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Chatfields plead not guilty to corruption charges

House GOP

Former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield and his wife were in court Thursday to plead not guilty to embezzlement and conspiracy charges.

In the arraignment hearing held online, District Court Judge Molly Hennessey Greenwalt read the list of charges — 13 counts of corruption-related allegations lodged against Lee Chatfield, once a rising star in Michigan Republican politics.

“Mr. Chatfield, do you understand these charges and the maximum possible penalties?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

The most serious charge against him carries a maximum penalty of 20 years.

The charges relate to a not-for-profit fund under Chatfield’s control while he served as House Speaker from 2019 to 2021. It was allegedly raided by the couple for travel and personal expenses. Lee Chatfield's wife, Stephanie Chatfield, faces three counts on similar charges.

They are both free on personal recognizance bonds but were ordered to turn in their passports.

Lee Chatfield’s attorney, Mary Chartier, argued for minimal restrictions. She told the judge he does not pose a flight risk.

“He has five young children,” she said. “He has no history of failure to appear in court because he’s never had to be in court for any sort of criminal offense. And after two and a half years of being falsely accused, he is looking forward to his day in court and fighting this.”

The next step in the process is preliminary examinations for each defendant. The Michigan Attorney General’s office, which brought the charges, will lay out its case and the justification for going to trial. That hearing is tentatively scheduled to take place next month.

It will also be the first opportunity for the defense to challenge the charges.

Retired Oakland County Circuit Court Judge James Alexander, a former president of the Michigan Judges Association, said prosecutors now have to share their evidence to allow the defendants to prepare for the preliminary examination.

“There’s been newspaper stories, there’s been press releases and things like that, but they haven’t seen the prosecutor’s case,” he told Michigan Public Radio. “Once you see the prosecutor’s case and how strong or weak it is, that’s when you start having serious discussions as to where you’re going to go with it.”

Alexander said the defense and the prosecutors will remain in contact during that time and the discussions typically include possible plea deals.

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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