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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Search warrant confirms scope of criminal probe of Lee Chatfield’s finances

house with MSP police cars nearby
Michigan State Police officers searched the Bath Township home of Rob and Anne Minard the morning of February 15. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)

Michigan State Police officers who raided the home of two Lee Chatfield associates in February were after a host of financial records tied to Chatfield’s campaigns and time in office, according to a search warrant obtained by Bridge Michigan.

The warrant, signed by Clinton County’s 65A District Court Magistrate Nikki Maneval on Feb. 14, gave investigators permission to search the home of Anne and Rob Minard, taking “any and all records” since 2014 related to political action committees and 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporations associated with Chatfield.

Chatfield’s fundraising and financial entanglements with the Minards have received scrutiny in recent months, while sexual abuse allegations against Chatfield raised separate questions about his conduct before and while in office.

 Lee Chatfield
Former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield is the subject of a criminal investigation into the finances of campaign and nonprofit funds. (Bridge file photo)

A day after the search warrant was signed, State Police raided the Minards’ home in the Lansing suburb of Bath Township, retrieving paper bags filled with files, a computer and a suitcase, among other items. The Minards did not return calls Thursday from Bridge. 

Anne and Rob Minard were top staffers of Chatfield, a former Republican House Speaker from Levering, during his tenure in the legislature from 2015 to 2021. Anne Minard still works in the House as an event and affairs coordinator, according to a state database. 

While on Chatfield’s staff, Anne Minard was also a board member for the Peninsula Fund, a nonprofit tied to Chatfield that spent nearly a half-million dollars on travel and food in 2020 alone. The Minards simultaneously operated a consulting firm that raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars from Chatfield’s campaign and connected super PACs. 

The warrant Bridge obtained Thursday provides the first detailed account of the scope of the criminal probe into Chatfield’s finances.

Know your terms

Lawmakers and interest groups use different types of accounts to collect and spend money, and they have different levels of transparency. Here’s a primer on the most common accounts. 

Campaign committees: A committee set up by an office seeker to collect and spend donations for the purposes of seeking office. Reports must be filed to the Michigan Secretary of State.

PACs: This is an acronym for “political action committee.” Contributions and spending are reported, and reports are filed statewide at the Michigan Secretary of State.

Leadership PACs: These are political action committees tied to a specific lawmaker. Their reports are filed with the Michigan Secretary of State. They can contribute 10 times the amount an individual can. With the four Chatfield controlled, he could give House allies $42,000 an election cycle.

501(c)(4): These are nonprofit “social-welfare” organizations that have become popular among politicians. The nonprofits can accept unlimited contributions from corporations without publicly disclosing donors. They must file reports with the IRS

Source: The Michigan Campaign Finance Network

State Police and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office began their investigation after Rebekah Chatfield told Bridge Michigan and police in December that Lee Chatfield groomed and then sexaully assaulted her beginning when she was a teenage student and Lee was a teacher at the Christian school run by Chatfield’s father, Rusty. Rebekah Chatfield later married Lee’s younger brother, Aaron. 

Related:

Lee Chatfield has denied the assault allegations, claiming through his lawyer the two began a consensual, years-long affair when both were adults. 

That lawyer, Mary Chartier, told Bridge in an email Thursday the Minard raid is part of “an attempt to take down a former Republican politician based on completely false accusations.”

“Mr. Chatfield has said it before, and he’ll say it again,” Chartier wrote. “He has full faith and confidence in the people who were managing funds. To his knowledge, all finances were handled properly, and every law was followed.”

An attorney for Rebekah Chatfield said Lee Chatfield’s spending underscored the weakness of Michigan laws that place few restrictions on how politicians spend campaign funds and offer little transparency on where the money goes. 

“Most politicians are operating responsibly,” attorney Jamie White said in a text. But “saying what Chatfield did is OK because everyone is doing it, is like saying drunk driving is OK because everyone has a car.”

Spokespeople for State Police and the Attorney General’s office declined to answer questions from Bridge. 

Sponsor

“Because this is an ongoing investigation, we are not going to publicly discuss the case,” police spokesperson Shanon Banner said in an email.

The warrant, requested by State Police Detective Sgt. Isaac Mills, shows investigators sought documents ranging from financial disclosures filed with the Michigan Secretary of State, to bank deposit and withdrawal statements, credit and debit card receipts, “all sources of income,” including the names, addresses and amounts donated by donors to Chatfield political action committees and 501(c)(4)s, and even handwritten notes concerning financial matters.

Police specifically cited the Peninsula Fund and Lift Up Michigan, two 501(c)(4) nonprofits, according to the warrant. These “social welfare” organizations, commonly used by politicians, can accept unlimited contributions without disclosing donors. 

Police also named five Chatfield-associated PACs in getting the magistrate’s clearance to seize computers, digital files, emails and even the Minards’ vehicle if needed.

Further details about why police sought the records, and what they took from the home, are unknown because of a court suppression order placed on documents pertaining to the search. State Police notified Bridge in a letter dated Wednesday that it would not release documents related to the search, citing the suppression order. But the warrant was nonetheless included — perhaps inadvertently — in a separate attachment.  

As Bridge and the Michigan Campaign Finance Network along with other news outlets have reported, Chatfield’s aggressive fundraising and spending while in office had already raised eyebrows in Lansing by the time Rebekah Chatfield’s allegations surfaced. 

Then, shortly before Christmas, Rebekah Chatfield spoke to Bridge, alleging Lee Chatfield coerced her into a years-long unwanted sexual relationship beginning when she was teenage student of his at the Chatfield family’s Christian school in northern Michigan. She said she also shared her allegations with Lansing Police.  

In a separate interview, Rebekah’s husband, Aaron Chatfield, described to Bridge his older brother’s lavish lifestyle while in office. 

Aaron Chatfield told Bridge that Lee was “gone all the time” on trips, and frequently tapped Aaron to chauffeur him to strip clubs and rendezvous with women. Though Aaron Chatfield said he functioned as Lee’s unofficial driver, his paycheck came from Grand River Strategies, a consulting firm hired to help run the House Republican Campaign Committee.

Sponsor

As Bridge previously reported, the Minard raid is one of at least three police searches tied to the Chatfield probe. Investigators also seized Aaron Chatfield’s cell phone, and searched the Northern Michigan Christian Academy, the school at the center of the assault allegations.

The allegations against Chatfield have spurred a push for stronger ethics laws in Lansing. 

A House Republican package would restrict lobbyists’ spending on elected officials and ban sitting elected officials and family members from receiving payment by campaigns and political organizations. There is also a House Democratic proposal for a bipartisan investigation into Chatfield’s actions, and a ballot measure that will let voters decide whether to strengthen financial disclosure rules for elected officials.

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