More details emerge on Schmidt-Bolger election scheme

Call it the story that won’t go away.

The Michigan political world was surprised this May when a long-time Democrat, state Rep. Roy Schmidt of Grand Rapids, changed his party affiliation in the last minutes of the filing period for re-election to his House seat. The circumstances of that change brought to the public’s attention the back-door maneuverings that are not uncommon around Michigan elections, and the various loopholes in Michigan law that led Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth to conclude that Schmidt and House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, did legally try to tilt the election with a "Democratic" candidate who had no intention of competing.

The Michigan Truth Squad recently vetted the statements of the two representatives, issuing a flagrant foul to Schmidt and a foul to Bolger.

This week, the (subscription-only) Gongwer News Service reported on a new wave of documents and investigative actions taken by the Michigan State Police on the Schmidt-Bolger affair. The report appears in its entirety below, with the permission of Gongwer:

"The State Police investigating the election scheme in the 76th House District that House Speaker Jase Bolger and Rep. Roy Schmidt worked up together was slowed somewhat by the Department of State and ultimately cut short by Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth, the full police report and previously undisclosed text messages show.

Documents, newly obtained by Gongwer News Service, through the Freedom of Information Act, show that a State Police investigator waited for two months for the Department of State to hand over surveillance camera footage outside a local Grand Rapids branch office that could have shown Mr. Schmidt talking with the straw candidate he recruited to run against him. This was at a time when Mr. Schmidt was still publicly denying that he ever knew Matthew Mojzak, the straw candidate, and had an instrumental role in organizing the scheme.

Other key revelations the documents show include:

* Mr. Schmidt (R-Grand Rapids) had spoken with an attorney about Mr. Mojzak's legal issues and his son and nephew were strongly encouraging Mr. Mojzak to use their attorney instead of Mr. Mojzak's attorney than was previously known.

* Mr. Bolger (R-Marshall) texted Mr. Schmidt frequently about Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer. Mr. Bolger said what was best about the whole thing was that Mr. Brewer did not help Roy Schmidt run for Grand Rapids mayor and now he didn't need Mr. Brewer. (See related story.)

* Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R-Alto) became involved after the news broke and told Mr. Schmidt to make sure that Mr. Mojzak stayed quiet. (See related story.)

Mr. Schmidt stunned the state political world when the longtime Democrat filed to run for re-election as a Republican minutes before the 4 p.m. May 15 filing deadline. Minutes after Roy Schmidt's Republican paperwork was filed by Phil Browne, Mr. Bolger's deputy chief of staff, Mr. Mojzak's paperwork making him a Democratic candidate was filed by Mr. Browne. Roy Schmidt then withdrew his previously filed Democratic candidacy, leaving Democrats without a genuine candidate. 

Rep. Roy Schmidt

With Mr. Mojzak on the ballot, Democrats would have had an extremely difficult task in having a write-in candidate defeat him since Mr. Mr. Mojzak would get many votes just by being on the ballot. Mr. Forsyth revealed the essential elements of the Bolger-Schmidt collaboration in his report when he declared himself, as a Republican, disgusted by their conduct, but said it is not a crime to offer to pay a candidate to run and make no effort to win.

According to the State Police report, the Department of State never gave investigators the video, but the report states that a Department of State investigator said the request for it had "stirred up a bee's nest in the SOS administration."

Department of State spokesperson Fred Woodhams said there was no interference to staff from the administration.

"The request to provide it was immediately approved by senior officials," Mr. Woodhams said Tuesday.

But it was not immediately handed over.

A week later, the State Police contacted the Department of State again to see if the video was ready. SOS Investigator Walter Tremonti said that the person that could do it was not available, but he would get it as soon as possible.

A month and a half later the State Police tried again and was told the file was so large that the department was having difficulty retrieving the video. At that time, the State Police offered to provide an external hard drive.

Mr. Woodhams said the file's size was causing technical issues. He said he was not sure what Mr. Tremonti meant by his "bee's nest" comment. He also said that the video was eventually made available, but the State Police no longer needed it.

