East Lansing lawyer requests grand jury investigation of Schuette
An East Lansing attorney who represented ex-lawmaker Cindy Gamrat is asking Ingham County officials to use the same standard of justice applied to his client to investigate Attorney General Bill Schuette.
In a six-page letter Thursday, attorney Mike Nichols asked Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon to initiate a grand jury investigation into Schuette's use of staff to witness multimillion dollar sales of inherited property in the Virgin Islands.
“… It appears that Mr. Schuette has violated many state laws, and a formal investigation is warranted to preserve the integrity and transparency of the public office of the attorney general,” Nichols said in the letter to the prosecutor.
Nichols copied the Michigan State Police, Ingham County Sheriff's Office and Lansing Police Department, agencies he believed had “subject matter jurisdiction on this matter” should Siemon request an investigation.
Schuette spokeswoman Andrea Bitely said the accusations contained in the letter are “nothing but another baseless political attack against Attorney General Schuette’s strong ethical record.”
Siemon’s office said she still was reviewing the letter. Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth declined to comment. MSP spokeswoman Shanon Banner said she could not speculate on what the department would do if Siemon requests an investigation. A message seeking comment from the Lansing Police Department was not immediately returned.
Michigan generally relies on local or state law enforcement to investigate cases instead of a grand jury, said Peter Henning, a Wayne State University constitutional law expert.
Considering the request was from a third-party and somewhat influenced by the “political overlay,” Henning said he didn’t expect much to come of Nichols’ plea for an investigation.
“It’s a transgression, but a very modest one,” Henning said.
Schuette’s Virigin Island property sales came to light in May, when his Republican gubernatorial rival, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, accused Schuette of violating a pledge to put assets in a blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest.
Schuette initially told The Detroit News he had “no idea” what Calley was talking about, but his campaign later said the property was inherited by Schuette and his sisters, and did not represent a conflict. Documents showed some of Schuette's staff served as witnesses and notaries to at least four private transactions, including deed transfers on two separate properties sold for $1.8 million each.
Nichols said the situation is similar to the one that led Schuette to charge Gamrat in 2016 with misconduct in office, a charge that eventually was dismissed in District Court.
Gamrat was expelled by fellow House members in 2015, an hour after former Republican Rep. Todd Courser resigned after being accused of misconduct in office related to the attempted cover-up of their extramarital affair. Gamrat and Courser were accused of misusing taxpayer resources, such as their staff, related to the cover-up attempt.
In his letter, Nichols noted that one of Gamrat’s misconduct-in-office charges stemmed from allegations that Gamrat “allowed two staffers to sign her name to two bills submitted to the House journal.”
Schuette’s use of state employees to witness and notarize personal property sales merits similar scrutiny, Nichols said.
“It is very likely that these Attorney General employees did much more than simply witness and notarize these documents, and had greater roles in helping advance their boss’ personal interests,” Nichols said in the letter. “However, absent an investigation, the truth will never be known.”
The absence of an investigation leaves the integrity of the sale in question, Nichols said. He questioned whether the sales were conducted at “arms-length” or part of a “quid pro quo for political favors.”
Taxpayers deserve an investigation of the “egregious situation,” Nichols said, “as Mr. Schuette should not be permitted to be above the reach of the law, and certainly it should not appear that he is, and the absence of an investigations states just that to the people of the state of Michigan.”