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Former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield, wife face corruption charges

Former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield has denied any criminal wrongdoing during a long-running investigation by Attorney General Dana Nessel (Bridge file photo)
  • Former House Speaker Lee Chatfield used political nonprofits to ‘line his own pockets,’ Attorney General Dana Nessel says
  • Chatfield’s wife also faces charges on claims she paid off his personal credit card with a nonprofit set up as a social welfare group
  • Chatfield, who denies the charges, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

May 2: Ex-House Speaker Lee Chatfield, wife plead not guilty to corruption charges

LANSING — Former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield led a “criminal enterprise” while in office, Attorney General Dana Nessel alleged Tuesday as she announced 13 charges against the Levering Republican and two charges against his wife. 

But Chatfield won’t be charged for sexual assault allegations that prompted the probe, according to Nessel.

She said her office did not uncover evidence to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” accusations by his former sister-in-law.

The charges filed Tuesday focus on Chatfield’s heavy use of nonprofit and political action committee funds, which Nessel alleges the former lawmaker used for a “variety of separate financial schemes to line his own pockets.”


"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 a state salary could not possibly afford,” Nessel said during a mid-afternoon announcement.

If convicted, Chatfield could face up to 20 years in prison on the criminal enterprise charge. The 35-year-old took office in 2015 and was speaker from 2019 to the end of 2020.

Chatfield has previously denied any criminal wrongdoing, and his attorney told Bridge Michigan they are planning a vigorous defense. 

“It took almost 2 ½ years for the Attorney General’s Office to come up with charges against Mr. Chatfield,” attorney Mary Chartier said in a Tuesday statement. “We are prepared to fight them each and every step of the way.”

His wife, Stephanie Chatfield, is accused of helping to pay off her husband's personal credit card bill using his nonprofit Peninsula Fund, which was organized as a “social welfare organization.”

Among other things, Nessel accused Chatfield of using the Peninsula Fund to pay for items at a Spider Man souvenir shop, a Harry Potter candy store and wizard-themed restaurant during a family trip to Universal Studios in Florida, along with” luxury purchases” from Ugg, Coach and a surf shop. 

Nessel alleged the nonprofit was used to pay off $132,000 in purchases on Lee Chatfield's credit card from February 2020 through April 2021.

Nessel also accused Chatfield of using separate political action committees and a related charitable organization for a "kickback" scheme. 

In one instance, she alleged, the “Majority Fund” cut a $5,000 check to brother Aaron Chatfield, with a directive to cash it and give $3,500 back to Lee Chatfield ahead of his family trip to Florida. 

In another case, Nessel alleged the PAC wrote a $5,000 check to an associate who then used it to pay for Chatfield expenses on a joint trip to the Bahamas.

Further, Nessel alleged Chatfield misused taxpayer funds by using his office to seek more than $12,000 in travel reimbursement for trips he never took. 

Authorities began investigating Chatfield more than two years ago when Rebekah Chatfield accused him of sexually assaulting and manipulating her for more than a decade, beginning in the early 2010s when she was a teenage student at the Christian school where he taught. 

She first shared her account publicly with Bridge Michigan.

An investigative affidavit released in December shows Rebekah Chatfield also alleged her brother-in-law “misappropriated finances that he raised for political and non-profit purposes and used them for illegal purposes."

Dana Nessel at a press conference
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on Tuesday announced a host of corruption charges against former House Speaker Lee Chatfield, but said evidence didn’t support charges related to accusations of sex assault from his sister-in-law. (Bridge photo by Jordyn Hermani)

The probe failed to produce conclusive evidence of sexual assault, Nessel said, but she praised Rebekah Chatfield for "strength, her bravery and her courage and stepping forward to tell her story."

"Were it not for her, we likely wouldn't be here today announcing charges at all," Nessel said.

Rebekah Chatfield is "extremely disappointed" by the decision and "distressed beyond belief," her attorney, Jamie White, told Bridge.

Nessel's office "got the law wrong on this one," White said, arguing Lee Chatfield should have been charged because he taught in Rebekah Chatfield's school at the time their sexual relationship allegedly began.

"They were not able to articulate a reason to me today as to why they are not charging him," White said. "I'm shocked by that."

Nessel joined the investigation in February 2022 and took over that fall. Search-warrant requests show the attorney general expanded the probe with a focus on Chatfield's extensive use of secretive nonprofit funds to pay for travel and other undisclosed perks.

Nessel had vowed to make a charging decision on Chatfield by the end of last year but delayed a decision at that time.

Instead, in late December, Nessel filed criminal embezzlement and conspiracy charges against two top Chatfield aides, Rob and Anne Minard. They have each pleaded not guilty and are due back in court for pre-trial hearings on May 2.

Chatfield is the second former Michigan House speaker to face criminal charges in as many years. 

Rick Johnson, a LeRoy Republican who led the state House in the early 2000s, was convicted last year after accepting bribes, sex work, private flights and other gifts in exchange for favorable treatment on a medical marijuana licensing board he chaired.

Separately, Nessel's office is investigating a $25 million state grant awarded in 2022 to a former aide of then-House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Clare. 

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