Charges filed year after phony signatures roiled Michigan race for governor
Jun 22, 2023, 5:18 AM | Updated: 1:02 pm
DETROIT (AP) — Three people were charged with forgery and other crimes in an investigation of phony petition signatures that spoiled the candidacies of five Republicans who were running for Michigan governor in 2022, prosecutors said Thursday.
Shawn Wilmoth, 36, his wife Jamie Wilmoth, 36, and Willie Reed, 37, each face more than 20 charges in a suburban Detroit court, including election forgery and conducting a criminal enterprise.
The robust race for governor, with nearly a dozen Republican candidates at one point, was “just irresistible to people who wanted to commit fraud,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said.
Candidates needed 15,000 signatures from voters to get on the GOP primary ballot.
“These signature-collection firms were being paid nine, 10, 11, 12 dollars per signature,” Nessel said. “There’s nothing that stops these signature-collection firms from hiring people who were convicted felons. You have every incentive to get as many signatures as possible.”
Former Detroit police Chief James Craig and millionaire businessman Perry Johnson were considered to be strong candidates for the Republican nomination for governor, but they were barred from the August ballot.
Election officials found their petitions were rife with bogus signatures and, as a result, they didn’t have enough valid ones to qualify. Three more candidates were also knocked off the ballot.
Nessel said three Detroit-area judicial candidates were also victims. No candidate was personally accused of knowingly submitting fraudulent petitions.
The Wilmoths appeared in court Thursday and were each told to post 10% of a $100,000 bond to be released. It was not immediately known if they had lawyers who could be asked to comment on the charges. Authorities, meanwhile, still were searching for Reed.
Nine campaigns paid more than $700,000 to businesses affiliated with Reed and the Wilmoths to gather signatures, Nessel said.
“The methods used to disguise their con were sophomoric and transparent,” the attorney general said.
State elections staff found signatures that were intentionally illegible. They believe people at times simply sat around a table, signed petitions and passed them around.
After the signature scandal, Tudor Dixon lost the general election to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Johnson lately has his eyes on a bigger prize: He has been campaigning in Iowa for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Follow Ed White at http://twitter.com/edwritez