Details surface of former Speaker Chatfield’s alleged sexual abuse of sister-in-law

Jan 11, 2022 at 10:57 am
Former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering. - Michigan House
Michigan House
Former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering.

The person former House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) is accused of sexually assaulting for more than a decade, beginning when she was a child, is his sister-in-law.

The Michigan State Police is investigating the complaint, which was first filed with the Lansing Police Department on Dec. 24, 2021.

Rebekah Chatfield, now 26, said the assaults began when she was a student at Northern Michigan Christian Academy in Burt Lake, where Lee Chatfield was working at the time, according to reporting by Bridge Michigan. She is married to Lee Chatfield’s brother, Aaron Chatfield, who has supported her in the allegations. 

Jamie White, Rebekah Chatfield’s attorney, told the Advance on Friday the assaults began when she was 14 or 15 years old and continued until about July 2021.

“These are allegations that [Lee Chatfield] used his position of power and influence while in the church and school and had an ongoing sexual relationship with this young teenager girl that lasted beyond her teenage years and after [Chatfield’s] brother married her,” said White, an Okemos-based attorney who represented dozens of women in the sexual assault civil suits against Larry Nassar, the former team doctor for USA Gymnastics and a Michigan State University physician who’s now serving a 40- to 175-year prison sentence after more than 150 girls and women reported he sexually abused them.

White said his client “has the support of a couple different family members, including people related to Mr. Chatfield, who decided they can’t look the other way with this.” 

A woman who answered the phone at Northern Michigan Christian Academy Monday said, “the school just wants to say that all the criminal allegations are false.” She did not identify herself and would not provide further comment on the allegations. 

Lee Chatfield’s attorney, Mary Chartier of Okemos, issued a statement Friday denying the allegations.

“Mr. Chatfield is innocent of the false rape claims made against him,” Chartier said, adding that Lee Chatfield’s sexual relationship with Rebekah Chatfield was a consensual “affair.”

Lee Chatfield was a teacher, coach and athletic director at the school before being taking office in 2014. He is married with five children. The age of consent in Michigan is 16, but it rises to 18 when the perpetrator is an educator at the school.

Lee Chatfield’s father, the Rev. Stanley “Rusty” Chatfield III, who serves as pastor of Northern Michigan Baptist Bible Church and as the superintendent and a history teacher at the academy attached to the church, also denied the allegations Monday and would not provide further comment to the Advance

Chatfield accused of abusing power in Lansing, church

Rebekah Chatfield told Bridge Michigan that when she first met Lee Chatfield, she was going through “a traumatic and vulnerable time in her life.”

Basyle “Boz” Tchividjian, an attorney with Deland, Fla.-based law firm Boz Law who represents victims of sexual abuse in evangelical environments, told the Advance that church leaders who sexually abuse young members of the church prey on vulnerable victims. 

“So many of these offenders, especially in youth groups and teachers, know how to exploit that power in a way that gains the trust of the victim,” Tchividjian said. “The purpose of that relationship on the offender side is not to be a positive mentor and helper to that young person, but it’s to grow that to the point where they can then begin engaging in sexual acts. … There’s no such thing as a teacher having an affair with his or her students. It’s abusive conduct. It’s criminal conduct.”

So many of these offenders, especially in youth groups and teachers, know how to exploit that power in a way that gains the trust of the victim.

– Basyle “Boz” Tchividjian, an attorney who represents victims of sexual abuse in evangelical environments

Current House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Clare) has ordered all House members and staff to retain any documents that may be of interest to the pending investigation, including emails, memos, calendars and voicemails. 

The Capitol was the site of one alleged sexual assault, according to Rebekah Chatfield. Lee Chatfield pressured Rebekah Chatfield into sex in his Capitol office while her husband went out to grab pizzas, according to reporting from Bridge Michigan.

Aaron Chatfield told Bridge he spent some time working as Lee Chatfield’s unofficial driver and would often drive him to strip clubs or to meet with women, including a former staffer. Aaron Chatfield said Lee Chatfield would go on frequent trips and ask for rides across the state to Detroit and Birmingham. 

Stu Sandler, a longtime GOP operative and co-founder of Grand River Strategies, confirmed to Bridge that Aaron Chatfield was assigned to the House Republican campaign and worked for him in 2019 and 2020. Sandler did not return a call to the Advance on Monday.

White said he expects the case against Chatfield to grow extensively.

“There are murmurings there may be federal implications based on interstate travel,” White said.

“I think you’ll hear other allegations involving financial improprieties when he was speaker,” White continued. “We’re going to hear a really extraordinary level of behavior while he was speaker of the House as it pertains to his movement through the community.”

In June 2019, an Advance reporter encountered Lee Chatfield and his chief of staff, Rob Minard, on a weekend in Washington, D.C. According to his office, the Republican was visiting D.C. for “several meetings around town,” including with the White House, though spokesperson Gideon D’Assandro declined to elaborate on the nature of those meetings.

At 30 years old, Lee Chatfield became Michigan’s youngest-ever House speaker when he was elected to lead the lower chamber in 2018. He served in that position until he was term-limited in 2020.

Earlier that year, Lee Chatfield brought a loaded, unregistered gun to a Pellston airport. He was penalized for a total of $2,210 but a local prosecutor declined to criminally charge him.

In 2019, Lee Chatfield directed state Rep. Kara Hope (D-Holt) to remove a sign on her office door stating that it was a “gun-free” space on open carry day, characterizing the sign as “discriminatory” against Michiganders’ constitutional rights.

Hope told the Advance on Monday that the 2019 incident was just one small example of the former speaker and GOP-led state Legislature as a whole having a “male authority culture.”

Hope says Lee Chatfield was known as “kind of a partier” but she was not aware of any details or allegations beyond that.

“You can kind of tell that they’re used to being the boss, and having women not question them,” Hope said. “… There’s an air of immaturity, and it’s definitely tinged with sexism. More than tinged — dyed with sexism.”

State Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Twp.) said that Lansing is embroiled in a sexist culture and it seeps into the workplace in the Capitol — something echoed by many of her colleagues, as the Advance has previously reported. Brixie said she has noticed it in the way Republican colleagues look at “young, female Democratic representatives when they’re giving floor speeches.”

“You recognize things as you mature. You recognize things that you’ve experienced in the past. It’s somehow easier to see it happening to someone else than sometimes it is to see it happening to you when you’re experiencing it firsthand,” Brixie said. “And that was something that I really didn’t like about our sessions on the House floor. It’s that culture that seems to be acceptable.”

Advance reporter Anna Gustafson contributed to this story.

Originally published January 10, 2022 on Michigan Advance. It is shared here with permission.

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