Former Michigan House leader, wife plead not guilty to misusing political funds

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The former leader of the Michigan House and his wife pleaded not guilty Thursday to financial charges arising from an investigation of how they spent money from unregulated political funds.

Lee Chatfield and Stephanie Chatfield appeared in a Lansing-area court by video conference from Kentucky, where they plan to attend the Kentucky Derby.

Chatfield, a Republican, was speaker of the House in 2019 and 2020. He is accused of using money for personal travel, housing and other benefits when he was in office. Investigators said he tapped political funds that were created under federal law as tax-exempt social welfare organizations.

Stephanie Chatfield monitored her husband’s credit card balance and paid it off with money from the Peninsula Fund, including $132,000 over a 14-month period, Attorney Dana Nessel said when charges were filed in April.

Lee Chatfield faces 13 charges, including conducting a criminal enterprise and embezzlement. His wife is charged with embezzlement and conspiracy.

"He is looking forward to his day in court and fighting this,” defense attorney Mary Chartier said during an arraignment in East Lansing District Court.

Nessel, a Democrat, has said there has been a proliferation of “dark money” political funds in Michigan by Democrats and Republicans. She and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson have called for laws that would require public disclosure.