Former Michigan House Speaker pleads not guilty to embezzlement charges

LANSING, Mich. – Former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield and his wife were indicted on embezzlement charges on Thursday, May 2.

Lee and Stephanie Chatfield both pleaded not guilty.

Background: Former Michigan House Speaker indicted for “flagrant” misuse of nonprofit funds and embezzlement

The couple appeared virtually in the courtroom because the judge allowed them to be 350 miles away in Louisville ahead of Saturday's Kentucky Derby.

The former speaker of the House of Representatives has been charged with 13 felonies after he was allegedly involved in a “rampant and blatant” misuse of political nonprofit funds. His wife has two charges.

The couple is accused of allegedly using money donated to nonprofit organizations to fund a “lavish lifestyle.” On Thursday, the two were able to face the allegations in court for the first time.

Chatfield is accused of embezzling and stealing from the 501c4 Peninsula Fund, his own political action committees, the Chatfield Majority Fund and Chatfield Majority Fund 2, and the state budget of the Michigan House of Representatives.

It is alleged that more than $130,000 worth of debt on Chatfield's personal credit card was paid directly to the Peninsula Fund, a 501c4 social welfare fund. The credit card was reportedly used to pay for Chatfield and his family's vacations, souvenirs, groceries, recurring bills, luxury purchases and more.

Chatfield was Speaker of the Michigan House in 2019 and 2020.

Thursday's arraignment came over Zoom after the judge approved the trip to Louisville. Her lawyer said the trip was for work and relaxation.

Former District Judge Vonda Evans weighed in, saying it wasn't such a big deal that the couple was allowed to travel.

“It’s not a crime until you’re convicted,” Evans said. “The deposit is to ensure that you come back. Non-violent accusation, strong community ties. You own a house, a car, kids in school, etc. – listen judge, do this all the time. It's like everything else you know? It's an assertion. It's like gossip, okay? it hasn’t been proven yet.”

Evans said this happens often and each defendant can fill out a travel form that the judge must approve.

The judge gave them both a personal bond and said she was confident they would return.

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