Jackson County candidate drops House bid after threat investigations surface

DePerno: 'I have nothing to do with any hotel rooms' where tabulators were allegedly taken

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Republican attorney general candidate Matt DePerno described allegations that he helped orchestrate a plan to access voting tabulators after the 2020 presidential election as "total garbage" in a radio interview Monday morning.

DePerno's comments came a day after The Detroit News reported that Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel's office was seeking the appointment of a special prosecutor to consider potential criminal charges against nine individuals, including DePerno, state Rep. Daire Rendon, R-Lake City, and Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf.

Matt DePerno, the likely Republican nominee for attorney general, left, speaks while on stage with former President Donald Trump during an April 2, 2022 rally at the Michigan Stars Sports Center in Washington Township.

The group's alleged efforts involved convincing local clerks to hand over tabulators, taking the tabulators to hotels or Airbnb rental properties in Oakland County, breaking into the machines, printing "fake ballots" and performing "tests" on the equipment, according to a Friday letter to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson authored by Christina Grossi, the chief deputy attorney general.

During an interview on "Michigan’s Big Show" Monday, host Michael Patrick Shiels asked DePerno if he had voting machines in hotel rooms.

"I have nothing to do with any hotel rooms or any Airbnbs," DePerno responded.

He added, "90% of the facts that she lays out, that she calls facts, in her petition are either false or I have no knowledge of what she's talking about."

DePerno, a lawyer from Kalamazoo who gained the spotlight raising unproven claims of fraud in the 2020 election, accused Nessel of "weaponizing" her office and trying to damage him politically.

"That's a terrible thing for a sitting attorney general to do against a political opponent," DePerno said.

In his campaign to be Michigan's chief law enforcement officer, DePerno has made prosecution of Nessel and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer part of his platform.

A campaign store on DePerno's website is currently selling bumper stickers that say, "Lock Whitmer & Nessel up" for $12.

Republican Matt DePerno's campaign store sells bumper stickers that say "Lock Whitmer & Nessel Up."

In February, Benson asked Nessel's office and the Michigan State Police to investigate reports that an "unnamed third party" was granted access to voting technology in Roscommon County.

On April 23, Michigan Republican Party activists endorsed DePerno to be their attorney general candidate. Republicans are scheduled to gather Aug. 27 at a state convention to formally nominate DePerno to be on the Nov. 8 ballot. 

A months-long investigation resulted in Nessel's office submitting, on Friday, a petition for the Michigan Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council to appoint a special prosecutor because of a conflict of interest stemming from Nessel and DePerno being political opponents.

The petition said it was "time for a prosecutorial review for charges."

Potential charges include "but are not limited to" conspiracy, using a computer system to commit a crime, willfully damaging a voting machine, malicious destruction of property, fraudulent access to a computer or computer system and false pretenses, the petition says.

Five tabulators were taken from local clerks in three Michigan counties to hotels or Airbnb rental properties in Oakland County, according to the Attorney General's office.

There, four individuals — Ben Cotton, Jeff Lenberg, Douglas Logan and James Penrose — "broke into the tabulators and performed 'tests' on the equipment," the petition says.

"It was determined during the investigation that DePerno was present at a hotel room during such 'testing,'" the petition for a special prosecutor said.

The Attorney General's office says there are ties between the tabulators that were taken from local clerks and DePerno's legal effort to investigate the election in northern Michigan's Antrim County. The conservative northern county's initial election results showed Biden winning, but they were later corrected to display a Trump victory.

The problematic initial numbers were caused by human errors: Election workers' failure to update equipment after additions to the ballot. However, DePerno and his supporters have alleged the problems were because of the technology itself. They've also suggested fraud and hacking.

According to Grossi's new letter to Benson, a photo of a tabulator taken from Roscommon County was used as an exhibit by DePerno in his court case in Antrim County. And his website featured a video showing a tabulator with red tape placed in "a distinctive manner over the seal number and other identifying information," the petition says.

When a tabulator that was taken from Lake City Township was seized by authorities, they found the seal number on the machine was covered "over with red tape in the same manner as that of the tabulator shown in the video," the attorney general's office said.

Likewise, DePerno subpoenaed information from Verizon about specific modems. The modems he sought information on, citing their ID numbers, were those of two tabulators belonging to Richfield Township and one tabulator from Roscommon County.

An expert told state authorities the only way to get the ID numbers from the tabulators "is to break open the security seals and physically remove the outer panels to look inside of the tabulators and read the ID numbers on the modems," the letter to Benson said.

cmauger@detroitnews.com