Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 10, 2013

Judge: No indictment in party switch probe

DAVID EGGERT
Associated Press

---- — LANSING (AP) — No one will be indicted for participating in a former state lawmaker’s scheme to switch parties at the last minute and pay a novice to run against him in a fake campaign, including the Republican House speaker, a judge ruled Friday.

Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, serving as a one-judge grand jury, said that an “exhaustive and diligent” probe lasting nearly a year uncovered no crime or wrongdoing and that charges were not warranted.

Ex-Rep. Roy Schmidt’s switch to the GOP in May 2012, just before the deadline for the August primary election, came under scrutiny when it came to light that his Democratic opponent did not meet a residency requirement. Investigators discovered that the Grand Rapids legislator had his son offer the man — 22-year-old friend Matt Mojzak — $450, later upped to $1,000, to run as a Democrat against Schmidt.

Mojzak ultimately turned down the money after quickly dropping out of the race under a glare from the media.

Schmidt lost re-election in November due to the fallout. House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, barely survived the election because of his role in Schmidt’s switch to his party, but he was chosen again to lead the chamber in January.

Friday’s announcement cleared Bolger, a top aide, Schmidt and others involved in the party switch.

“I want to thank all of those who stood by me during this time, which was particularly frustrating due to my inability to speak openly about details in this case due to the legal restrictions of a grand jury to conduct everything in secret,” Bolger said in a statement.

“I still stand behind the apology to voters I offered last year,” he said. “As promised in that apology, my focus has been and will continue to be on serving the hardworking men and women of our state to help solve the problems they face and help Michigan continue to grow for their success.”

In July 2012, following his own investigation, Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth announced that Bolger and Schmidt broke no election laws but that their “shenanigans” embarrassed and offended him as a Republican. State police uncovered text messages between Bolger and Schmidt regarding the party switch, though Bolger has said he did not know Schmidt was going to use money to find a fake Democrat to run.

Bolger’s deputy chief of staff, Phil Browne, delivered campaign paperwork for both Schmidt and Mojzak to the Kent County Clerk’s Office.

Forsyth said Mojzak “arguably” committed perjury in his affidavit but declined to press charges, saying he had been duped and was the “least culpable of anyone involved in this fiasco.” Forsyth said there could have been potential violations of campaign finance laws and forwarded his report to Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, whose office concluded no violations occurred because no money exchanged hands.

Unsatisfied with the Kent County probe, Democrats asked for a one-judge grand jury in Ingham County, which includes Lansing. They wanted to know if Schmidt and Bolger knew Mojzak did not actually live in the district when he filed his candidacy. Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, and then-Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer alleged that Schmidt and Bolger may have obstructed justice and conspired to aid perjury.

“It’s clear this incident is a breach of the public’s trust even though no charges will be filed,” said House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, who called on majority Republicans to pass Democratic-sponsored bills designed to prevent party switching before campaign filing deadlines. “Recruiting a straw candidate to manufacture a one-sided race is not what state representatives, let alone the speaker of the House, are elected to do.”

Max Hoffman, one of Bolger’s attorneys, said he cooperated fully with the investigation.

“At all times Speaker Bolger insisted that the election laws be followed to the letter,” he said of Bolger’s involvement in Schmidt’s party switch.

The conservative Michigan Freedom Fund called on Democrats to apologize for their “fruitless witch hunt” that unnecessarily clogged the court system for a year. Whitmer, the Senate Democratic leader, said she wanted to ensure a full and proper view was done.

“Now that that investigation has been concluded, it’s time for all of us to move forward and focus on the issues in front of the Legislature today,” she said in a statement.

The judge closed the case and ordered that all grand juror records be sealed and sent to the Michigan Supreme Court. The cost of the investigation will be filed with the circuit court within 90 days, Aquilina said.

The special prosecutors appointed to help conduct the probe were Michael Ferency, a former assistant prosecutor in Ingham County, and John Smietanka, a former Republican state attorney general candidate in the 1990s.

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Email David Eggert at deggert@ap.org and follow him at http://twitter.com/DavidEggert00