Lawyer for woman accusing Chatfield asks House for third-party internal review

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The lawyer for a woman accusing former House Speaker Lee Chatfield of sexual abuse is calling on current House leadership to conduct an immediate third-party internal investigation into the allegations. 

In a Tuesday letter to House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, lawyer Jamie White said he was not aware of any "other institution in recent memory" that failed to conduct an internal investigation after learning of "pervasive sexual abuse and potentially other crimes committed within it."

Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield addresses the crowd before President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Muskegon County Airport in Muskegon on Oct.17, 2020.

Amid allegations of sexual harassment and "financial improprieties," Chatfield left behind "many of his associates, friends, and alleged conspirators still in positions of power in Lansing, potentially including sitting members of the Michigan House of Representatives," White said. 

"Anonymous tips" have led White's firm to believe "that sexual harassment and abuse is known, pervasive and has been left unchecked within halls of the Capitol building," White wrote.  

The House on Tuesday said it had not yet received the letter.

The letter came after House leadership earlier this month said it wouldn't conduct an internal investigation into the claims against Chatfield, but instead planned to cooperate with Michigan State Police and the Lansing Police Department. 

"Right now, we're just trying to gather information on what happened," Wentworth's spokesman Gideon D'Assandro said earlier this month. "A lot of this is just now coming out. The police investigation is just getting under way. We're focused on cooperating with MSP and LPD and getting them what they need."

The House's general counsel on Jan. 8 asked all House lawmakers to "secure and preserve" any documents relating to Chatfield's conduct while in office or his use of House resources. Chatfield served as House speaker from 2019 through 2020.

The order came three days after police confirmed Chatfield's sister-in-law filed a report alleging the Levering Republican had sexually abused her starting at about 15 years old when she was a member of his church and school. Lansing Police Department and Michigan State Police are investigating the allegations. 

When it issued its "secure and preserve" letter, the House cited a claim reported by Bridge Michigan that Chatfield assaulted his sister-in-law inside the Capitol building.

Chatfield's lawyer has said the woman was 18 when the relationship started and that it was consensual. 

White, who represented individuals involved in the civil cases against serial molesters Larry Nassar at Michigan State University and Dr. Robert Anderson at the University of Michigan, is representing Chatfield's sister-in-law in the case.

White on Tuesday alleged Chatfield had "misappropriated funds from a number of regulated sources," such as four different Chatfield majority political action committees as well as the non-profits Peninsula Fund and Lift Up Michigan. 

He asked Wentworth to hold a "transparent and public internal investigation" of not only the sexual abuse claims against Chatifeld, but also the allegations of financial improprieties.

"This investigation should not only be open, but should be led by a truly independent third-party that is not accountable solely to the Michigan House of Representatives or any current or future political party in power," White wrote. 

"Further, the investigative report, including all findings and conclusions, must be immediately made available to the public, law enforcement and prosecuting attorneys."

The House's approach to the question of an investigation differed in 2015 with immediate calls to investigate a relationship and attempted cover-up between then-state Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat. The House Business Office and a select committee investigated whether the lawmakers mixed the relationship with operations of their House offices. 

D'Assandro said the allegations against Chatfield differ because there already is a Michigan State Police investigation ongoing. There was no such police investigation in the Courser-Gamrat case when the House began its own investigation.