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Special prosecutor charges Michigan politicians in election case

Emma Winowiecki
Michigan Radio
(Photo: Emma Winowiecki/Michigan Radio)

A special prosecutor has charged a former Republican candidate for Michigan attorney general and a former Republican state lawmaker with crimes related to the 2020 election.

The charges, authorized by a grand jury, were filed in Oakland County against Matt DePerno and former state Representative Daire Rendon. DePerno faces four charges, including undue possession of a voting machine, and willfully damaging a voting machine — both felonies. Rendon faces two counts: conspiracy to commit undue possession of a voting machine, and false pretenses.

The charges against the two Republicans are connected to an alleged effort to gain access to voting machines after the 2020 presidential election by people trying to help then-President Donald Trump overturn the election results that saw him defeated by Democrat Joe Biden. Michigan's results were among those being contested by Trump, even though Biden won the state by more than 150,000 votes.

DJ Hilson, a Democrat who works as the Muskegon County prosecutor, was selected by a panel to act as an independent special prosecutor in this case. He said the grand jury's charging decision was not politically motivated.

“Although our office made no recommendations to the grand jury as to whether an indictment should be issued or not, we support the grand jury’s decision and we will prosecute each of these cases as they have directed in the sole interests of justice,” Hilson said in a statement.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, recused herself and her office from the prosecution because DePerno was her Republican opponent on the 2022 ballot. But she praised the decision after it was made public.

“The lies espoused by attorneys involved in this matter, and those who worked in concert with them across the nation, wreaked havoc and sowed distrust within our democratic institutions and processes,” she said in a statement clearly directed at her former opponent.

Nessel also called for the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission to revoke DePerno’s law license.

DePerno’s attorney also released a statement. Paul Stablein said DePerno plans to vigorously contest the case.

“He maintains his innocence and firmly believes that these charges are not based upon any actual truth and are motivated primarily by politics rather than evidence,” said Stablein. “He is confident that justice will prevail, and he looks forward to the date when his innocence will be demonstrated in a court of law.”

Rendon could not be reached for comment.

DePerno and Rendon were arraigned Tuesday morning via Zoom in Oakland County and remain free on bond.

In his statement, Hilson also said his investigation is “ongoing and not over.”

Copyright 2023 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.