Who are the Trump loyalists investigated, charged in vote machine tampering case
LANSING – A former state lawmaker, statewide candidate for attorney general and a pro-Trump attorney who has represented election deniers across the country are accused of orchestrating a plot to illegally access vote counting machines after the 2020 election.
Special Prosecutor D.J. Hilson this week announced grand jury indictments against Republicans attorneys Matthew DePerno and Stefanie Lambert Junttila and former Rep. Daire Rendon. Each are charged with multiple felonies, punishable by between four and five years in prison.
Hilson also announced he will not charge other suspects in the probe, citing “careful consideration” of their limited roles in the attempt to perform “tests” on the voting equipment to try and prove former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of election rigging.
Here’s a look at the case and brief biographies of who is — and isn’t — facing charges.
Who is charged
The 2022 Republican nominee for attorney general, DePerno was endorsed by Trump but lost by 9 percentage points to Democratic incumbent Dana Nessel. DePerno this year also lost his Trump-backed bid to become chair of the state Republican Party.
Once a relatively obscure tax attorney, DePerno became a national figure in Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election after he sued over a 2020 results reporting errors in northern Michigan’s Antrim County that officials chalked up to human error by the GOP clerk.
As part of the Antrim case, DePerno obtained a court order to examine Dominion Voting Systems machines in Bellaire, where he was joined by members of Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani’s legal team, as well as a group of self-described cybersecurity experts.
DePerno subsequently released a report on Dominion machines that fueled global conspiracy theories and eventually reached Trump. The outgoing president touted it as evidence the election was “rigged” against him despite Attorney General Bill Barr and Acting Deputy Attorney Richard Donoghue analyzing the report and telling Trump it was not accurate.
While a court order gave DePerno legal authority to access the Dominion equipment in Antrim County, he is now accused of helping lead a plot to illegally access and perform tests on other tabulators from Barry, Roscommon and Missaukee counties.
The suspects allegedly took the machines to Oakland County, where DePerno now faces prosecution on four felony charges, including undue possession of voting equipment. He has denied wrongdoing and argued charges are politically motivated.
DePerno has not been shy about what he previously touted as an "expansive" operation to examine voting machines in an attempt to prove they were somehow rigged against Trump, an effort he reportedly discussed in public forums, including podcasts.
DePerno in 2021 created what he called an Election Fraud Defense Fund and raised more than $400,000 for the cause.
In reports and affidavits prepared for his Antrim case, experts working for DePerno described accessing 2020 election equipment produced by Election Systems & Software — a Dominion rival that was not used in Antrim and was not part of the court order there allowing review.
A report prepared for DePerno by James Penrose, a National Security Agency official, even included photographs of internal hardware from a machine produced by ES&S, a brand that is used in Roscommon County and six other Michigan counties.
The Michigan Attorney Discipline Board is now considering whether to disbar or otherwise professionally punish DePerno for his work on a separate legal battle: His representation of former state Rep. Todd Courser, a Tea Party Republican who was expelled in 2015 after using state resources to try and cover up an extra-marital affair with a fellow lawmaker.
Stefanie Lambert Junttila
Stefanie Lambert Junttila is a metro Detroit attorney who has worked on 2020 election cases across the county and is accused of helping orchestrate the plot to illegally access vote counting machines in three Michigan counties.
Lambert Junttila faces four felony charges, including one count of willfully damaging a voting machine. She did not comment on the case as she was arraigned Thursday but previously argued she had done “absolutely nothing illegal.”
Among her Michigan cases, Lambert Junttila represented Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf in a failed lawsuit that alleged “massive” fraud in the 2020 election. She also represented former Adams Township Clerk Stefanie Scott, a 2020 election denier who refused to perform routine maintenance on her voting equipment ahead of the 2022 election and earlier this year was recalled and replaced by local voters.
Lambert Junttila also worked on attorney Sidney Powell’s so-called Kraken case that sought to block certification of Michigan’s 2020 presidential election. A federal judge in 2021 sanctioned Lambert Junttila for her role in the suit, but an appeals court panel reversed the sanctions because she had done only “minimal” work on the case. The Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission subsequently moved to voluntarily withdraw a professional misconduct claim against her.
