Friend denies distributing Courser email to Republicans
Lansing — State Rep. Todd Courser told an aide that he had a longtime friend and business associate send Republicans an email falsely claiming the lawmaker was caught having sex with a male prostitute, audio recordings show.
The email, which Courser first ordered a staff member to send out, was sent as part of a scheme to conceal the lawmaker’s relationship with Rep. Cindy Gamrat.
But Immanuel “Ike” Eickholdt, the man Courser says sent it, denied any involvement in distribution of the email in an interview with The Detroit News. Rank-and-file Republicans received the message May 20 and May 21 from an anonymous sender.
Former Courser and Gamrat aides confirmed to The News that the “Ike” mentioned by Courser during two recorded meetings is Eickholdt, who ran in a Democratic primary last year against Courser’s eventual general election opponent, Margaret Guerrero DeLuca.
At a May 21 meeting in Lansing recorded by then-House aide Ben Graham, Courser identifies “Ike” as the person who sent the sexually explicit email to rank-and-file Republicans at the Lapeer Republican’s behest after Graham refused the assignment.
On Friday, The News first revealed the existence of audio recordings Graham made of meetings on May 19 and May 21 with Courser in which the freshman lawmaker details a plan to spread an “over-the-top story that’s obscene about me” to create the appearance of “a complete smear campaign.”
The emergence of another Courser associate being purportedly entangled in what Graham called a “cover-up” comes after House Speaker Kevin Cotter called Friday for an internal House investigation of Courser and Gamrat’s actions and as calls for their resignations began to mount.
Over the weekend, Allegan County Republican Party Chairman Steve McNeal demanded Gamrat’s resignation, while the Lapeer County Democratic Party called on Courser to step down.
Neither lawmaker has commented publicly since the recordings came to light, aside from a Facebook post that appeared on Courser’s page Sunday evening. In the posting, Courser said he would “try” to issue a statement Monday.
“I want to thank all of you who have offered up your prayers and support these last few days; it has meant the world to myself and my family,” Courser wrote. “Given all that is happening around me I have felt it was appropriate to simply take some time and reflect and simply pray. I will try and issue a statement tomorrow...God bless you all and thanks again for your prayers!”
During the recorded May 21 meeting between Courser, Gamrat and Graham, Courser talks at length about Eickholdt carrying out the task after Graham would not.
“Ike is a great guy. Obviously he will do things. He’s an executer,” Courser told Graham in a meeting inside Gamrat’s state office in Lansing. “That’s what he does and stuff.”
Graham, 25, refused to send the email. He told Courser in a text the previous day he would not participate in a “cover-up” of Gamrat and Courser’s relationship.
“I know that’s not really your thing, but Ike performed that and did it,” Courser told Graham. “Obviously (the email) was over-the-top.”
In a telephone interview, Eickholdt acknowledged being a “friend and business associate” of Courser’s for a decade, but denied sending the email or having any knowledge of it.
“I did not send an email thing out,” Eickholdt told The News. “Whatever nonsense they’ve got going on, I don’t deal with that kind of stuff anymore.”
During the May 21 meeting, Courser recalls to Graham a conversation he claimed he had with Eickholdt when he asked him to send the email.
“I said, ‘Hey I need you to do this’ and he said, ‘I understand,’ ” Courser told Graham. “I said, ‘Do you need to know why?’ He said, ‘I already know why.’ OK, thank you. And then he said, ‘What the hell did you think was going to happen?’ ”
On the morning of May 20, an hour before the first email was sent to Republicans, Eickholdt posted a single sentence status update on his Facebook page that read: “Sometimes I am asked to do things that I am uncomfortable doing.”
Last year, Lapeer County Democrats suspected — but could never prove — that Eickholdt was a fake candidate planted by Courser or local Republicans to hurt their favored candidate, DeLuca, in a primary, former county chairwoman Nancy Coscarelli said.
“She lost some wind in her sails because (Eickholdt) filed” and forced a primary, Coscarelli said.
DeLuca, a former Imlay City mayor, won 80 percent of the vote in the primary, before losing to Courser by 10 percentage points in the general election for an open House seat. It was Courser’s first electoral win after two failed campaigns for the Legislature.
“There was a lot of conversation going about whether he was a mole, planted to attend the meetings and take stuff back (to Republicans),” DeLuca said of Eickholdt.
Eickholdt, a 51-year-old information technology professional, denied he was recruited by Courser or local Republicans to run in the Democratic primary against Courser’s eventual opponent.
“Heck no. That was my motivation (to run),” Eickholdt told The News. “I came in and I definitely caused some stink in there.”
Campaign finance records show Eickholdt donated $50 to Courser’s failed 2010 campaign for the state Senate.
Eickholdt said he helped Courser build the information technology “war machine” for his failed Senate campaign that year and has done computer work for Courser’s Lapeer law office. Graham also worked on the 2010 campaign.
“My own party beat the crap out of me because they knew I had been friends with Todd,” Eickholdt said.
Courser fired Graham in early July after stripping him of his constituent services duties in the weeks following his refusal to send the salacious email, according to Graham and Keith Allard, another former Courser and Gamrat aide who was fired July 7 without explanation.
Gamrat, R-Plainwell, declined to comment on the firings.
Courser first identified Eickholdt by his nickname as someone who could send the email for him during a May 19 meeting with Graham at his Lapeer law office. Graham said he recorded the meeting without Courser’s knowledge after his boss called him into the office for a 10:30 p.m. meeting with a request to “destroy me.”
“Normally, with this sort of thing I would have Ike do it,” Courser told Graham. “He’s done it from Gmail accounts. A series of them.”
“Yeah, he told me how to do that, but I now can’t remember,” Graham replied.
Courser later instructed Graham to pretend to be sick the next day and send the email to Republicans and the media, according to the audio recording obtained exclusively by The Detroit News.
On the recording, Courser can be heard saying he wanted the email to create “a controlled burn” to distract from what he thought would be forthcoming revelations about his relationship with Gamrat. The email “scam sham” was sparked by anonymous text messages the representatives received earlier in the day threatening to expose their relationship, according to Courser.
But Graham rejected his boss’s request to send the email and take a sick day. He said he took a vacation day on May 20 instead, as the email began arriving in the in-boxes of Republican activists and operatives and some journalists.
On May 21, Graham recorded a meeting with Courser and Gamrat inside Gamrat’s House office in Lansing in which Courser discloses that Eickholdt sent the email for him.
“I don’t think Ike should have done it ... but that’s his choice,” Graham told Courser.
“Yeah,” Courser replied. “Well he’s done the things in the past as well and, umm, he’s a guy obviously that I’ve done some things for and he’s done some things for me as well.”