Audio: Cop called Courser-Gamrat probe 'waste of time'

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — A Michigan State Police detective questioned the merits of a criminal investigation of former state Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, calling it a “waste of time” during an interview with House Speaker Kevin Cotter, according to an audio recording obtained by The Detroit News.

Detective Sgt. Jeremy Brewer and his partner Detective Sgt. Troy Johnston recorded an hour-long Nov. 4 interview of Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, and House Chief of Staff Brock Swartzle without their knowledge, officials confirmed Tuesday.

The audio recording is part of a voluminous record of evidence the state police and Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office amassed in an investigation that resulted in felony misconduct in office charges against Courser and Gamrat.

Some of that evidence will play out in a Lansing courtroom beginning Wednesday as Ingham County District Court Judge Hugh Clarke considers whether the former lawmakers should stand trial for misconduct in office surrounding their extramarital affair.

Courser and Gamrat’s attorneys are expected to scrutinize how the state police investigation was conducted as well as the role Cotter and his top aides played last September in expelling Gamrat from the House and forcing Courser to resign.

“We’re about to spend probably 16 work hours … in front of a pretty busy district court judge. I hope it’s not a waste of time,” Gamrat attorney Mike Nichols said Tuesday.

During the interview with Cotter, Brewer said investigators were having difficulty discerning who was telling the truth between Courser and Gamrat and the two former House aides, whose secret audio recording exposed Courser’s attempt to cover up an extramarital affair with Garmat by spreading a bizzare cover story about late-night liaisons with a male prostitute.

“For us, it’s been very difficult because who are the true victims in this stuff? Quite honestly, I think it’s the four of us sitting here along with how many other million (people) in the state of Michigan,” Brewer said. “Because it’s been such a waste of time.”

“I don’t say that to demean what we’re doing or what you guys have done,” Brewer added, saying he’d prefer to be solving crimes against children. “That’s just me being transparent to you guys. This is a frustrating one because we have put, since we got this case, for two weeks we’ve done nothing but live and breathe this. And to what end?”

Cotter did not directly respond to the detective’s remarks, according to the recording, but Swartzle acknowledged the headache Courser and Gamrat had been for him personally since their sex scandal rocked the Capitol in August.

“I can tell you that if there’s any person in Michigan who — hate’s a little strong — highly dislikes Todd and Cindy more than my wife, I don’t know who that is,” Swartzle said.

“I am sure,” Brewer said with a laugh. He later added: “If something’s criminal, we’ll find it. If not … it will go away.”

What sparked probe

State police spokeswoman Shanon Banner said Tuesday she couldn’t explain the detective’s comments without hearing the recording.

“What I can say is that the (state police) had an obligation to investigate these matters and we fulfilled that obligation by conducting a thorough and complete investigation,” Banner said.

The charges against Courser center around the infamous May 20 anonymous email he distributed to fellow Republicans claiming he was caught having sex with a male prostitute behind a prominent Lansing nightclub. Courser unsuccessfully tried to get his House aide, Ben Graham, to send the missive. The state House ordered the state attorney general’s probe of Courser and Gamrat as part of the vote to oust Gamrat.

One of the felony misconduct charges against Gamrat centers around whether she had knowledge of the content of Courser’s email and lied about it to House Business Office staff, who are expected to testify Wednesday.

Both Courser and Gamrat are accused of having their aides forge their signatures on legislation in an effort to introduce it before other Republican legislators. Courser faces an additional felony charge of perjury for allegedly lying to a House committee under oath about the forgeries.

Courser and Gamrat’s attorneys are fighting to put Cotter on the witness stand to ask him about statements he made to the state police detectives. An Ingham County Circuit Court judge on Monday blocked Clarke’s order for Cotter to testify pending a separate and still-unscheduled hearing.

Courser and Gamrat’s two-day preliminary examination hearing will feature testimony from former House aides Keith Allard and Graham.

As witnesses for the Attorney General’s office, the hearing will mark the first time Allard and Graham have faced Gamrat and Courser publicly since they released an audio tape to The Detroit News that proved Courser wrote the fake email smearing himself.

Allard and Graham have contended the House wrongfully allowed Courser and Gamrat to fire them last July in retaliation for not going along with a cover-up of the affair, which they carried while operating an unusual combined office operation.

The state police’s interview with Cotter and Swartzle occurred about a month before Allard and Graham filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit against the House of Representatives for lost wages.

Negotiations discussed

Cotter and Swartzle discussed with the detectives their negotiations with Allard and Graham to enter into a financial settlement. The House pulled back on settlement talks when another state police investigator indicated Allard might be involved in an “extortion” plot against Courser and Gamrat, Swartzle said.

“I’ve ultimately got to make the decision about whether or not we settle this. This was a game-changer when this came to light because the last I want to see is somebody with unclean hands getting a six-figure settlement,” Cotter said. “You know what I mean?”

The state police ultimately determined Gamrat’s husband, Joe, orchestrated a series of text messages be sent to his wife and Courser threatening to expose their affair if they didn’t resign quietly. Gamrat was aided by a co-worker in what Courser has called an “extortion” plot.

The Lapeer County prosecutor declined to press charges against Joe Gamrat or his accomplice, David Horr, saying it did not rise to the level of criminal extortion.

Brewer and Johnston did not divulge any additional details about the text message investigation or confirm Swartzle’s statement that Allard “was the extortionist.”

But Swartzle divulged his strategy on how to handle a forthcoming lawsuit from Allard and Graham, who had complained to his predecessor, Norm Saari, for months about the office behavior of Gamrat and Courser.

“If they do end up filing, not from a legal perspective but from a PR perspective, we have to respond some way and say they’re a bunch of liars...,” Swartzle said.