After combing through a larger number of text messages between Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Bolger, which "directly discusses a plan to use Matt Mojzak as a Democratic straw candidate," the State Police secured three additional search warrants for access to Mr. Schmidt's Yahoo email account, his cell phone records going back to May 3, and for Mr. Bolger's cell phone records.

But four days later, Mr. Forsyth informed the State Police that no charges would be authorized and so the search warrants were cancelled. The State Police at that time also contacted Mr. Tremonti to let the Department of State know the surveillance video was no longer needed.

State Police spokesperson Shanon Banner said that is not uncommon for a prosecutor's office to end its interest in a case while police are still investigating, and the detective did not feel it was a big deal to stop at that point.

"We were working pretty close with the prosecutor throughout," Ms. Banner said. "He got to the point where he had enough information."

House Democrats immediately called on Mr. Forsyth to reopen his investigation after reading the story first reported by Gongwer Tuesday afternoon.

"Bolger and Schmidt made a serious attempt to throw the election and if the MSP believed that it was appropriate to look into these other records, then that is what should have happened," House Minority Floor Leader Kate Segal (D-Battle Creek) said in a statement.

Mr. Forsyth said Tuesday he discontinued the investigation because after talking with the State Police and others, there was simply no crime with which he could charge anyone.

"It wasn't going to matter what they found for what I was doing," Mr. Forsyth said, adding he was focused on violations of election law and not campaign finance issues.

"It might have been interesting to see who else might have been involved in this," Mr. Forsyth said. "It's interesting, but it's not a crime."

Mr. Forsyth said it is not appropriate and is a bad use of the time of investigators at the State Police to have them continue to research something when there was no crime. He also said he doubted the further information sought would have shed any light on possible campaign finance violations.

Ms. Segal though wrote that Attorney General Bill Schuette and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson should join with Mr. Forsyth on the investigation and give it the "same thorough attention that they recently gave to the investigation of fraudulent petition signatures in the 11th Congressional District."

"If we are going to prevent this kind of election fraud from ever happening again then we need to get to the bottom of what happened in House District 76," Ms. Segal wrote. "Prosecutor Forsyth said that he was ashamed that members of his own party would stoop to such tactics to win an election. If this is true then he, Attorney General Schuette, and Secretary of State Johnson, all should want to get to the bottom of this and immediately re-open this investigation to allow the MSP to serve the warrants and complete their investigation."

The State Police report fills in a number of details of the days leading up to Mr. Schmidt's party switch, the recruitment of Mr. Mojzak and how Mr. Bolger and Mr. Schmidt dealt with the aftermath.

Both Mr. Mojzak and Ryan Schmidt, son of Roy Schmidt, cooperated with investigators and spoke at length about their involvement separately, with attorneys present. Mr. Forsyth granted both "use immunity" so that nothing they said could be used against them, unless the case went to trial and they said something that contradicted their previous statements.

Gongwer obtained the audio recordings of those interviews, as well as a series of text messages from Mr. Mojzak's phone that he provided to the State Police, text messages to and from Mr. Schmidt's phone, emails and the full state police report.

The State Police granted Gongwer's request for all materials it had on the case, but estimated the cost to comply with the request at $1,896.30, including five hours of labor from the detective-sergeant who led the case for him to pull the records at a cost reflective of his hourly compensation - $73.83 an hour. The records totaled some 2,000 pages, and the department estimated a cost of 36 cents per page. Gongwer requested State Police Director Kriste Etue to lower the estimate, citing provisions in the law that state a public body may not charge more than the hourly wage of the lowest-paid public employee capable of retrieving the information.

The FOIA also mentions that public bodies may furnish records at a reduced or no charge if the agency determines that providing the records can "be considered as primarily benefitting the general public."

Ms. Etue declined Gongwer's request, stating that given the size of the records involved, the estimated cost was reasonable.

