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Nessel files fraud charges in petition scheme that cleared 2022 GOP gubernatorial primary ballot

 Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud stand in front of a podium.
Rick Pluta
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud announce felony charges against three defendants accused of signature fraud that kept five GOP gubernatorial candidates from qualifying for the 2022 primary ballot.

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Three people who ran two political petition firms sank five GOP gubernatorial campaigns last year and now face felony charges that could land them in prison for decades, according to charges filed Thursday by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

The allegations are that paid petition circulators faked thousands of signatures, and, in one case, took money but gathered no signatures. Nessel said the defendants are culpable for both financial crimes and “crimes against democracy.”

“While certainly the candidates who received and subjected to fraud were victims of the defendants’ greed, so too were millions of registered Michigan voters whether they ultimately cast their ballot in the Republican primary or not,” she said.

“The methods used to disguise their con were sophomoric and transparent,” she said. “Still, we can take comfort and have faith in the security and integrity of our elections knowing that the Bureau of Elections so quickly and easily detected the fraud.”

The Democratic attorney general said Republican gubernatorial candidates affected by the fraud were James Craig, Perry Johnson, Donna Brandenburg, Michael Brown and Michael Markey. Ryan Kelley was also a victim, according to the charges. Kelley made the primary ballot but lost the primary to eventual GOP nominee Tudor Dixon.

The allegations are that Shawn Wilmoth, Jamie Wilmoth-Goodin and Willie Reed cheated the campaigns by charging fees adding up to more than $700,000 but turned in forged signatures. In Kelley’s case, they delivered no petition signatures, but he didn’t need them to make the primary ballot.

The most serious charge is conducting a criminal enterprise, which is a 20-year felony. The other charges include election law forgery, false pretenses, use of a computer to commit a crime and larceny by conversion.

Wilmoth and Wilmoth-Goodin were arrested Wednesday. Reed is not in custody and is being pursued by the U.S. Marshals Service.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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