Michigan Attorney General now involved in Lee Chatfield sex assault probe
The Michigan Attorney General’s Office is getting involved in the investigation into allegations that former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield sexually assaulted an underage student at the Christian school where he taught before taking office.
A spokesperson for Attorney General Dana Nessel confirmed the office’s involvement in a statement to Bridge Michigan on Monday afternoon.
"The Department is assisting the Michigan State Police as it continues its investigation,” said Lynsey Mukomel. Mukomel declined to comment further, citing an open investigation.
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The investigation stems from allegations by Chatfield’s sister-in-law, Rebekah Chatfield, who told Bridge and police in December that the former House speaker groomed and then repeatedly sexually assaulted her beginning when he was a teacher and she was a 15 or 16-year-old student at the Northern Michigan Christian Academy, a Burt Lake school founded by Lee Chatfield’s father, Rusty Chatfield.
Lee Chatfield, through his attorney, has denied the assault allegations, instead saying he and Rebekah Chatfield, now 26, had a yearslong consensual affair when they were both adults.
Rebekah Chatfield’s lawyer, Jamie White, welcomed the news of Nessel’s involvement as a “relief,” noting that it would provide a central hub for possible prosecution stemming from allegations of assault over multiple years in multiple jurisdictions.
Rebekah Chatfield told Bridge the assaults began when she was a teen at the school, and continued for more than a decade, after she married Lee’s youngest brother, Aaron, and moved to college out-of-state, and after the pair returned to Michigan when Lee secured Aaron a job in Lansing. She told Bridge it was only in December that she was able to disclose the encounters to others, including her husband, and contact police.
White said Nessel’s involvement also will guard against “potential conflicts of interest” by local officials in northern Michigan, noting that the Emmet County Prosecutor chose not to pursue criminal charges after Lee Chatfield brought a loaded handgun through security at the Pellston Airport in 2018.
“I’ve heard multiple reports and concerns that there could be some lack of fair, objective decision making,” White said. “If I get on a plane with a loaded gun, I’m going to prison for two years, no questions asked.”
Lee Chatfield’s lawyer, in a statement, told Bridge on Monday “it doesn’t matter what prosecutor’s office reviews the case because the facts don’t change.”
“Rebekah Chatfield’s stated goals for 2022 include to become a millionaire, write a book, and host a podcast. She has visions of herself on a stage, and she has even created a hashtag to promote herself and her self-described ‘brand,’” said lawyer Mary Chartier. “We’re confident that any prosecutor who reviews the false allegations will see through them and reach the right result.”
In response, White called Chartier’s statement “inappropriate,” meant to imply that Rebekah Chatfield fabricated her allegations to gain fame or money.
“The idea that someone can’t participate in the capitalist society because they have an ongoing child-abuse allegation is an affront on the entire atmosphere that created this situation to begin with," he said, adding that Chatfield’s goal in coming forward was partly to inspire other young women in similar situations.
"The idea that we're going to shame her because she’s trying to move forward with her life is really very troubling,” he said.
White said police investigators’ probe isn’t limited to the assault allegations. Police are also scrutinizing Chatfield’s finances while in office, he said, searching for possible financial misdeeds after reporting by Bridge and other media raised fresh questions about Chatfield’s voracious fundraising and spending.
In an interview with Bridge in December, Aaron Chatfield described his brother as living a lavish lifestyle while in office, including frequent travel and heavy patronage of strip clubs, bars and hotels in and out of state.
Acting as an unofficial driver for Lee while working for the Republican consulting firm Grand River Strategies, Aaron said he personally witnessed his brother in moments of indiscretion and excess.
“He went on more trips than anybody. He was gone all the time,” Aaron Chatfield told Bridge.
Aaron Chatfield is now represented by his own lawyer, Mike Nichols, who told Bridge he sees the most recent legal developments as “a bunch of mud-slinging.”
“I don’t think it does my client any good for me to spend any time on anything else other than client care right now,” Nichols said.
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