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Charges filed year after phony signatures roiled Michigan race for governor

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Three people were charged with forgery and other crimes in an investigation of phony petition signatures that spoiled the candidacies of five Republicans who were running for Michigan governor in 2022, prosecutors said Thursday.

Shawn Wilmoth, 36, Jamie Wilmoth, 36, and Willie Reed, 37, each face more than 20 charges in a suburban Detroit court, including election forgery and conducting a criminal enterprise.

The robust race for governor, with nearly a dozen Republican candidates at one point, was “just irresistible to people who wanted to commit fraud,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said.

Candidates needed 15,000 signatures from voters to get on the GOP primary ballot.

“These signature-collection firms were being paid nine, 10, 11, 12 dollars per signature,” Nessel said. “There’s nothing that stops these signature-collection firms from hiring people who were convicted felons. You have every incentive to get as many signatures as possible.”

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Former Detroit police Chief James Craig and millionaire businessman Perry Johnson were considered to be strong candidates for the Republican nomination for governor, but they were barred from the August ballot.

Election officials found their petitions were rife with bogus signatures and, as a result, they didn’t have enough valid ones to qualify. Three more candidates were also knocked off the ballot.

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Charges have been filed against three individuals in connection with a probe into counterfeit petition signatures that undermined the campaigns of five Republican candidates vying for the position of Michigan governor in 2022.

Nessel said three Detroit-area judicial candidates were also victims. No candidate was personally accused of knowingly submitting fraudulent petitions.

The Wilmoths were due in court Thursday afternoon while authorities still were searching for Reed. The defendants could not immediately be reached for comment, and online court records list no defense attorneys who could be asked about the charges.

Business and campaign records show Shawn Wilmoth was affiliated with First Choice Contracting LLC, a signature-collection company that was paid more than $200,000 by at least two disqualified candidates, the Detroit Free Press reported.

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After the signature scandal, Tudor Dixon emerged as the Republican nominee for governor but lost the general election to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Johnson lately has his eyes on a bigger prize: He’s been campaigning in Iowa for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

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