By Joe Swickard andKathleen Gray/Detroit Free Press
Four staffers of former U.S. Rep. Thad McCotter, R-Livonia were charged today in connection with the false nominating petitions that led to McCotter's departure from Congress.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette described the four as "not simply Keystone Kops running amok ... criminal acts were committed."
PDF: Read the investigator's report on McCotter staffers
He said the petition forgeries and cut-and-paste jobs on the petitions "would make an elementary art teacher cringe."
Schuette said the McCotter staffers also likely did the same thing in the 2008 elections, using 2006 petition signatures.
• Don Yowchuang 33, of Farmington Hills, the deputy district director, was charged with 10 counts of election law forgery, a five-year felony; one count of conspiracy to commit a legal act in an illegal manner, a 5-year felony, and six counts of falsely signing a nominating petition, all misdemeanors.
• Paul Seewald, 47, of Livonia, the district director, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit a legal act in an illegal manner, nine counts of falsely signing a nominating petition.
• Mary Melissa Turnbull, 58, of Howell, district representative, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit a legal act in an illegal manner and one count of falsely signing a nominating petition.
• Lorianne O'Brady, former scheduler, 52, of Livonia was charged with five counts of falsely signing a nominating petition.
"Let me tell you this, we find any other evidence, we'll review it in the same painstaking ... thorough fashion," Schuette said at a late-morning news conference.
Schuette blasted McCotter for being "asleep at the switch," and providing no guidance to his staffers.
"They acted above the law as if it didn't apply to them," Schuette said.
But there is no specific evidence that McCotter was involved in the petition fraud, so the former congressman, who resigned in July, was not charged.
"Their motive is immaterial," Schuette said. "They set a standard of conduct that is disgraceful."
McCotter this afternoon released a statement saying, "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,” McCotter said, adding that he would not make himself available to answer any questions from the media at this point.
According to the investigator's report obtained by the Free Press, the four were a “dysfunctional congressional staff that had completely lost its moral compass” and were “indifferent to the requirements of the law.”
All four worked in McCotter’s Livonia office. They are Yowchuang, district deputy director, Seewald, the district director, O’Brady, a scheduler, and Turnbull, a district representative. The investigation revealed that they forged petitions, cut and pasted signatures from other petitions, and had individuals falsely signed as petition circulators.
Most of the illegal acts occurred at McCotter’s district office the day before the deadline for turning in petitions. They needed at least 1,000 valid signatures and turned in more than 1,800. All but a few hundred were found invalid by the Secretary of State’s office.
Yowchuang was the most deeply involved of the four staffers and was linked in the report to 17 separate counts of wrongdoing.
The investigators interviewed 75 people and seized 725 documents for their probe involving 136 nominating petitions.
An unprecedented bungle for incumbent congressman
McCotter – briefly presidential candidate in a long shot, hard-to-explain bid a year ago -- was considered a shoo-in to win his sixth two-year term in the 11th Congressional District this year, especially since it was redrawn as more friendly territory for a Republican candidate.
But then, in May, news broke that McCotter’s campaign had submitted false and fraudulent petition signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office in support of his re-election. Officials said the vast majority of the 1,830 signatures delivered were duplicated, some with the dates changed.
An investigation was launched by the Attorney General’s Office, with McCotter pledging his cooperation.
It was a campaign mistake that might be committed by an untested candidate, but no one in Washington or Lansing could remember it happening to an incumbent congressman, so routine is the collection of petition signatures.
McCotter’s name was left off the ballot, and, as local Republican leaders fumed, in June he dropped the idea of even running a write-in campaign in the Republican primary.
At first resolving to leave Congress at the end of term, McCotter last month abruptly announced his resignation from office, saying he and his family had suffered a “nightmarish month and a half.”
It forced the governor to call a special primary on Sept. 5 that is expected to cost $650,000 and two elections in November – one to fill out what by then will be no more than several weeks remaining in McCotter’s unfinished term.
McCotter often cut a strange figure on Capitol Hill. Lanky, sardonic and sometimes standoffish in comparison to more gregarious, backslapping politicians, he spoke in a deep voice and played guitar in rock bands. Once a rising star in the party who chaired the House Republican Policy Committee, he was at ease quoting conservative economic thinkers and Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones alike.