After three months of being tight-lipped on the investigation into a petition signature scheme that cost former U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter his political career, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office has announced four members of McCotter’s staff will be facing felony and misdemeanor charges for their alleged roles in the fiasco.
In an 11 a.m. news conference today, Thursday, Aug. 9, state Attorney General Bill Schuette announced that charges have been filed against the following staff members working in McCotter’s Livonia congressional office:
• Don Yowchuang, the 33-year-old deputy district director from Farmington Hills: 10 counts of election fraud forgery, a five-year felony; one count of conspiracy to commit a legal act in an illegal manner, a five-year felony; and six counts of falsely signing a nominating petition as circulator, a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93 days in jail;
• Paul Seewald, the 47-year-old district director from Livonia: One count of conspiracy to commit a legal act in an illegal manner and nine counts of falsely signing a nominating petition;
• Mary Melissa Turnbull, a 58-year-old district representative from Howell: One count of conspiracy to commit a legal act in an illegal manner, and one count of falsely signing a nominating petition as circulator; and
• Lorainne O’Brady, a 52-year-old former scheduler from Livonia: Five counts of falsely signing a nominating petition as circulator.
The charges against Yowchuang, Seewald and O’Brady were filed in the 16th District Court in Livonia; the charges against Turnbull were filed in the 52-4 District Court in Troy.
It was revealed that of the approximately 1,800 petition signatures submitted earlier this year to the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office as part of McCotter’s candidate paperwork filing process, only a few hundred were legitimate. Of those that were invalid, Schuette said signatures were “Xerox’ed” from previous campaign cycles.
The investigation report stated that there were four “separate and distinct” methods allegedly used by Yowchuang, Seewald and O’Brady that amounted to fraud around the petition filing deadline, May 15: False circulator certifications, submission of duplicated petitions, and two “cut and paste” procedures that included putting signatures from past elections on blank petitions for the current election cycle that had a purported circulator, and putting signatures from past election cycles on a valid petition for the 2012 election cycle that had a proper circulator signature.
“Then they did a cut-and-paste job that gives Elmer’s glue a bad name,” Schuette said. “They took signatures from 2006. They did a cut-and-paste job on them and put them on petitions they wanted to submit for 2012.”
Turnbull’s alleged actions occurred around May 3.
The investigator’s report into the petition signature scandal that effectively destroyed McCotter’s political career states that “evidence indicates similar fraudulent petition schemes were used in prior elections,” not just 2012.
Hundreds of documents were examined in the 2.5-month investigation and 75 witnesses were interviewed, Schuette said.
“If we find any other evidence, if we are presented with any other information, we’ll review it in the same pain-staking, thorough fashion that we used in this investigation,” Schuette said. “If so, we won’t hesitate to pull the trigger and file new charges.”
The investigator’s report stated Yowchuang and Seewald allegedly conspired together, and that O’Brady allegedly had knowledge that some of the petitions she was signing as the circulator were not genuine.
“The investigation conducted by this division revealed that the petition collection efforts were carried out by a dysfunctional congressional staff that had completely lost its moral compass,” the Attorney General Criminal Division report reads. “Staffers functioned in a culture completely indifferent to the requirements of the law, and with the arrogant attitude that the rules simply did not apply to them. More efforts were expended in developing and carrying out schemes to get around the legal requirements for the circulating of nominating petitions than were made to obtain a sufficient number of voter signatures.”
Schuette, a former colleague of McCotter’s when the pair served in the state Senate, did not mince words during the news conference.
“Former Congressman McCotter was asleep at the switch. He appears to have provided no guidance, no supervision whatsoever (to his staff) … The congressman has resigned in disgrace. The district got stiffed. The people got stiffed.
“I don’t care if you’re a Democrat, a Republican, or a man on the moon. If you break the law, there will be consequences.”
Schuette said the motivation behind the alleged petition signature fraud is “frankly, immaterial.”
“(McCotter) set a standard of conduct that is disgraceful.”
McCotter released the following statement, adding that he currently is not available for interviews:
“I thank the Attorney General and his office for their earnest, thorough work on this investigation, which I requested, and their subsequent report. For my family and I, this closure commences our embrace of the enduring blessings of private life.”
The former five-term congressman’s political downfall began in May, when he announced that he was informed by the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office that his candidate petition signatures raised red flags.
Once it was officially determined that just a few hundred of the signatures were valid, well short of the 1,000 signature requirement to appear on the ballot for re-election, McCotter said he would mount a write-in campaign to run for re-election in the new 11th Congressional District, which represents Waterford, a portion of West Bloomfield, White Lake, Commerce, Wolverine Lake, Walled Lake, Wixom, Milford, White Lake, and Highland in the lakes area.
Within days, however, McCotter quashed that bid and said he would not be seeking another term in Congress, prompting Oakland and Wayne county GOP powerbrokers to scramble in a search for someone to run as a write-in candidate who they deemed a more palatable candidate than Milford Republican Kerry Bentivolio, who reportedly was considered too extreme by the Republican kingmakers.
That write-in candidate was former state senator Nancy Cassis of Novi, who in the Tuesday, Aug. 7 primary election was trounced by Bentivolio, a Tea Party favorite, war veteran, and teacher who ran for the state Senate in 2010.
McCotter abruptly resigned from office last month, a move that prompted the state to call for a Sept. 5 special primary election to fill the remaining weeks of his two-year term.
Cassis; Bentivolio; and Kenneth Crider, Carolyn Kavanagh, and Steve King, all of Livonia, are the Republicans seeking the GOP nomination on Sept. 5. David A. Curson of Belleville is the lone Democrat who filed for the special primary election, which is expected to cost the state and local units of government $650,000.
With Bentivolio now being the Republican nominee, Democrats from Oakland County feel the new 11th Congressional District — the lines for which were redrawn by Republicans following the release of 2010 U.S. Census data — is poachable.
Dr. Syed Taj, a member of the Canton Township Board of Trustees, is the Democratic Party’s nominee for the seat in the Nov. 6 general election after he defeated William Roberts, a LaRouche Democrat from Redford Township who has called for the impeachment of President Barack Obama, in the Aug. 7 primary election.
The special general election to fill the remainder of McCotter’s unexpired term in the current 11th Congressional District will be held in conjunction with the Nov. 6 regular general election.
Members of Congress serve two-year terms and are paid $174,000 annually.