GOP attorney general nominee Matthew DePerno at a Macomb County Trump rally, Oct. 1, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins
Updated, 5:52 p.m., 8/1/23
Former state Rep. Daire Rendon (R-Lake City) and Matt DePerno, a former Republican Michigan attorney general nominee, were arraigned on Tuesday as part of an investigation into potential tampering with election equipment.
In September 2022, Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson was named as the special prosecutor in charge of the investigation to determine if nine people, including DePerno and Rendon, should face criminal charges for allegedly attempting to access and tamper with voting tabulators following the 2020 election that former President Donald Trump lost to President Joe Biden.
The petition for a special prosecutor, filed by the office of Attorney General Dana Nessel in August 2022, alleged that DePerno, Rendon and attorney Stefanie Lambert, “orchestrated a coordinated plan to gain access to voting tabulators” used in Roscommon, Barry and Missaukee counties.
The office of Attorney General sought a special prosecutor because Nessel was facing DePerno in the November general election for attorney general and wanted to avoid any conflict of interest.
DePerno made history, experts told the Advance in October, as Michigan’s first candidate for statewide office who ran under the possibility of being indicted by the office he sought. DePerno had vowed to indict Nessel if he won. Nessel won reelection by almost 9 points.
DePerno was arraigned Tuesday afternoon on four charges including unauthorized access to computers, conspiracy to commit undue possession of a voting machine and undue possession of a voting machine, according to court records, which mistakenly listed his name as “DeParno.”
Rendon was also arraigned Tuesday and faces two charges: Conspiracy to commit undue possession of a voting machine and false pretenses, according to court records.
Both Rendon and DePerno were released on $5,000 personal bonds, according to court staff.
A ruling last month from Oakland County Circuit Judge Phyllis McMillen opened the way for criminal charges to be filed.
The decision determined that it is illegal for someone to take possession of a voting tabulator without a court order or authorization from the Secretary of State’s office regardless of whether it occurred during an election period or after. The determination was sought by Hilson.
In a podcast released on July 26, Lambert said she had been indicted in the probe, and expected she would be arraigned the following week, Bridge reported.
When asked about the investigation and possible indictments, Hilson told the Advance in an email he could neither confirm or deny the existence of a grand jury or any indictments, and that if there were indictments, he was prohibited from disclosing them by state law.
“Regardless of what any person may say, I am still bound by law and intend to follow it,” Hilson said.
Rendon first fell under scrutiny for allegedly accessing election equipment in May 2022, when Reuters reported that a township clerk in Roscommon said Rendon had allegedly requested access to the machines following the 2020 election. According to the report, Rendon’s request was denied.
Following the 2020 election, DePerno gained prominence after filing a lawsuit claiming election fraud in Antrim County after results briefly showed Biden winning in the predominantly Republican county. The mistake was due to human error, and did not impact election results. The case was appealed until it was ultimately dismissed by the Michigan Supreme Court.
Court records did not reflect when DePerno and Rendon would next appear in court.
In a statement, DePerno’s attorney, Paul Stablein, said DePerno “categorically denies any wrongdoing and firmly asserts that these charges are unfounded and lack merit.”
House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp.) said they were “very serious charges being leveled today, and we will all be watching this case closely.
“Many Americans are concerned about the recent flood of politically charged prosecutions in Michigan and around the country, and this prosecutor will need to prove his allegations in court beyond a reasonable doubt,” Hall added.
Nessel released a statement following DePerno’s and Rendon’s arraignments noting the department had not been involved in the investigation since Hilson’s appointment.
In her statement, Nessel called the allegations “incredibly serious and unprecedented.” She also shared her hope for swift justice in the courts and for the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission to consider the actions of attorneys circulating disinformation about elections and any related criminal activity.
“Lawyers who utilize their professional licenses to undermine our democracy and violate the law have no business practicing law in Michigan or any other state,” Nessel said. “Furthermore, every officeholder, including local clerks, sheriffs and legislators, should be expected to uphold and abide by the law. Our democracy simply cannot survive further attacks from within these essential offices of local, county and state government.”
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