Special prosecutor named in Michigan voting machine case

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — D.J. Hilson, Muskegon County's prosecutor and a Democrat, will serve as the special prosecutor to decide whether charges should be brought against nine individuals who allegedly engaged in a "conspiracy" to gain improper access to Michigan voting machines after the 2020 presidential election.

The Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council announced Hilson's assignment on Thursday morning. He'll now have to weigh evidence collected through a months long investigation by the Michigan State Police and Attorney General Dana Nessel's office.

Among those whom Nessel's office referred to a special prosecutor for potential charges on Aug. 5 were Republican attorney general candidate Matt DePerno, Nessel's general election opponent.

Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson delivers his closing statements to the jury during Jeffrey Willis' murder trial on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017.

"Prosecutor Hilson will review the investigation and information for possible charges. At this time, no charges have been filed against any of the possible defendants," a statement from the Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council said.

Hilson has served as the Muskegon County prosecutor since the beginning of 2013 and is a past president of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan. He's been active in legislative discussions related to law enforcement in Lansing. In 2015, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder appointed him to the Criminal Justice Policy Commission. 

On Aug. 5, Nessel's office formally sought the appointment of a special prosecutor to consider an array of potential criminal charges against nine individuals who advanced unproven claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election, including DePerno, state Rep. Daire Rendon, R-Lake City, and Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf.

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

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, according to the Attorney General's Office.

In pursuing a special prosecutor, Nessel's office cited an "an inherent conflict of interest" because DePerno is her general election opponent.

DePerno, a lawyer from Kalamazoo who gained the spotlight questioning election results in northern Michigan's Antrim County, has denied the allegations against him and contended Nessel's actions are politically motivated.

Staff of the Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council had reviewed the matter to determine appropriate placement of the investigation, according to a Thursday release.