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Judge paves way for charges in Michigan vote machine tampering probe

Matthew DePerno signing something
Former Republican attorney general candidate Matt DePerno and other 2020 presidential election deniers are being probed for allegedly tampering with voting machines. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • A special prosecutor is probing whether Matt DePerno and other 2020 election deniers illegally tampered with state voting machines 
  • The prosecutor sought a ruling on whether suspects can be charged with tampering even if local clerks gave them access to machines 
  • On Wednesday, an Oakland County judge indicated that the law would still apply, setting the stage for possible grand jury charges

LANSING—An Oakland County judge on Wednesday issued a broad interpretation of a law banning “undue possession” of voting equipment, setting the stage for expected charging decisions in an alleged tabulator tampering scheme by 2020 election deniers. 

Special Prosecutor D.J. Hilson had sought the judicial interpretation before providing final guidance to a secret grand jury that will decide whether to authorize charges against former state Rep. Daire Rendon, former attorney general candidate Matt DePerno and other suspects in the high-profile case. 

Stefanie Juntilla Lambert, an attorney also accused of participating in the scheme to access voting machines after former President Donald Trump's 2020 election loss, had argued that the "undue possession" law did not apply if the group obtained permission from local clerks. 


But it's clear Michigan law only allows access to voting machines with permission of the Secretary of State or through a court order, such as a search warrant, Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Phyllis McMillen ruled Wednesday, siding with Hilson.

McMillen also declared that the undue possession law is applicable at any time, not just during an election or before the final results are determined. 

The ruling means a charging decision in the underlying criminal case could be imminent. 

In previous court filings, Hilson indicated he wanted a judge to weigh in on the law before he provided final instructions to a secret grand jury he had requested to review the case for possible indictments.  

“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 and Lambert did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday's ruling. 

Lambert last month appealed one element of the case to the Michigan Court of Appeals. But records show the initial filing was "defective," meaning it could be dismissed later this month if her attorney does not provide additional information. 

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 the probe from her office because one of the suspects — DePerno — was running against her at the time in the general election, creating a conflict of interest. 

At the time, 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 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 criticized the investigation as a political “witch hunt” that was launched by his former political rival, Nessel. 

Other suspects in the case include Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf, Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan, Ben Cotton, Jeff Lenberg, Ann Howard and James Penrose. Cyber Ninjas, a private firm reportedly based in Florida, also led a controversial "audit" of the 2020 presidential election in Maricopa County, Arizona that critics decried as partisan.

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