Four campaign staffers of former Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich) face multiple criminal charges of allegedly perpetuating election fraud: the latest twist in a GOP nomination scandal that scuttled the five-term congressman's reelection campaign and, it appears, hastened the resignation of his House seat.
An investigation by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette charged four members of McCotter's Livonia office with violating election laws by submitting fraudulent petition signatures to qualify Congressman McCotter for the 2012 Michigan ballot, the AG said Thursday.
"This was not simply Keystone Cops run amok –- serious criminal acts were committed," said Schuette in a press release. “In this case, the process of obtaining signatures and filing petitions to participate in the democratic process was perverted."
Schuette also alleged that the four campaign staffers had committed similar acts of fraud in the prior election -- bolstering petition signatures in 2008 with names from the 2006 campaign, according to a Gongwer News Service report.
The McCotter campaign's Deputy District Director, Don Yowchuang, has been charged with 10 counts of election fraud, one count of conspiracy (both five-year felonies) and six misdemeanor counts of falsely signing a nominating petition. District Director Paul Seewald has been charged with one felony count of conspiracy and nine misdemeanor counts of falsely signing; District Representative Mary Melissa Turnbull has been charged with one count of conspiracy and one misdemeanor count of falsely signing; former Scheduler Lori Anne O’Brady has been charged with charged with five misdemeanor counts of falsely signing.
The report, which was obtained by The Huffington Post, referred to the group as a “dysfunctional congressional staff that had completely lost its moral compass” who were “indifferent to the requirements of the law.”
Their actions meant that the former congressman could not qualify for a spot in this year's election, allowing the Tea Party-backed Kerry Bentivolio, a teacher and reindeer farmer from Milford, to run unopposed on the ballot for the August primary. McCotter indicated that he would mount a write-in campaign to capture the nomination before suddenly resigning his seat in July.
Bentivolio went on to defeat Republican candidate Nancy Cassis, who ran as a write-in candidate, by an almost 2-1 margin during Tuesday's primary. At the same time, a special primary and election must be held to elect a replacement from McCotter's district to serve out the remainder of his congressional term, which expires in January 2013.
Although McCotter's team submitted more than the 1,000 required signatures needed to appear on the ballot, Michigan Secretary of State Spokesman Fred Woodhams stated in May that only 200 to 300 of those turned in appeared to be valid. The Secretary of State's office handed the information to the Attorney General's office, which opened an investigation.
McCotter himself was not charged at the Thursday press conference, though he didn't escape criticism from the Attorney General.
"In a position of public trust, the elected official has a duty to be engaged and involved, and must ‘mind the store,’” said Schuette. “Here, former Congressman McCotter was asleep at the switch. He failed to mind the store and appears to have provided no supervision whatsoever to his staff members."
McCotter had called for an investigation into the alleged petition fraud during his resignation from the U.S. House.
"The buck stops with me," McCotter said in a statement at the time. "That's why I urge the continued investigation into the petitions. Everyone deserves to know what happened regarding this filing."
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