‘Obvious Forgeries’ in Republican Gubernatorial Campaigns Lead to Felony Charges

James Craig, a former Detroit Police Chief, announces he is a Republican candidate for Governor of Michigan amongst protesters on Belle Isle in Detroit, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

By Kyle Kaminski

June 22, 2023

After phony signatures roiled the political campaigns of five gubernatorial candidates last year, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has filed felony charges against three people who are allegedly responsible for orchestrating the scheme.

LANSING—Three people were charged with conducting a criminal enterprise, forgery, and other felony charges after authorities said they allegedly filed fraudulent petition signatures that spoiled the candidacies of five Republicans who were running for Michigan governor in 2022.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced the charges in Lansing on Thursday. 

“The signatures delivered to these campaigns were obvious forgeries,” Nessel said in a statement. “The methods these defendants used to disguise their fraud were sophomoric and transparent, and easily detected. But the crimes committed were serious criminal offenses that destroyed their clients’ campaign prospects and aimed to defraud the Bureau of Elections—all in service of a scheme to con these campaigns out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.” 

Shawn and Jamie Wilmoth, both 36, and Willie Reed, 37, each face more than 20 charges tied to their involvement in the campaigns of five Republican gubernatorial candidates, as well as three judicial candidates, who were seeking to get elected in last year’s primary election.

According to Nessel’s office, nine political campaigns contracted with businesses owned by Shawn Wilmoth and Reed in order to collect the required 15,000 voter signatures that were needed to make the ballot for the primary election. Among the candidates were gubernatorial wannabes Perry Johnson; James Craig; Donna Brandenburg; Michael Brown; and Michael Markey; as well as judicial candidates Tricia Dare, John Calahan, and John Michael Malone. 

The Wilmoths and Reed are alleged to have charged over $700,000 for valid signature collection, yet knowingly delivered thousands of forged signatures that ultimately caused the candidates to be disqualified from the ballot. Nessel said Shawn Wilmoth and Reed also allegedly took money from gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley without collecting signatures.

The robust race for governor—with nearly a dozen Republican candidates at one point—was “just irresistible to people who wanted to commit fraud,” Nessel said this week, noting that signature collection firms were being paid up to $12 per signature collected last year.

Craig, a former chief of the Detroit Police Department, and Johnson, who is now running for president, were once considered to be strong candidates for the Republican nomination—at least before election officials found their petitions to be rife with bogus signatures. 

After the signature scandal, Tudor Dixon emerged as the Republican nominee for governor but lost the general election to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. None of the gubernatorial or judicial candidates have been personally accused of knowingly submitting fraudulent petitions.

Nessel added: “This expansive fraud also stole something from the voters of Michigan. When 7 of these candidates were disqualified from the ballot, fully half the Republican field for Governor was deemed ineligible for voters to consider. Our democracy suffers when the voters are denied the opportunity to evaluate candidates they may have wished to support on election day.”

The Wilmoths were due in court Thursday while authorities still were searching for Reed. If convicted, the charges could cumulatively land the trio in prison for the rest of their lives.

The Associated Press contributed to this coverage. 

Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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