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Ex-House Speaker Lee Chatfield, wife plead not guilty to corruption charges

Stephanie Chatfield wearing a black dress and Lee Chatfield in a suit
Seen here on a courtroom television screen, Lee and Stephanie Chatfield appeared by Zoom for arraignment on a slew of felony charges for allegedly using hundreds of thousands of dollars in political and nonprofit funds to pay off credit cards, buy luxury products and take vacations.
  • Former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield and his wife pleaded not guilty to the 15 combined charges they face, following through on a prior vow to fight the charges
  • Judge released Chatfields on bond and granted their request to travel out of state to attend the Kentucky Derby despite questions from prosecutor
  • Chatfields are accused of using political and taxpayer funds to fuel an extravagant lifestyle and buy luxury products

EAST LANSING — Former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield and his wife on Thursday pleaded not guilty to a slew of corruption-related charges related to allegations of misusing political, nonprofit and taxpayer funds. 

Lee and Stephanie Chatfield, who appeared virtually for their arraignment in East Lansing District Court, sat beside each other and remained stone-faced and unmoving throughout the Zoom hearing. 

They’ll remain out of jail on bond pending trial, and they must surrender their passports to the court by next Friday under terms approved by District Judge Molly Hennessey Greenwalt.


Greenwalt had already granted the Chatfields’ request to travel out of state to Louisville during this weekend's Kentucky Derby, which Lee Chatfield’s attorney Mary Chartier had said was for both business and recreational purposes, citing an unnamed consulting business Lee Chatfield runs.


In Thursday’s hearing, assistant attorney general William Rollstin questioned the lack of detail.

“I thought the information the court received on Tuesday (in the travel request) was pretty thin,” Rollstin told the judge. “The name of the consulting firm, the exact reason for travel — I didn’t feel like there was a lot of detail.”

Chartier, Lee Chatfield’s defense attorney, acknowledged the couple will “likely go to the Kentucky Derby” during their trip but argued that the “level of specificity” sought by the attorney general’s office “doesn't exist when two adults are traveling.” 

Chatfield, a Levering Republican, is “going down there to meet with potential clients,” she said. “A need to have to specify who they are is such an infringement on his privacy that I would absolutely argue against that.”

Attorney General Dana Nessel unveiled the charges against Lee and Stephanie Chatfield in mid-April, the result of a more than two-year investigation into the millions of dollars Chatfield raised while serving in state government, much of which avoided Michigan’s disclosure laws. 

Lee Chatifield faces 13 total charges, while his wife faces two. The most serious charge against the former speaker is one count of conducting a criminal enterprise, which carries a 20-year maximum sentence.

Many of the charges stemmed from his use of the Peninsula Fund, a non-profit “dark money” account that received millions of dollars and had been managed by two of Chatfield’s top advisers while in office, Anné and Rob Minard. 

The Minards have pleaded not guilty to similar charges for their use of Peninsula Fund money and alleged embezzlement of client funds through a political consulting business they ran while working for Chatfield in the legislature.

Nessel’s office alleges that the Chatfields used his political action committees and a nonprofit “dark money” account to fund hundreds of thousands of dollars in purchases. He and his wife used the accounts to buy a $32,000 Bahamian vacation, luxury goods, a family trip to Universal Studios in Florida, groceries and to pay off a $132,000 credit card balance.

Nessel also alleges Chatfield misused taxpayer funds as a state legislator by claiming mileage reimbursement for trips he never took. 

Chatfield, a 35 year-old Republican from Emmet County in northern Michigan, was a state representative from 2015 through 2020 and served as House speaker his final two years in office. He gained a reputation for eye-popping fundraising totals, but it was only as his time in office concluded that scrutiny over how the money had been used began.


State investigators only began to examine Chatfield after his sister-in-law claimed he had subjected her to a years-long pattern of sexual abuse while also accusing him of financial improprieties. The sexual assault allegations, however, didn’t result in criminal charges.

The financial charges have renewed scrutiny over Michigan’s lax disclosure and ethics laws. 

“The statutes governing political funds and donor disclosures in the state couldn’t be more futile if they were literally drafted by crooks for the very purpose of violating them,” Nessel said last month when announcing the charges against the Chatfields. 

A preliminary examination for the couple, where Greenwalt will determine if the case can be sent to trial, is scheduled for mid-June.

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