A former Republican attorney general candidate has been criminally charged in connection with helping supporters of Donald Trump illegally gain access to voting machines.
LANSING—Matt DePerno, the Republican candidate who failed to unseat Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel in November, is facing felony charges that could land him in prison for five years after he allegedly tampered with voting machines following the 2020 presidential election.
Here are eight things to know about DePerno as the criminal case unfolds:
1.) DePerno is a relentless election denier.
Despite President Joe Biden’s victory margin of 154,000 votes in Michigan, DePerno has never recognized the fact that former President Donald Trump lost the presidential election in 2020.
Days after the polls closed in 2020, DePerno drew national attention to himself when he filed a lawsuit against Antrim County alleging that a clerical error was evidence of election fraud. After personally examining voting machines used during the election, he produced a since-debunked report that caught the eyes of Trump and other extremists who sought to overturn the election.
While thousands of Trump supporters were leading a violent insurrection at the US Capitol, DePerno was also reportedly in Washington DC meeting with top members of the State Department to present false information that claimed Trump had won the 2020 election. The Washington Post reports that DePerno and other conspiracy theorists had at least some sway within the Trump administration—not merely externally, where they publicly pushed election lies.
The relentless support for the former president earned DePerno an endorsement last year from Trump, as well as other prominent election deniers within the Michigan Republican Party—like former co-chair Meshawn Maddock, who has also been charged with election-related crimes.
It didn’t do him any good; DePerno lost by nearly 400,000 votes in last year’s general election. And last December, the Michigan Supreme Court killed the final appeal in the Antrim County lawsuit—ending nearly two years of litigation without any credible evidence of election fraud.
He also lost a bid earlier this year to become the chairman of the Michigan Republican Party.
2.) DePerno was identified as a “prime instigator” in a crime.
The criminal case unfolding this week against DePerno is tied to his alleged efforts to access and tamper with voting machines after the 2020 election. The charges include conspiracy and undue possession of a voting machine—felonies that could result in a five-year prison sentence.
He was arraigned remotely on Tuesday afternoon in Oakland County’s 6th Circuit Court.
In court records, DePerno has been named as a “prime instigator” in a scheme that allegedly involved illegally gaining access to five vote tabulators from three counties, breaking into them and performing various “tests” on the state-owned voting equipment. Eight other people—including a former state representative—were also reportedly involved in the plot.
DePerno was also allegedly present for the testing, though he has denied any wrongdoing.
3.) The investigation has been taking a while.
Last summer, Nessel’s office reached out to the Michigan Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council, a state agency, to ask that a special prosecutor consider criminal charges against DePerno, as well as several other election conspiracy theorists who allegedly played a role in trying to overturn the election. After defeating DePerno at the polls in November, Nessel said she didn’t want to take the case to avoid any potential appearance of conflicting interests.
In September 2020, Muskegon County Prosecutor DJ Hilson was picked as the special prosecutor—and it took him about a year to review whether DePerno should face charges.
Charges were slow to come, in part because prosecutors wanted clarification from a judge about what constitutes illegal possession of a voting machine. Some of the defendants argued that local clerks gave them permission to take the machines. In July, a state judge ruled that it’s a felony to take a machine without a court order or permission from the Secretary of State.
4.) Nessel has nothing to do with the criminal case.
Hilson has been independently reviewing the investigation and considering charges against DePerno since September. He convened a grand jury in March to determine whether criminal indictments should be issued. In a statement this week, he said the charges were authorized by “an independent citizens grand jury,” and that his office did not make any recommendations.
5.) The scheme allegedly involved hotel rooms.
Following the 2020 presidential election, a cadre of Trump supporters—led by DePerno— allegedly convinced local clerks to hand over five voting tabulators from Roscommon and Missaukee counties in northern Michigan, as well as Barry County in western Michigan.
After taking the machines back to a hotel room, they allegedly broke into them to perform “tests” that were designed to further Trump’s unfounded election fraud claims in the state of Michigan.
6.) DePerno wasn’t alone.
Former state Rep. Daire Rendon (R-Lake City) is also facing criminal charges in connection with accessing and tampering with voting machines in Michigan. She was arraigned on Tuesday on charges of conspiracy to commit undue possession of a voting machine and false pretenses.
Seven other people—including Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf—were also named by Nessel’s office as having been involved in the scheme. When asked whether the broader investigation continues, Hilson said there’s “still more to come unrelated to the individuals currently charged.”
The others listed on the referral for potential criminal charges include: Stefanie Lambert Juntilla, Ann Howard, Ben Cotton, Jeff Lenberg, Douglas Logan, and James Penrose. Cotton, Lenberg, and Penrose reportedly served as expert witnesses in DePerno’s lawsuit in Antrim County.
7.) This wasn’t the first time DePerno was accused of being shady.
DePerno is also known for defending former state Rep. Todd Courser in a failed defamation lawsuit against The Detroit News after Courser’s sex scandal cover-up attempt in 2015.
According to court records reviewed by Bridge Michigan, DePerno was also fired from a law firm in 2005 for allegedly overcharging clients and falsifying billings to his benefit—including by padding legal billings, claiming excessive write-offs, and manipulating his billable hours.
A 2006 legal filing from his former law firm stated that DePerno “committed fraud, deceit and dishonesty with regards to bogus billing, duplicate billing and write offs, in addition to other wrongful acts.” DePerno sued the firm over his firing and denied the allegations in court, but another court filing stated DePerno “admitted that he falsified billing to a client’s account.”
8.) The timing couldn’t be more appropriate.
DePerno was arraigned just hours before a special prosecutor announced a new federal indictment against Trump on felony charges for trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
It marked the third time Trump has been indicted this year—and includes three separate conspiracy charges and one obstruction charge, all centered around Trump’s various attempts to amplify lies about fraud and voting machines to flip votes away from Biden after the election.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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