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Signature gatherers accused of tanking 2022 Michigan GOP campaigns bound over to trial

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Signature gatherers accused of tanking 2022 Michigan GOP campaigns bound over to trial

Jun 14, 2024 | 12:33 pm ET
By Anna Liz Nichols
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Signature gatherers accused of tanking 2022 Michigan GOP campaigns bound over to trial
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Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced criminal enterprise charges against three individuals in connection with a fraudulent signature scandal which left eight candidates off the ballot for the August 2022 primary. | Kyle Davidson

This week, a Macomb County judge moved the cases of three campaign circulators to trial over charges for collecting tens of thousands of fraudulent signatures for several GOP candidates in 2022, effectively getting them kicked off the August primary ballot that year.

Shawn Wilmoth, Jamie Wilmoth-Goodin and Willie Reed are accused of knowingly delivering thousands of forged signatures on the nomination petitions of eight campaigns, including five candidates for governor in 2022. 

The affected gubernatorial candidates were Perry Johnson, James Craig, Donna Brandenburg, Michael Markey and Michael Brown. Other candidates impacted were individuals running for judicial seats: Tricia Dare, John Cahalan and John Michael Malone.

When announcing the criminal charges in June 2023, Attorney General Dana Nessel said the fraudulent signatures were easy to spot as the defendants’ methods were “sophomoric and transparent” in their purposeful effort to commit fraud.

“The evidence very clearly demonstrates that defendants Wilmoth, Wilmoth-Goodin, and Reed were all aware of and directly responsible for the forged work-product provided to the campaigns which they knew would ultimately be filed with the Michigan Department of State Bureau of elections,” Nessel said announcing the charges.

Nessel added at the time that Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley also utilized the services of the defendants, but after paying the defendants $15,000, they delivered no signatures. Kelley was still able to make it onto the 2022 primary ballot, losing the Republican nomination to Tudor Dixon who went on to lose the November election to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The five gubernatorial candidates were not included on the August primary ballot after the Board of State Canvassers deadlocked on a decision in May 2022 on whether to certify their elections of petitions, with Brown withdrawing from the race.

Elections staff identified 36 petition circulators that had submitted invalid signatures totaling nearly 70,000 invalid signatures across candidates.

At the time, the Bureau of Elections issued a report saying it was “unaware of another election cycle in which this many circulators submitted such a substantial volume of fraudulent petition sheets consisting of invalid signatures, nor an instance in which it affected as many candidate petitions as at present.” 

In total, the nine candidates who worked with Wilmoth, Wilmoth-Goodin and Reed, were charged over $700,000 in order to get the signatures required to qualify to appear on the August 2022 primary ballot, said a Thursday news release from the Attorney General’s Office.

The trio face dozens of felonies including one count of conducting a criminal enterprise, a 20-year felony. Other charges include election law forgery and use of a computer to commit a crime. 

Nessel said the criminal enterprise the three defendants are accused of engaging in brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars, causing immense harm to others warranting serious charges.

“The signatures furnished by these defendants were clear forgeries and fabrications, and the harm the victim campaigns suffered is substantial and without remedy,” she said.