The documents and audio recordings Gongwer received were part of a revised request to receive some of the material. The department said most of the 2,000 pages involve duplicate versions of the text messages from the case. The documents provided to Gongwer are instead a 40-page summary of those messages.

Gongwer eventually received 105 pages from the department, which represents about 5 percent of the total number of pages the State Police has available for the case.

The recruitment

On Sunday, May 13, two days before the filing deadline, Mr. Mojzak was contacted by Ryan Schmidt, the son of Roy Schmidt, via text message, asking him if he wanted to make some money.

They spoke on the phone later that night where Ryan Schmidt explained the idea further, but Mr. Mojzak said he still really didn't understand it.

Mr. Mojzak asked Ryan Schmidt what exactly he wanted him to do, and Mr. Mojzak told police that Ryan Schmidt said "basically you'll be just running against my Dad."

Ryan Schmidt told investigators that his father needed help recruiting a candidate, but that he didn't know that his father was switching parties or what party Mr. Mojzak would be filing for.

Ryan Schmidt texted Mr. Mojzak again on Monday about what he would need to do, including changing his address and he told him he would make $450, and they would discuss it more when they met at the YMCA, where they, along with Roy Schmidt's nephew, A.J. Schmidt, worked out together on a regular basis.

The price of $450 was settled on because Ryan Schmidt lives with his father, who charges him $900 a month in rent. Ryan said his father told him that if he found someone to run against him, he would give him rent money, so Ryan Schmidt said he decided to split the $900 with Mr. Mojzak.

While at the YMCA, Ryan Schmidt gave Mr. Mojzak $100 for the cost of the filing fee, Mr. Mojzak said.

They exchanged further texts later that day as Ryan Schmidt requested information about Mr. Mojzak's address and other details. Roy Schmidt would later enter that information on his home computer into the form for Mr. Mojzak, Ryan Schmidt told police.

The next morning, filing deadline day, Mr. Mojzak was set to meet Ryan Schmidt at the Centerpointe Mall so that he could officially change his address and then go and get his affidavit of identity notarized for his application to run for office.

Ryan Schmidt was running late and Mr. Mojzak said he was leaving the office when Roy Schmidt called out to him. Mr. Mojzak said this was the first time they had ever met.

He said Roy Schmidt introduced himself, thanked Mr. Mojzak, and then suggested they go into a hallway to talk.

"Roy told him that if no one was running against him, he wouldn't be able to raise campaign funds," the report said.

John Truscott, who has been handling media relations for Roy Schmidt since the scandal broke, said Roy Schmidt denies making that statement to Mr. Mojzak. Roy Schmidt said Ryan Schmidt may have communicated that message to Mr. Mojzak, and that is where Mr. Mojzak may have gotten that impression, Mr. Truscott said. Ryan Schmidt was not speaking Roy Schmidt's behalf, Mr. Truscott said.

Roy Schmidt also told Mr. Mojzak, according to the report, that Mr. Mojzak didn't have a chance of beating him and was just running on paper.

When Ryan Schmidt arrived, Mr. Mojzak picked up a money order, and the three of them got into Mr. Mojzak's Hummer and drove to get his affidavit notarized. The first bank would not do it since none of them had an account there. They then went to a second bank where Mr. Mojzak had an account, had it notarized and gave it to Roy Schmidt.

On the way back to the mall, Mr. Mojzak told police that Roy Schmidt asked for his cell phone number and for a nickname to save Mr. Mojzak's number under. He eventually settled on "Big Mo."

Mr. Mojzak then dropped off Roy and Ryan Schmidt at the mall and went to work.

The switch becomes public

Mr. Mojzak said he didn't hear anything more about it until the 6 p.m. news came on which "freaked him out."

But the news also made him laugh, Mr. Mojzak told investigators, especially when he saw Roy Schmidt the next day say to the cameras that he did not know Mr. Mojzak.

"I just saw him yesterday," Mr. Mojzak recalled saying.

