all the time on the island, because people are up here vacationing and end up screaming at each other."

Bridge Michigan does not name alleged victims of domestic violence without their permission but spoke this week with the boyfriend, who claimed he was “never attacked” and was confused why a reporter was asking about the incident since “no one’s in trouble” and “no charges were brought.”

The state police trooper who responded to the Grand Hotel security call allegedly noticed bite marks on the boyfriend’s hand, but he said they were "playful bites" by Epstein's daughter. He claimed it was the first drink Epstein has consumed in over a year. 

Epstein denied hitting the boyfriend and said his "emotions" had gotten the best of him, according to the description of the police report. Asked about his cuts and injuries, Epstein told the officer the boyfriend was "reactive and thrashes around,” and he was upset because he wanted to spend more time with her and her daughter. 

Bridge Michigan requested a full copy of the police report under the Freedom of Information Act. State police have not yet responded to the request. A screenshot showing part of the report was shared with Bridge and appears consistent with the description from Medwed's attorney.

The boyfriend had "fresh scratch marks on his face," near his temple and elsewhere that appeared to be "made by human fingernails," according to the partial report, which also revealed his lower lip was swollen and there appeared to be dark blood under the skin of his lip. 

He was offered medical attention but refused and, when asked about his injuries, claimed he did not know what "officers were talking about," according to the partial report. "No visible marks, scratches or otherwise were observed" on Epstein, who did not request medical care. 

According to the extended account in Medwed’s divorce court filings, officers who retrieved Epstein's belongings from the Grand Hotel found "a variety of pills" in her bags. 

Epstein's daughter remained with the boyfriend, and they were both evicted from the hotel, according to the divorce court account, which indicated that the boyfriend took the daughter on the ferry to Mackinac City and they stayed in a Super 8 Motel.

The custody battle records indicate state police referred the incident to child protective services as a case of "actual or suspected child abuse" because the daughter was present. 

The filings indicate Epstein's ex-husband first learned about the Mackinac Island incident and arrest through their daughter, who told him 26 days later that police had come to their room and taken her mom away, according to a message Medwed sent to Epstein through a co-parenting portal they used to communicate.

Their exchange was included in Medwed’s court filing. 

In a Sept. 28 response to Medwed, Epstein denied the Sept. 2 arrest account, telling her ex-husband that their daughter's "recollection isn't accurate."

Epstein then appeared to reference a separate trip in later September to the Mackinac Island Republican Leadership Conference, which included former Detroit Police Chief James Craig. 

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"We were in the presence of police all weekend, including Chief Craig's team and police doing surveillance to keep the event safe,” she wrote. “Was a wonderful weekend and (their daughter) had a ball." 

Epstein's ex-husband has had partial custody of their child but last month requested "equal parenting time" on account of her alleged behavior. In a July 5 filing, Medwed's attorney said equal time would "provide balance, stability, and consistency" in their daughter's life.

Medwed, a regional manager for Heaven Hills Brands wine and spirits, had tried to resolve conflicts without court intervention, according to Long, his lawyer, who did not respond to a voicemail or email seeking comment. In a court filing, Long alleged Epstein’s attorneys repeatedly delayed requested mediation, prompting the public disclosure.

The judge has not yet ruled on Medwed’s parenting time request. An initial hearing on the motion is set for next Tuesday before a friend of the court referee.

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