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

EAST LANSING, MI — The former Michigan House leader and his wife pleaded not guilty Thursday to financial charges stemming from an investigation into how they spent money from unregulated political funds.

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

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

Stephanie Chatfield kept tabs on her husband’s credit card balance and paid it off with money from the Peninsula Fund, including $132,000 over 14 months, attorney Dana Nessel said when the charges were filed in April.

Lee Chatfield faces thirteen charges, including conducting a criminal enterprise and embezzlement. His wife is accused of embezzlement and conspiracy.

“He’s looking forward to his day in court and fighting this,” 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 requiring disclosure.