Ryan Schmidt texted him and joked about putting up Mojzak yard signs. Mr. Mojzak received a few calls from reporters, but he told them "no comment" based on the advice of Ryan Schmidt.

On Wednesday morning, reporters began showing up at Mr. Mojzak's door and that caused him to be "freaking out."

Later that day, Mr. Mojzak spoke to Roy Schmidt on A.J. Schmidt's phone about what was going on, and Roy Schmidt told him he understood his concerns, but that they just needed to get through the next three days - Friday was the deadline to withdraw from the ballot - and things would "cool down."

Mr. Mojzak said Roy Schmidt was putting together a statement for him, and also stressed that he shouldn't talk about what they were doing, but made it seem like it was no big deal.

Roy Schmidt told Mr. Mojzak "you're saving my career by doing this," and even though he didn't know exactly what he meant by that, Mr. Mojzak said he felt better after talking to Roy Schmidt.

Later that day, Mr. Mojzak spoke with his father, who had also received calls from the media and told his son he needed to pull out of the race. Mr. Mojzak told Ryan Schmidt of his decision to drop out and then Ryan Schmidt called Mr. Mojzak and said Roy Schmidt was coming to see him at work.

Before Roy Schmidt visited Mr. Mojzak at work, he contacted his then-campaign treasurer Harold Hamilton, and asked him to cut a check for $2,000 to Ryan Schmidt.

When the news reports came out about Mr. Mojzak, Ryan Schmidt told police that his father's reaction was to up financial offer so Ryan decided to offer Mr. Mojzak $1,000. Roy Schmidt told his son he could split the money 50/50 with his son, so Ryan asked for $2,000 so they would each get $1,000.

The money was so Mr. Mojzak would "keep running," according to the report.

Mr. Hamilton said he didn't think anything of writing the $2,000 check because family members are often reimbursed for campaign-related expenses. He said Roy Schmidt picked up the check between 5:15 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. After he left, Mr. Hamilton said Roy Schmidt called him and asked him to give him directions to the GNC store.

Again, Mr. Hamilton said he thought nothing of it, until he saw news coverage of the ordeal that night and learned that Mr. Mojzak worked at GNC.

Mr. Hamilton told the State Police he had no prior knowledge of Roy Schmidt's plan to switch parties, but once he put things together, he thought the money might be part of an election fraud.

Mr. Mojzak said around 6 p.m., Roy Schmidt arrived at the GNC store and no one else was in the store so they were able to talk.

Roy Schmidt appeared sympathetic, he said, and that he didn't think it would be this big of a deal, but that his party change didn't help things. He also encouraged Mr. Mojzak to drop out if that is what he planned to do. Roy Schmidt told Gongwer previously that he never presented Mr. Mojzak with the check or spoke to him about the enhanced financial offer.

Mr. Mojzak stated that Roy Schmidt again stressed he couldn't talk about the agreement or the money and that they had to pretend not to know each other. "Roy even made mention of a cover story for the meeting (at the GNC store) and stated that he would tell the press if asked that he went to GNC to meet Matt," according to the report.

Later that night, Mr. Hamilton said he went to Roy Schmidt's house to confront him about the check and that Roy Schmidt denied knowing Mr. Mojzak or being involved in fronting a fake candidate.

Roy Schmidt then told him to void the $2,000 check. Mr. Hamilton then asked Roy Schmidt for the original check back, but Mr. Schmidt said he lost it, which "wasn't unusual for Roy."

Mr. Hamilton said the whole thing didn't seem right and decided to resign on the next day.

Also that day, Ryan Schmidt talked with Mr. Mojzak about the $1,000 they would each receive and that Roy Schmidt would take them all on a cruise once things settled down.

But Thursday morning, Mr. Mojzak and his father went to the county clerk's office to withdraw from the race.

That day, Ryan Schmidt texted Mr. Mojzak to talk about going on a trip. "Figure out that September schedule so I can start looking for either a cruise or trip to mekiko, me, u, and Aj gonna have some fun! This will be better than that Vegas trip! ;)"

Mr. Mojzak texted to say Mexico "was sick," but that he had never been on a cruise.

