Three years ago, Lee Chatfield had just finished his term as Michigan House Speaker and was eventually named CEO of Southwest Michigan First – an economic development company. Now, three years later, he and his wife, Stephanie Chatfield, could be headed to prison. Here’s everything you need to know!

Chatfield Investigation Began In 2022

It all started in 2022, when the Michigan State Police opened an investigation into Lee Chatfield after being accused of sexually assaulting his brother’s wife, Rebekah Chatfield. The former state representative pleaded not guilty, but admitted to having an affair. 

Source: Wikimedia/U.P. Politico

“We did an extensive investigation and we found that we could not prove a criminal sexual assault charge beyond a reasonable doubt,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said – adding that it was the sexual abuse allegations that led them to his financial schemes. 

2 Former Aides Charged In 2023

In February 2023, two of Chatfield’s former aides – Rob and Anne Minard – had their home raided as part of the investigation. Rob was Chatfield’s chief of staff in 2019 and 2020, while Anne was his director of external affairs. 

Source: Bill Oxford from Getty Images Signature via Canva

Investigators determined that the couple misappropriated at least $525,000 from three nonprofit political funds connected to Chatfield. They were charged with conducting a criminal enterprise, conspiracy, embezzlement, false pretenses, and a tax crime.

Attorney General Charges Chatfields

Now more than a year later, Nessel is pressing charges against both Lee and Stephanie Chatfield. The ongoing investigation found that the couple were misusing political funds for personal gain – including personal travel, housing and other benefits. 

Source: Wikimedia/Tipofthemitt

Lee Chatfield is being charged in an East Lansing district court with 13 counts of embezzlement, conspiracy, and larceny – the worst of which is a 20-year felony. His wife, Stephanie, is being charged with embezzlement and conspiracy, and faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.

Raised More Than $5 Million Over Six Years

Chatfield was touted as a prolific fundraiser, reportedly bringing in more than $5 million into his Peninsula Fund over the six years since it was founded in 2017. In 2020 alone, his fund raised more than $2 million – it was his final year in office. 

Source: monthirayodtiwong via Canva

Some (not all) of those funds were used to pay for vacations and other schemes. In fact, according to the investigation, the couple used the fund to pay off more than $132,000 in credit card charges over a 14-month period, and would’ve continued if not for the initial allegations.

It Was Apparently A Family Affair

While Lee Chatfield was the face of the operation, his wife was behind the scenes monitoring his credit card usage and using the political funds to pay it off. He also engaged in a ‘check kickback’ scheme, which involved cutting checks and taking back cash for personal use. 

Source: 89Stocker via Canva

For example, Chatfield’s brother cashed a $5,000 check from a political fund in 2020 and returned $3,500 of it to the former Speaker. One of those schemes ended up paying for a trip he (and others) took to the Bahamas in 2018. 

Both Chatfields Prepared To Fight Charges

Lee Chatfield’s attorney, Mary Chartier, described the charges as ‘politically motivated’ and proclaimed that they were ‘prepared to fight them each and every step of the way.’ Chartier is only representing the former Speaker – not his wife. 

Source: SUWANNAR KAWILA via Canva

“It took almost 2 1/2 years for the AG’s office to come up with charges. It’s going to be pretty flimsy if it took that long,” Chartier said. Stephanie Chatfield is being represented by Matt Newburg, who has yet to comment on the charges. 

Nessel Slams Michigan Campaign Finance Act

Attorney General Dana Nessel slammed the Michigan Campaign Finance Act (which was enacted in 1976) as being ‘effectively toothless, useless and utterly worthless as a deterrent to these crimes.’ She alluded to Lansing’s long history of similar findings.

Source: Wikimedia/SHOWTIME

According to Michigan Legislature, the Act aims to regulate political activity and campaign financing, while also restricting campaign contributions and expenditures – among other things. Unfortunately, Nessel doesn’t think it’s working as well as it should. 

Secretary Of State Wants Anti-Corruption Laws

In the midst of all the commotion, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (a Democrat) is calling for expanded financial disclosure laws in Michigan to ensure cases like this don’t happen in the future.

Source: Wikimedia/United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary

“We won’t give up on seeking the type of anti-corruption laws that this state needs that most other states have,” she said. “These charges really underscore the real necessity to more people in Lansing than ever before.”

Politicians Have Been Doing This For Decades

It’s no secret that politicians are often corrupt in one way or another. For Chatfield, his method of corruption was stealing money from his donors and using it for his own gain. Unfortunately, it’s something we’re seeing more frequently these days. 

Source: Juanmonino from Getty Images Signature via Canva

And not just with politicians, but with state House Speakers, in particular. Just in the past two years, the United States has seen four state House Speakers (including Chatfield) charged with financial-related crimes – and they likely won’t be the last. 

March 2022: Michael Madigan (Racketeering)

Michael Madigan is the former speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives – having served in that role for more than three decades, between 1983 and 1995, and again between 1997 and 2021. He was a member of the house for 50 years.

Source: Wikimedia/Illinoislawmakers

On March 2, 2022, he was indicted on federal racketeering charges and is expected to stand trial in October 2024. Several others who are close to the case have already been convicted, and there’s a good chance Madigan is convicted too.

April 2023: Rick Johnson (Bribes)

Rick Johnson is the former speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives – much like Chatfield was. Johnson spent five years in the House (1999-04) and three years as Speaker (2001-04). 

Source: vladans from Getty Images via Canva

Last year, Johnson pleaded guilty to accepting more than $110,000 in bribes during his time as head of a Michigan marijuana licensing board. He eventually copped a plea deal with the the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office. 

June 2023: Larry Householder (Bribery)

Larry Householder is the former speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives. He served in that role for four years between 2001 and 2004, and less than two years between 2019 and 2020. He was a member of the House between 1997 and 2002, 2003 and 2004, and 2017 and 2021.

Source: Flickr/Ohio University Voinovich School

According to NBC, Householder was convicted of bribery and sentenced to 20 years in prison ‘for his role in a $60 million bribery scheme that federal prosecutors have called the largest corruption case in state history.’