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Grand jury nears charging decision in Michigan vote machine tampering case

Matthew DePerno
A grand jury may soon decide whether to charge Matthew DePerno and other suspects in a voting machine tampering case, according to a special proseuctor (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • Court filings reveal a grand jury is nearing charging decisions in an alleged 2020 vote machine tampering case
  • Suspects include former GOP attorney general candidate Matthew DePerno and other Trump loyalists
  • Special prosecutor is seeking court interpretation as final advice for grand jury

LANSING – A secret grand jury is “ready” to decide whether to indict former Michigan attorney general candidate Matt DePerno and others suspected of illegally tampering with voting machines after the 2020 presidential election, according to court filings by special prosecutor D.J. Hilson.

But the pending grand jury decision is on hold as Hilson asks a judge to help interpret a Michigan law that generally prohibits “undue possession” of voting machines. 

Hilson disclosed the imminent conclusion of the probe in a May filing, two months after he first asked the Oakland County Circuit Court for a declaratory ruling on what could be a felony charge for unauthorized possession of voting equipment. 

Related:

The court documents, which show that Hilson petitioned for a grand jury in October, were first obtained and reported Thursday by The Detroit Free Press

Potential charges have been delayed by a dispute between Hilson and Stefanie (Juntilla) Lambert, an attorney and suspect who alleges local clerks had authorized access to the voting machines as part of an amateur audit. 

Hilson, in seeking a declaratory ruling, asserts the law only allows private individuals to access voting machines with approval of the Michigan Secretary of State or a court order, such as a warrant — not a local clerk.  

But the special prosecutor wants a judge to declare whether his interpretation of the law is correct before advising the grand jury, which was convened in March, according to court documents. 

“The police investigation is now sufficiently complete and a charging decision is ready to be made by the charging entity,” Hilson wrote in a May 9 filing. 

“Therefore the parties require clarification of the law to determine whether a clerk has the legal authority to permit any person to take possession of voting tabulating machines for any purpose."

Hilson, who is an elected Muskegon County Prosecutor, was assigned the case in September. Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel requested a special prosecutor take over because one of the suspects — DePerno — was running against her at the time in the general election, creating a conflict of interest. 

In requesting a special prosecutor, Nessel's office alleged DePerno, Lambert and seven others "orchestrated a coordinated plan to gain access” to voting machines in multiple jurisdictions following the 2020 presidential election.

Attempting to prove the machines were rigged against former President Donald Trump, the suspects allegedly took five ballot tabulators from Barry, Roscommon and Missaukee counties to Oakland County. There, Michigan State Police contend the machines were "broken into" for "tests," according to court filings. 

DePerno has dismissed the case as a political “witch hunt” that was launched by his former political rival, Nessel. 

Other suspects in the case include former state Rep. Daire Rendon, R-Lake City, Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf, Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan, Ben Cotton, Jeff Lenberg, Ann Howard and James Penrose.

Oakland County Judge Phyllis McMillen, who is considering Hilson’s request for a declaratory judgment on the “undue possession” law, has scheduled a July 7 hearing on the matter. 

“Normally a charging decision is made by the prosecutor without any input from the prospective defendant,” McMillen wrote in a June 6 opinion, rejecting a request by Lambert to dismiss the request. “But here, (Hilson) has asked that both sides of the disagreement be heard.”

Lambert, however, is again attempting to halt the proceedings. In a Tuesday filing with the Michigan Court of Appeals, Lambert’s attorney argued that a declaratory ruling could jeopardize her potential defense in the underlying criminal case. 

"The special prosecutor seeks a favorable interpretation of an, at best, ambiguous statute so that he may then run to a grand jury and tell them that (Lambert) broke the law,” attorney Michael J. Smith wrote in the appeals filing. 

“A starker case of the constitutional violations inherent in applying an interpretation of the criminal law to a single individual could not be imagined.”

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