Ryan Schmidt texted him back to say they would work on a schedule for possibly a trip in the second week of September.

On Friday, Mr. Mojzak was again approached by a reporter, and he later contacted Ryan and A.J. Schmidt and said "this" had to stop and said something about getting a lawyer.

Ryan Schmidt contacted him shortly afterward and said attorney James Brady would be calling him, which he did soon after on his cell phone.

Mr. Mojzak said that Mr. Brady offered his services, while around the same time, Mr. Mojzak received a call from his parents saying they suggested using their family attorney, Larry Phelan.

Mr. Mojzak then told Ryan Schmidt he was going to his family attorney and Ryan sent him numerous messages encouraging him to go with Mr. Brady.

Ryan and A.J. Schmidt then met Mr. Mojzak in the parking lot after work and gave him a copy of Mr. Brady's resume, and said they would pay the legal fees if he would just meet with Mr. Brady.

Ryan Schmidt told investigators they wanted to meet with Mr. Mojzak and talked about the best way to "save him and save my father in the best way possible."

Along with the resume, they gave Mr. Mojzak a copy of an email exchange between Roy Schmidt and Mr. Brady where they discussed the legal issues regarding Mr. Mojzak's filing, including his residency and voter status.

Ryan Schmidt gave Mr. Mojzak a copy of the resume, but asked for the email back.

During the interview with investigators, Ryan Schmidt was asked if there was ever any discussion about covering up their involvement or talking with Mr. Mojzak about what to say. At that point, Ryan Schmidt asked if he could talk with his attorney privately before proceeding.

Mr. Forsyth and the State Police investigator stepped out of the room. When they came back, Ryan Schmidt said there was no talk along those lines, just that Mr. Mojzak was scared.

Mr. Mojzak said that A.J. Schmidt knew about all this from the beginning, but was not actively involved like Ryan Schmidt was.

A.J. Schmidt and Mr. Mojzak had been friends for several years after meeting in college, and had planned to move into Mr. Mojzak's grandparents' house after they fixed it up.

On Friday, A.J. Schmidt texted Mr. Mojzak. "Ok, well obviously my uncle is dirty as hell ... hes got a lot of powerful ppl behind him. Don't blame u for wat ur doing tho, hes fu----- dumb for all this."

In a recent letter to the editor in The Grand Rapids Press, A.J. Schmidt wrote that his text message that his uncle was "dirty as hell" was being taken out of context by the media and that he was being sarcastic, not literal.

Mr. Mojzak also told investigators that A.J. Schmidt told him that he thinks his uncle was an idiot for doing this.

Further text messages between Mr. Mojzak and A.J. Schmidt show that A.J. Schmidt signaled remorse saying that he didn't have much to do with it, but he should have told Ryan Schmidt not to ask Mr. Mojzak to do this in the first place.

On May 30, Mr. Mojzak said he saw A.J. Schmidt at the YMCA and that A.J. Schmidt told him that he knew his uncle was at fault and that if it came to it he would back Mr. Mojzak.

Mr. Mojzak said looking back on it he feels the Schmidts took advantage of him.

"I totally feel like I'm used," he said to investigators."

House moves election changes

Gongwer also reported Wednesday evening that the House had "unexpectedly" taken up and passed legislation to address some of the loopholes in election law exploited in the Schmidt affair. The changes would include a requirement that incumbent legislators filling for re-election with affidavits would have to file two weeks earlier than non-incumbents. The changes are incorporated into House Bill 4907.

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Comments

Thu, 08/16/2012 - 10:58am
Criminality is rampant in the Repuglican Party. It will ultimately only serve to end their reign of political terror and theater.
Jon
Fri, 08/17/2012 - 1:06pm
Regardless of party, actions such as this from OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS are a disgrace. It clearly happens on both sides of the aisle and when it does, we need to bounce these clowns.