Nessel seeks special prosecutor for DePerno, 8 others in 2020 election conspiracy investigation

By: - August 8, 2022 11:02 am

Attorney General GOP candidate Matt DePerno at Former President Donald Trump rally in Washington Twp. on April 2, 2022 | Allison R. Donahue

The presumptive Republican nominee for Michigan Attorney General may become the subject of a special prosecutor as part of an ongoing investigation into whether third parties gained unauthorized access to, and then tampered with, election equipment and data after the 2020 election.

The office of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, has petitioned the Michigan Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council to name a special prosecutor to investigate Matthew DePerno, the Trump-endorsed candidate expected to run against her in November. The council is a state agency that heads the Office of Prosecuting Attorney Coordination, an autonomous entity within the Department of Attorney General.

State Rep. Daire Rendon (R-Lake City) at a right-wing rally calling for a so-called “audit” of the 2020 election at the Michigan Capitol, Oct. 12, 2021 | Laina G. Stebbins

The Friday petition, signed by Danielle Hagaman-Clark, division chief for the Criminal Trials and Appeals Division of the Michigan Department of Attorney General, alleges that DePerno and two others, Stefanie Lambert Juntilla and state Rep. Daire Rendon (R-Lake City), “orchestrated a coordinated plan to gain access to voting tabulators” used in Roscommon, Barry County and Missaukee counties. 

Lambert Juntilla is DePerno’s law partner and was previously sanctioned by a federal judge for her role in bringing “frivolous” lawsuits that sought to overturn the 2020 election that former President Donald Trump lost to President Joe Biden.

It further alleges that DePerno was among those present in an Oakland County hotel room in early 2021 during a test of one of the illegally obtained tabulators and that because he is the presumptive nominee to face Nessel in November, a special prosecutor is required to avoid a conflict of interest.

“When this investigation began there was not a conflict of interest,” states the petition. “However, during the course of the investigation, facts were developed that DePerno was one of the prime instigators of the conspiracy,” says the petition. “A conflict arises when the prosecuting attorney has a personal interest (financial or emotional) in the litigation.”

The petition follows an investigation begun earlier this year by Michigan State Police and the AG’s office which was requested by Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson after her office received reports that an unnamed third party was able to access vote tabulator components and technology in Roscommon County. The investigation later included Rep. Rendon after two township clerks in Roscommon County said Rendon requested access to tabulators.

DePerno, who will formally receive the GOP nomination for attorney general later this month, issued a statement late Sunday on his Twitter account through Campaign Manager Tyson Shepard in which he claimed that Nessel’s actions are politically motivated.

“Dana Nessel knows she is losing this race. She is deperate [sic] to win this election at all costs and is now targeting DePerno, her political opponent. Her actions are unethical and will further demonstrate to the voters that she is unfit for office,” Shepard said.

DePerno then followed that up with a radio interview Monday in which he adamantly denied being present in a hotel room when a tabulator was broken into.

“I have nothing to do with any hotel rooms or any Airbnbs,” DePerno told Michael Patrick Shiels, host of “Michigan’s Big Show,” adding “90% of the facts that she lays out, that she calls facts, in her petition are either false or I have no knowledge of what she’s talking about.”

Dana Nessel | Ken Coleman

In a letter also dated Friday, Chief Deputy Attorney General Christina M. Grossi provided Benson with an overview of its findings.

“Ultimately, our investigation uncovered that, after the 2020 election, a group of individuals gained unauthorized access and compromised tabulators from the following clerk’s offices: the Roscommon County Clerk, the Richfield Township Clerk, the Lake City Township Clerk, and the Irving Township Clerk. All unauthorized access occurred between the dates of March 11, 2021, and late June of 2021. All impacted tabulators have been seized as evidence as part of our investigation and decommissioned from use in any future elections,” said Grossi, who added that they considered the “actions of these individuals to be very serious.”

There are several right-wing conspiracy theories about tabulators in Michigan used in the 2020 election that Trump lost. Republicans in Michigan and nationwide have baselessly claimed voting equipment was “rigged” against Trump. Much of that was based on preliminary Antrim County election results that briefly showed Biden winning due to human error, although the mistake was quickly corrected.

In fact, DePerno came to prominence after filing a lawsuit regarding the Antrim County results and called for a so-called “forensic audit.” The suit was dismissed by a 13th Circuit Court judge in May 2021 and then by the Michigan Court of Appeals this past April, but not before DePerno was able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in pursuit of the baseless claims.

However, the investigative summary from Nessel’s office indicated that digital ID’s matching the seized voting machines were the same ones DePerno had used as evidence in the Antrim County lawsuit as well featured in a “splash page” on his website.  

Also on the list of individuals referred to the special prosecutor is Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf, who came under scrutiny after initiating his own probe into the 2020 election including efforts to recruit other so-called “constitutional sheriffs” to illegally seize Dominion voting machines. 

In response to the request for a special prosecutor, Benson issued a statement in support of the effort.

“There must be consequences for those who broke the law to undermine our elections in order to advance their own political agendas,” stated Benson. “I’m thankful to Attorney General Nessel for conducting this investigation into the tampering of our secure voting machines and referring the case for prosecution. The republican, democratic and nonpartisan election clerks of this state do their jobs with professionalism and integrity, and we will continue to ensure they are equipped with a full understanding of the legal protections in place to block bad actors from pressuring them to gain access to secure election systems.”

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson at the TCF Center in Detroit | Andrew Roth

In her letter relating details of the investigation, Grossi concluded by saying more education was needed for election officials statewide.

“Notwithstanding this notice, based on the findings of our investigation and in addition to whatever action you may otherwise decide to take, we recommend that additional education be provided to all clerks outlining their legal obligation to safeguard election equipment,” said Grossi, who noted that it is a five-year felony to falsely obtain a voting machine as well as to enter into a criminal conspiracy, as is alleged occurred in this case. 

“Lastly, election clerks should be notified that they should always request to see identification from any individual purporting to be a law enforcement officer and seeking to inspect or seize election equipment. Further, even law enforcement officers should have a search warrant to inspect or seize equipment. A search warrant is an order signed by a judge authorizing a police officer to search for specific objects at specific locations. If a clerk is presented with a legal document and is unsure of how to proceed, he or she should seek advice from their legal counsel.”

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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2021 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell, where he also serves on the Board of Directors for the Livingston Diversity Council.

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