Michigan House Democrats call for probe into former Speaker Chatfield

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan House Democrats say they will propose a resolution calling for a bipartisan committee to investigate former Republican Speaker Lee Chatfield and how he wielded his office's power.

The request came Friday amid an ongoing criminal probe into Chatfield and accusations that he sexually abused his sister-in-law, Rebekah Chatfield, beginning when she was 15. Lee Chatfield, who left the House because of term limits at the end of 2020, has denied wrongdoing and has not been charged.

Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield (center), Former Lt. Governor Brian Calley (right) and Michigan State Rep. Diana Farrington, R-Utica, prepare to greet President Donald Trump upon his arrival at Selfridge Air Base in Harrison Township Thursday, January 30, 2020.

The allegations, however, have prompted new scrutiny of his financial activities as the speaker of the House. The Detroit News reported in January that his political accounts directed at least $900,000 in campaign and nonprofit funds to family members, legislative staffers and organizations they led for wages and consulting fees.

"Lee Chatfield is publicly accused of disgracing this chamber and betraying his oath of office," Rep. Joe Tate, D-Detroit, said in a Friday statement. "He may have committed terrible abuses of his office during his time as an elected official, and the people of Michigan deserve to know how this alleged web of corruption operated.

"While his criminal investigation is ongoing and hasn’t materialized in charges at this time, it is gravely apparent that there are many indications of ethical transgressions against our institution that we bear a responsibility to root out and put into the public view."

House Democrats will unveil their resolution calling for a bipartisan select committee next week. The panel will be designed to examine Chatfield's staff, salaries, bonuses and relationships with other serving representatives, the Democrats said Friday.

A similar committee was created in 2015 to examine whether Republican then-Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat misused taxpayer resources to conceal an office romance. Eventually, Courser resigned, and Gamrat was expelled from the House.

The new resolution would have to gain the approval of the Republican-controlled state House, which appears unlikely. In January, a spokesman for current Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, said the House would not conduct an internal investigation into allegations against Chatfield.

"Right now, we're just trying to gather information on what happened," spokesman Gideon D'Assandro said at the time. "A lot of this is just now coming out. The police investigation is just getting under way. We're focused on cooperating with MSP (Michigan State Police) and LPD (Lansing Police Department) and getting them what they need."

The News revealed one of Chatfield's top aides, Anne Minard, maintained two full-time jobs in 2021, working in a government position for the state House under Wentworth and working for GOPAC, a Virginia-based political committee.

Minard has not responded to requests for comment.

On Feb. 15, Michigan State Police troopers searched the Lansing area home of Anne Minard and her husband, Rob Minard, who was Chatfield's chief of staff. Shanon Banner of the State Police said the agency was working in conjunction with Attorney General Dana Nessel's office as part of an "ongoing investigation."

Last month, The News obtained House records, showing staffers working for Chatfield received more than $300,000 in taxpayer-funded bonuses over a two-year period — payments that happened quietly with other GOP lawmakers saying they were unaware.

Rep. Tyrone Carter, D-Detroit, noted in a statement Friday that the discretion for the proposed House investigation lies solely with Wentworth.

"This investigation lives or dies at his discretion, and we sincerely hope that discretion favors transparency and accountability over partisan protectionism, rampant corruption and financial conspiracy," Carter said.

Chatfield, a Republican from Levering, served in the House from 2015 through 2020. He was speaker pro tem in 2017 and 2018 before becoming speaker for the 2019-20 session.