A prominent Michigan State University donor helped sponsor a retirement dinner for the top investigator now looking into what MSU officials knew about convicted doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse.
The dinner was a fundraiser event for Silent Observers, a non-profit organization that relies on donors to gather anonymous tips to help police solve crimes, the organization’s program director said Tuesday.
An invitation for the 2016 event shared with The Detroit News shows that MSU donor Peter Secchia helped fund a retirement dinner for William Forsyth. Attorney General Bill Schuette announced Saturday that Forsyth would be lead investigator in MSU’s handling of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse cases. Secchia stirred controversy last week by saying parents who feel their children would be unsafe at MSU could send them elsewhere since the university has a long waiting list.
Program director Chris Cameron told The Detroit News the group invited Forsyth to be a guest of honor that night, but that it was a Silent Observers fundraiser event, many of which are sponsored by Secchia.
The Peter Secchia Family and Meijer are listed as the two sponsors of the event. Amway, Lake Michigan Credit Union and other businesses, including AT&T, also helped sponsor the event, which allowed attendees to pledge donations ranging from $500 to $10,000 to Silent Observer.
Secchia is listed as one of three "witness roasters" for "Silent Observer's Roast and Toast" of Forsyth.
Forsyth did not receive any money from the dinner fundraiser, said Schuette spokeswoman Andrea Bitely.
“Bill Forsyth is an honest and quality prosecutor who will get the job done, his goal is to find the truth and he will, thoroughly and completely in an unbiased way,” Bitely said Tuesday.
Forsyth, who was the Kent County prosecutor in western Michigan for 30 years, has a reputation as a tough, fair-minded attorney.
But the connection is concerning because it calls into question Schuette’s impartiality in the investigation, said Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon, who has bashed Schuette for being incapable of leading an independent probe. Schuette is running for governor as a Republican.
“Bill Schuette should have stepped aside long ago and allowed a real independent investigation from somebody not so entangled with donors and others at Michigan State,” Dillon said.
But if Schuette doesn’t step aside, Dillon said Forsyth needs to ask for any communications between Schuette and Secchia, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos or MSU football coach Mark Dantonio to prove that it is truly an independent investigation.
Bitely suggested that Dillon is “injecting politics into this” and ignoring “the survivors who were harmed and violated while the Attorney General and Mr. Forsyth will continue to investigate what happened at MSU.”
The non-profit organization raised about $30,000 at the event, Silent Observer’s Cameron said. The nonprofit hosts a fundraiser each year, often featuring a local celebrity, and that year they asked Forsyth to be the guest of honor.
“We have a list of individuals in our community that like to sponsor our events,” she said. “We always go to them, and certainly Peter Secchia is one because he’s been such a dedicated sponsor and supporter of our program.”
Forsyth did not provide “any kind of list” of potential donors for the retirement party fundraiser, and the organization worked with his friends to find roasters, Cameron said.
“There was no conflict,” she said, suggesting Secchia would have helped sponsor the event regardless of whether or not Forsyth participated. “His sponsorship of the retirement party for Bill had nothing to do with Bill, it had to do with Silent Observer.”
Secchia, a prominent Republican who has donated millions of dollars to MSU, said last week in an interview with WZZM- TV, an ABC affiliate in Grand Rapids, that there are a lot of students waiting to get into the university.
“I would say to them that if you don't feel comfortable with your children at Michigan State, take them somewhere else because we've got a long list of people that want to go to Michigan State and there are some wonderful people left,” he said.