Patrick Byrne, a former Overstock.com CEO who has backed amateur election investigations across the country, recently said on Twitter that he has helped fund her efforts "to the tune of millions of dollars." He described her as the "maestro" behind "election integrity" cases in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia.
In a recent lawsuit, a cybersecurity expert alleged Lambert Junttila refused to pay him after he examined 2020 Pennsylvania voting data for her but found no evidence of fraud.
A Republican former state lawmaker from Lake City who was left office because of term limits at the end of last year, Rendon previously chaired the House Insurance Committee and ended her political career as a leading legislative critic of the 2020 presidential election.
Rendon was part of a group that attempted to enter the Michigan Capitol during the Electoral College vote that certified Democrat Joe Biden's win. She joined several “fake electors” who face separate charges for signing documents falsely claiming Trump had won the election.
Rendon spoke out against a 2021 report by the Republican-led Michigan Senate Oversight Committee that debunked DePerno’s claims about the 2020 presidential contest and concluded there was no evidence widespread fraud cost Trump the election.
In a June 2021 statement responding to the Senate report, Rendon said she was "in receipt of evidence reflecting systematic election fraud in Michigan." But she never released that evidence, and it remains unclear what she was referencing.
Rendon later turned heads in Lansing by wearing a QAnon pin, a reference to a broad conspiracy theory that Satan-worshiping Democrats and Hollywood pedophiles are leading a deep state plot against Trump.
Rendon is accused of working with DePerno and Lambert Junttila on a "coordinated plan" to gain access to 2020 voting equipment in three counties. The Roscommon County clerk told authorities she provided the equipment after Rendon said the Michigan House was conducting its own election fraud investigation, a false claim then-House Speaker Jason Wentworth denied.
Who won't be charged
Dar Leaf: The Barry County Sheriff allegedly persuaded Irving Township Clerk Sharon Olson to turn her tabulator over to DePerno's team but won’t face charges because there is “not sufficient evidence to prove” he committed a crime, Hilson said Thursday.
Leaf spent years on his own investigation into the 2020 presidential election that has confounded local officials but not yet produced any criminal charges.
As Bridge Michigan first reported, Leaf in late 2020 attempted to enlist fellow “constitutional sheriffs” — who believe they are the highest level of government authority and can disregard laws they deem unconstitutional — to seize voting machines. The plan that was relayed to top Trump allies including attorney Sidney Powell and a contact for former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Represented by Lambert, Leaf unsuccessfully sued the state last year, alleging authorities probing the suspected tabulator tampering had meddled in his own investigation.
Local clerks: Election clerks who provided voting equipment to DePerno and others won’t face charges because "they were deceived" to some extent, Hilson said Thursday. While not explicitly named in any court documents, the clerks in question worked in Roscommon County, Richfield Township, Lake Township and Irving Township.
"The clerks had no idea of the scope, nature or duration of how their tabulators were going to be manipulated or that they would be out of their possession for an extended period of time."
Computer experts: Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan, CyFIR founder Ben Cotton, former National Security Agency official James Penrose and self-described tech expert Jeffrey Lenberg were part of a team that allegedly “broke into” the Michigan tabulators in Oakland County but won’t face charges because they were “deceived” by some of the defendants, Hilson said.
Logan and Cotton both worked on a partisan 2020 election audit in Arizona, as well as other similar election probes across the country. In a court report and affidavit for DePerno’s Antrim lawsuit, Penrose and Cotton described examining of ES&S voting equipment that was not used in the county or subject to the court order that had allowed access to Dominion machines there.
In May 2021, a conservative television network aired a segment showing Lenberg feeding ballots through an unidentified voting machine as part of what a host called "the next phase" of DePerno's legal strategy.
Ann Howard: A Southfield attorney, Howard was initially accused of coordinating the "printing of fake ballots to run through the tabulators" and recruiting "volunteers" for unknown purposes. Hilson did not explain why she was not charged in the case.
Jason Rybak: In his Friday statement, Hilson disclosed that Rybak was also a suspect but said there was “not sufficient evidence” to prove he committed a crime.
It's not clear what role Rybak may have played. Reuters reported last year that he is an attorney and accountant who created a company with Lambert called United States Election Investigation and Lawsuits, Inc. “Someone donated a half a million dollars” the effort, Rybak told Reuters.
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