Lee Chatfield, a former Republican Michigan House representative, is being investigated by the state for connections to a long list of allegations, including embezzlement, bribery, misconduct and sexual assault.
In this episode:
- What we know about the investigation into Lee Chatfield
- Why are Michigan district courts wary about releasing affidavits
- What this case means for Michigan’s lobbyists
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Craig Mauger, a reporter for Detroit News who helped break the initial story, spoke with MichMash host Cheyna Roth about his uphill battle to make the details of this high-profile case public. According to Mauger, the investigation is just getting started.
“We know that individuals working for the attorney general’s office here in Michigan are examining a number of high-ranking individuals in and around state government,” explains Mauger. “According to a statement that an assistant attorney general made in court in November, this person said that the investigation involves state officials, past state officials, lobbyists and governmental appointees at high levels. And just from that statement alone we know that this investigation has the potential to completely reshape how Lansing works.”
Michigan courts have been resistant to releasing the search warrant affidavits, claiming it would be potentially embarrassing for someone to be incidentally included in the affidavit, as the investigation is still in early stages. Mauger was able to access certain affidavits and reported on them for The Detroit News.
“They showed that the attorney general’s office was examining allegations that Lee Chatfield was engaged in a ‘criminal enterprise,’” says Mauger. “They mentioned a couple of well-known individuals in the Lansing community, lobbyists, one from one of the largest lobbying firms.
“We also know, now because the Detroit Free Press and Bridge have tried to appeal to judges in Ingham County to make other search warrant affidavits in this case available, and to make the ones that we got our hands on available to a broader group of media outlets, we know that there are four other search warrant affidavits that could have more details.”
Even after fighting to make public the affidavits they do have, Mauger’s team was later told by a district court judge to discard them.
“As we were working on our story to reveal what was in these documents which we believed was crucial for our readers to know and the people of Michigan to know, a judge from the district court reached out to us and told us that these documents should not have been released, and kind of urged us not to write about them.”
One reason for this secrecy may be that the documents could reveal information about how lobbyists operate in Michigan. Mauger’s own investigations have started to show connections.
“We found out that Lee Chatfield was renting an apartment from a GCSI (Government Consultant Services Inc.) client for the entirety of his time in Lansing,” Mauger says. “He never revealed this, he was voting on bills related to this client, it was a client that represented auto dealers and advocated on behalf of all the car dealerships in the state, he was deciding whether their bills would go forward or not while renting an apartment from them.”
While the Chatfield case is moving forward, Mauger says it could be some time until we see charges filed, or a case brought to court.
“The overarching thing we’re waiting for is who is the attorney general’s office going to charge, and what are they going to charge those individuals with. We’ve been waiting on that for a year it might not be that close, I mean we expect it to take a while,” explains Mauger. “Every indication that we have gotten is that this is a huge investigation, it’s wide ranging, they’re trying to get bank records which can take a while, they’re going through all of these financial documents from all of these different fundraising accounts that Lee Chatfield had.
This could take a long time.”