July 18, 2012 at 1:00 am

Prosecutor: Bolger conspired with party switcher, but didn't break law

Speaker of the House Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, center, talks with Rep. Roy Schmidt, R-Grand Rapids, left, last week in Lansing. (Dale G. Young / The Detroit News)

Lansing — Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger conspired to help a Grand Rapids legislator switch parties and plant a fake Democrat on the ballot in a scheme the Kent County prosecutor found appalling, but not illegal.

Kent County Prosecutor Bill Forsyth said he could not find any crime on the books to charge Bolger or state Rep. Roy Schmidt with for their political plan to give Schmidt an easy pathway to re-election and increase Bolger's GOP majority.

But the scathing eight-page report released Tuesday could spell political trouble for Bolger, giving Democrats additional ammunition while Schmidt fights for re-election and deals with possible campaign finance troubles related to the scandal. Democrats quickly called on Bolger to resign his speakership, while some Republicans said news of Bolger's deep involvement was politically embarrassing five months before the election.

Forsyth's report detailed a state police investigation that unearthed text messages between Bolger and Schmidt showing how they recruited a fraudulent candidate just days after Schmidt held a fundraiser with Democratic donors.

"Although this scheme by Rep. Schmidt and Speaker Bolger was clearly designed to undermine the election and to perpetrate a 'fraud' on the electorate, it was nonetheless legal," Forsyth wrote.

Bolger, R-Marshall, declared his innocence Tuesday, while acknowledging for the first time publicly he "encouraged" Schmidt to recruit a Democratic opponent before becoming a Republican.

Schmidt could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Dennis Lennox, a Republican political operative from Traverse City, called on Bolger to relinquish the leadership role.

"This is a distraction, it shouldn't be a distraction and the speaker should do the right thing and resign as speaker," Lennox said.

Bill Ballenger, publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, said Bolger may be able to defend his actions when House Republicans meet today in Lansing, describing it as an attempt to bolster the GOP's 64-46 majority.

"He was looking out for their best interest, he got a party convert, but he was inept and clumsy the way he went about it," Ballenger said.

According to Forsyth's report, Schmidt got his son to offer 22-year-old Matthew Mojzak $450 to be the fake Democratic opponent to prevent a better-known Democrat from running.

Through his son and nephew, Schmidt later offered to pay Mojzak $1,000 to stay in the race and hire him an attorney after reporters inquired about whether Mojzak lived in the 76th District at least 30 days prior to the May 15 filing date, as required by law, according to the report.

Mojzak, a part-time college student from Ottawa County who worked at a GNC vitamin store, didn't live in Schmidt's district, according to the report, but went to the Secretary of State's office on the filing deadline day to change his voter registration to the address of a vacant home owned by his grandmother.

Around the same time, Schmidt instructed his campaign treasurer to issue a check for $2,000 to his son, Ryan Schmidt, who told police his father had offered to give him half.

The day before the filing deadline, Bolger sent Rep. Roy Schmidt a text message asking him if he had found a Democratic opponent.

"That's the last piece we need," Bolger texted, according to Forsyth's report.

In a series of text messages, Schmidt detailed his efforts to confirm Mojzak lived in Kent County while expressing concern as he tried to tie up loose ends before stunning Michigan Democrats with his last-minute party switch before the filing deadline.

"I am so nervous at this point — just want it to go perfect!," Schmidt wrote to Bolger.

"Me too," Bolger replied. "I don't like leaving anything to chance, thus my anxiousness to get this last piece wrapped up. All will then b (sic) perfect!"

After he bolted to the Republican Party in May, Schmidt told reporters he had no role in getting Mojzak on the ballot and Bolger claimed his only knowledge about Mojzak was limited to press reports.

Forsyth said he believes Schmidt may have violated Michigan's campaign finance law by trying to spend campaign money to pay for Mojzak's participation in the plan.

Forsyth has forwarded his investigation to Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, a Republican who has said election fraud is one of her top priorities.

Forsyth declined to charge Mojzak with committing perjury on his candidate filing form. Mojzak dropped out of the race at the advice of his parents.

"He pretty much got duped into doing this to make a few bucks," Forsyth told The News.

In a statement, Bolger indicated he wasn't aware of all of Schmidt's actions.

"I encouraged a Democrat to be recruited to run, but today even I am still learning about all of the actions that took place surrounding that recruitment," Bolger said.

Forsyth said lawmakers should add deadlines for switching parties so such activity can't be orchestrated again.

"Incredibly, while it would be illegal to pay a boxer to take a 'dive' or a basketball player to 'point shave,' it is not currently a crime in Michigan to recruit someone to run for public office, place them on the ballot at the 'eleventh hour' and essentially pay them to make no effort to win," Forsyth wrote in the report.

Michigan Democratic Party chairman Mark Brewer called on Bolger to resign. Since Mojzak withdrew, Democrats have recruited Winnie Brinks of Grand Rapids to run as a write-in candidate in the August primary. Since she'll likely be on the ballot in November, Schmidt's chances of cruising to re-election have diminished, Ballenger said.

"They may have sealed the doom of Roy Schmidt," he added.


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Detroit News Staff Writer Karen Bouffard contributed.