Schuette’s office budgets $1M for MSU investigation

Jonathan Oosting

Lansing – A state Senate panel on Wednesday approved $1 million in supplemental funding for Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office to continue an investigation into “systemic sexual misconduct issues” at Michigan State University.

The price tag is substantially steeper than the attorney general’s contract with special prosecutor Bill Forsyth, who is set to earn a salary of $12,333 a month as he leads the investigation of MSU following the Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal.

Forsyth will be reimbursed for travel and lodging expenses. He also can hire an expert witness under the contract, which maxes out at $175,000.

The additional funding would cover all the other “basic things that go into an investigation,” including salary costs for employees in the Department of Attorney General, said spokeswoman Andrea Bitely. She indicated that “a half-dozen or so investigators” have been assigned to the case.

“At this point, we have budgeted our investigation to cost just over $1 million, and we’ll be staying tightly within that budget,” Bitely said, noting the department may use some of its annual general fund appropriation to cover expenses over $1 million.

The Senate Appropriations Committee added the funding to a supplemental spending bill that cleared the House last week with $175 million in extra funding for state and local road repairs. The panel unanimously approved the revised $178.4 million plan, which now heads to the Senate floor.

Critics have questioned Schuette’s role in the MSU investigation and whether he has political motivations or ties that could influence the case. The Republican attorney general is running for governor and said in a Jan. 27 appointment letter that Forsyth will “serve under my direction and pleasure.”

State Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing, voted for the supplemental spending bill despite concerns with the probe.

“I think we need an independent investigation,” he said. “Do I think that the attorney general’s investigation is exactly independent? I wouldn’t say that, but at the same time, whether it’s independent or not is regardless of the fact we have to fund it.”

Forsyth, a retired Kent County prosecutor, has defended the probe and said he would not have accepted the role “if I didn’t have the independence to do the job as I saw fit.”

Bitely said Wednesday that Schuette appointed him “to run a thorough and complete independent investigation.”

“Mr. Forsyth is the boss and the decision maker on the direction of this investigation,” she said.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who is also running for governor and competing with Schuette for the GOP nomination, has urged lawmakers to create a new class of independent special prosecutor to handle cases where conflicts may arise in the attorney general’s office.

Schuette introduced Forsyth in late January and publicly announced what he called an “ongoing investigation” into MSU. Assistant Attorney General Christina Grossi is working as a project manager on the case.

Nassar is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison on convictions for child pornography and sexual assault in Ingham and Eaton counties. Officials say they have identified at least 265 victims the former MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor assaulted over more that two decades under the guise of medical treatment.

As The Detroit News previously reported, at least 14 MSU representatives were warned about Nassar’s behavior over that span.