McCotter staffers charged in Michigan election fraud

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DETROIT — Four staff members of former GOP Rep. Thaddeus McCotter’s office will be charged with misdemeanor and felony election fraud violations, including forgery and conspiracy on ballot petitions, after an investigation that prompted the five-time incumbent congressman and one-time presidential candidate to resign in July.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced the charges in a scathing report released Thursday morning. In it, he said Mr. McCotter’s staff had “lost its moral compass” and shown indifference to the election process, calling their actions “disgraceful.”

Mr. Schuette did not finger the former lawmaker as responsible, but called Mr. McCotter “asleep at the switch” as his staff undermined his credibility — and broke the law — in an “amateurish” way.

“In a position of public trust, the elected official has a duty to be engaged and involved, and must ‘mind the store,’ ” Mr. Schuette said. “He failed to mind the store and appears to have provided no supervision whatsoever to his staff members.”

The state’s investigation focused on the improper gathering of signatures required to put the Republican congressman on Michigan’s Aug. 7 primary ballot. Of the more than 1,800 signatures his campaign turned in — 1,000 were needed to secure a ballot slot — just 244 were determined to be valid. Many others were forgeries and copies of previous ballot signatures.

In announcing the charges, Mr. Schuette was blunt, calling the staffers’ faking of petitions “a cut-and-paste job that would make an elementary art teacher cringe.”

The attorney general said it was possible the same thing occurred in Mr. McCotter’s race in 2010, and said the investigation could continue.

Charged in the election law scandal are Paul Seewald, district office director; Don Yowchuang, McCotter’s deputy district director; Lorianne O’Brady, who worked as a scheduler; and district representative Mary Melissa Turnbull. The report determined that the election fraud occurred in Mr. McCotter’s Livonia office, primarily on the day before the petition signatures were due.

Mr. McCotter, 46, was considered a sure-thing in his 2012 re-election bid. In one of the state’s most shocking political miscues, he resigned his 11th District seat soon after he failed to qualify for the ballot, citing the toll the episode had taken on his family. He had pledged cooperation in the investigation and on Thursday issued a brief statement.

“I thank the Attorney General and his office for their earnest, thorough work on this investigation, which I requested, and their subsequent report,” he said. “For my family and I, this closure commences our embrace of the enduring blessings of private life.”

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