Michigan State Police raid home of ex-Speaker Chatfield's top staffers

Craig Mauger Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Bath — Michigan State Police troopers on Tuesday searched the Lansing area home of former state House Speaker Lee Chatfield's top political and legislative staffers, a move one legal expert said would indicate authorities demonstrated there was probable cause a crime was committed.

Representatives for Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and the state police declined to provide information about what was happening at the home of Rob and Anne Minard, and neither has been charged. But Shanon Banner of the State Police said the agency was working in conjunction with Nessel's office as part of an "ongoing investigation."

"There is no further information to disclose at this time," Banner said.

Michigan State Police employees work at the home of Rob and Anne Minard, two staffers of former state House Speaker Lee Chatfield on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022.

In January, Chatfield's 26-year-old sister-in-law, Rebekah Chatfield, accused the former speaker of sexually abusing her beginning when she was 15 years old. The woman's attorney, Jamie White, said there were also unspecified financial allegations involving Lee Chatfield.

Lee Chatfield, who left office because of term limits at the end of 2020, has denied wrongdoing and has not been charged over the accusations made by his sister-in-law. State Police started a probe after the allegations were made, and Nessel's office confirmed on Jan. 31 that it was "assisting" in the investigation.

Rob Minard was Chatfield's chief of staff while he was speaker in 2019 and 2020. His wife, Anne Minard, was his director of external affairs. By searching their home, authorities are entangling two well-connected operatives who've been involved in making and raising campaign money in their investigation.

More: Ex-Speaker Chatfield's funds paid over $900,000 to family, staffers, their firms

Mary Chartier, Lee Chatfield's lawyer, accused Rebekah Chatfield of lying Tuesday and of trying to "solicit 'tips' about alleged financial improprieties."

"The search of the home of Mr. Chatfield's former chief of staff is the latest move in an attempt to take down a former Republican politician based on completely false accusations," Chartier said.

Rob and Anne Minard both didn't respond Tuesday to a request for comment. The Minards didn’t come to the door when a reporter knocked.

What the search could mean

To obtain a search warrant for the home, law enforcement would have needed to show there was at least probable cause that a crime was committed and that evidence of that crime was likely to be found in the Minard household, said Michael Bullotta, a former federal prosecutor who worked on high profile public corruption cases, including the government’s case against former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

The Tuesday morning raid also signals where law enforcement stands on the investigation, said Bullotta, now a federal criminal defense lawyer. If police still were in the middle of the probe, any search likely would have been done quietly with the cooperation of the individual and with officers in plain clothes, he said.

“In my experience, when a search warrant is executed in such a public fashion, that means the investigation — to the extent it was covert — is no longer covert, and it could mean investigators are getting to the close of the investigation,” Bullotta said.

It’s not unusual for police investigations to continue for months before charges are issued — if any ever are.

The homes and offices of Detroit City Council members Scott Benson, Janeé Ayers and their chiefs of staff were searched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in August, and none of them have been charged six months later. The searches followed the resignations of former Detroit council members André Spivey, who was sentenced to two years in prison on a bribery charge, and Gabe Leland, who pleaded guilty to misconduct in office for accepting a campaign contribution in cash and was sentenced to parole.

Chatfield was the most prolific political fundraiser in the Michigan Legislature during his time in office and often relied on the Minards and family members to do political work, according to disclosures.

Political accounts tied to Chatfield directed at least $900,000 in campaign and nonprofit funds to family members, legislative staffers and organizations they led for wages and consulting fees, according to an analysis by The Detroit News. Most of the money went to the Minards' consulting firm, Victor Strategies.

More: New scrutiny could loom for former Speaker Chatfield's 'prodigious' fundraising

The police activity at the Minard home occurred on what appeared to be a mostly quiet street as neighbors left for work in the Lansing suburb of Bath Township.

Several neighbors who were home said they didn’t know the Minards well and said the family largely kept to themselves.

Lucas Siano, 24, said his family noticed activity across the street when his parents left for work Tuesday morning.

“It’s always surprising when something like this happens, especially when it’s a big investigation,” Siano said. “Definitely an eye-opener because you’re not sure who could be next to you.”

Louis Meeks moved to the neighborhood about a year ago and knew the Minards in passing. Meeks said it is a friendly, safe neighborhood, and that impression wasn’t dampened by the police activity down the street.

“This is seemingly politics and drama that happens in someone’s career that doesn’t impact anyone in the neighborhood,” he said.

State Police conducted a search Tuesday of the Bath Township home of Anne and Rob Minard, former staffers of former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering.

Minard-Chatfield connections

Anne Minard was the treasurer for four political action committees that Chatfield used to raise money, according to disclosures. A nonprofit "social welfare" organization tied to Chatfield named the Peninsula Fund listed the same address on tax filings as the Minards' consulting firm.

Victor Strategies received $151,568 in 2020 for fundraising work through Chatfield's Peninsula Fund. The Peninsula Fund reported spending $142,266 on travel and entertainment for public officials and $454,337 on food, dining, travel and entertainment overall in 2020.

Under new Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, Anne Minard continues to work for the Michigan House as an event and affairs coordinator. Rob Minard is a registered lobbyist with a firm named Public Strategies Group.

Wentworth has declined to start a House investigation into the allegations against Chatfield, saying it was more appropriate to cooperate with the police investigation.

The general counsel for the Michigan House of Representatives told members on Jan. 8 to "secure and preserve" any documents relating to Chatfield's conduct while in office or his use of House resources. The demand sent by Aaron Van Langevelde, the House's general counsel, came two days after Chatfield's sister-in-law accused him of sexually assaulting her.