House speaker orders lawmakers, staff to retain records in light of Chatfield allegations

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The current leader of the Michigan House of Representatives is requiring all members and staff to retain records and documents that may be relevant to a pending criminal investigation related to accusations of sexual and financial misconduct against former House Speaker Lee Chatfield.

House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, ordered what is known as a litigation hold in light of the broad accusations against Chatfield, R-Levering. Chatfield's sister-in-law has accused the former lawmaker of sexual assault, dating back more than a decade to when she was approximately 15.

The alleged acts also occurred while Chatfield was in office — he is accused of sexual assault within the state Capitol building — and include possible financial improprieties.

More: Lawyer: Former House Speaker Lee Chatfield is accused of sexual assault

More: Lee Chatfield denies sexual assault allegations, says he had long-standing affair

Rep. Jason Wentworth, R-Clare Michigan will be the new speaker of the house. The Free Press interviews Wentworth in his office at the state capitol Monday, Dec. 21, 2020.
Rep. Jason Wentworth, R-Clare Michigan will be the new speaker of the house. The Free Press interviews Wentworth in his office at the state capitol Monday, Dec. 21, 2020.

On Thursday, Michigan State Police confirmed it had received a criminal complaint related to Chatfield from Lansing State Police. Chatfield is accused of grooming the now-26-year-old for years, having met her at a private religious school where he was a teacher and coach, said Jamie White, an attorney representing Chatfield's sister-in-law. Chatfield's father remains a leader at the school.

White also has leveled broad allegations of financial misconduct against Chatfield, but did not provide many details.

Through an attorney, Chatfield has since denied the sexual assault allegation, instead characterizing what happened as an affair. The legal age of consent in Michigan is 16, but it goes up to 18 when the other person involved is an authority figure, such as a teacher.

Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield applauds for Governor Gretchen Whitmer during the State of the State address at the State Capitol in Lansing, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020.
Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield applauds for Governor Gretchen Whitmer during the State of the State address at the State Capitol in Lansing, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020.

The Free Press obtained a copy of a letter sent Saturday to all House members and staffers by House General House Aaron Van Langevelde. In the letter, Van Langevelde outlines exactly what everyone needs to keep and why that's important.

"Effective immediately, you are required to secure and preserve (i.e. not delete, over-write, destroy, or otherwise alter in any fashion whatsoever) any documents, files or information (hard copy or electronic, including backup) regardless of their form or where they are stored, relating to former Speaker Chatfield's conduct while in office or his use of House resources (i.e. staff, office, house-issued equipment, etc.)," the letter states.

The letter goes into great detail explaining the type of information that must be preserved, from memos and diaries to audio recordings, calendar entries and voicemails.

"This litigation hold is in effect until you receive further communication from me and is in addition to any other prior litigation hold," the letter states.

More: House speaker strips Rep. Jewell Jones of committee posts after new allegations

More: Division, challenges await new speaker Jason Wentworth. But he's not stressed about it

On Saturday, Wentworth spokesman Gideon D'Assandro confirmed the House is working with law enforcement to help the investigation.

"The House has reached out to MSP and the Lansing PD to offer assistance and coordination with their investigations. In order to help them with their work, the speaker ordered a litigation hold," D'Assandro said.

"With the new specific allegations about events alleged to have happened in the Capitol, the House is creating this hold for all members and staff to assist with any potential MSP and LPD inquiries. The House will continue to assist and cooperate with any police investigation."

The allegations against Chatfield are extensive, as reported in a piece published Friday by journalism nonprofit Bridge Michigan. In the piece, his sister-in-law and brother accuse Chatfield of sexual misconduct, including assaulting her in the state Capitol.

As is common in Lansing, there is some overlap in staff between Chatfield and Wentworth, including D'Assandro. On Friday, D'Assandro denied Wentworth or anyone still in the speaker's office who previously worked for Chatfield knew of any alleged sexual or financial misconduct.

Contact Dave Boucher: dboucher@freepress.com or 313-938-4591. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan House orders lawmakers, staff to keep records for Chatfield probe

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