LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Two former Michigan lawmakers were charged Friday with felony misconduct in office, the state attorney general announced, after their extramarital affair snowballed into a political scandal when one of them concocted a bizarre cover story about being caught with a male prostitute.
Attorney General Bill Schuette said former Republican state Rep. Todd Courser faces three counts of misconduct in office, felonies that are each punishable by up to 5 years in prison. Schuette said Courser also was charged with perjury for lying to lawmakers under oath, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Former Republican Rep. Cindy Gamrat faces two charges of misconduct.
"When you're elected to serve in any public office, you receive a special responsibility from the people. It's called trust. It's called judgment. It's called honesty," Schuette, also a Republican, said at a news conference. "But Representatives Courser and Gamrat, sadly, failed to serve their constituents in an honorable fashion. And worse yet, we allege ... that they broke the law."
The charges were filed Friday in Ingham County District Court.
"I'm looking forward to reviewing the charge," Gamrat's attorney Michael Nichols said in a text message. "I think they should get ready to prove their case." Courser or his attorney did not respond to messages seeking comment.
According to Schuette's office, the two freshman lawmakers and self-proclaimed social conservatives engaged "in a pattern of corrupt misconduct while holding office."
One of the misconduct charges against Courser stems from ordering a staffer to send an email to GOP activists falsely stating that Courser had been caught with a male prostitute "behind a prominent Lansing nightclub." The email was intended to make his affair with Gamrat appear less believable and allow Courser to claim he had been blackmailed. A second misconduct charge alleges that Courser lied to Michigan House of Representatives investigators as the scandal unfolded.
The third misconduct charge related to Courser authorizing a staffer to forge the lawmaker's signature on proposed House bills, while the most serious charge of perjury is also unrelated to the sex scandal. It alleges that Courser lied under oath about authorizing staff to forge his signature.
Gamrat is charged with lying to investigators as they probed for potential misconduct, and also for authorizing a staffer to forge her signature on proposed legislation.
"I'm looking forward to reviewing the charge. I think Bill Schuette expects that she doesn't have any fight left," Gamrat's attorney, Michael Nichols, said in a text message. "I think they should get ready to prove their case."
The affair emerged last summer and quickly developed into a political scandal. After an aide to Courser and Gamrat was fired in July, he gave The Detroit News a secret audio recording of Courser demanding that he send the email about a male prostitute to "inoculate the herd," an apparent reference to Courser's conservative supporters. The aide said the plot was unethical and showed a "callous lack of respect" for the public, according to the investigation. It also said Gamrat was aware of the email, contrary to her assertions.
Courser resigned on Sept. 11, hours before he was likely to be kicked out of the GOP-led House. Gamrat was formally expelled from the House the same day. Both tried to make a political comeback by running in special Republican primaries for their seats, but lost last November.
Michigan House Minority Leader Tim Greimel said House Speaker Kevin Cotter and other Republicans had wanted to sweep the misconduct under the rug by expelling them, but Democrats had demanded a criminal investigation.
"The results of their investigation prove that was the right move," Greimel said.
Schuette's office said the two lawmakers must surrender by Wednesday or they will be arrested.
"No one, no one is beyond the reach of the law. Not even those who make laws," Schuette said.