Flushing View

Former clerk charged with 10 counts of campaign finance violations

FLINT — Less than a year after pleading guilty to performing an illegal marriage, former Genesee County Clerk John Gleason is in legal trouble once more.

Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson announced at a press briefing Wednesday Gleason is facing 10 counts of campaign finance violations related to the case he was convicted in last year.

He faces a 90 day misdemeanor charge and a $1,000 fine on each of the 10 counts, said Swanson.

According to court records Gleason turned himself in May 18 and was arraigned on the charges, pleading not guilty to all counts.

Since his conviction in October, the case appeared to be over, said Swanson.

But recently he said he received word individuals were receiving bizarre phone calls asking to refund money they’d given to John Gleason for his campaign.

“When I asked more questions, I actually found it happened to dozens of people,” said Swanson. “Any elected official in Michigan who holds an elected office, we have to file reports through the county and to the state called campaign finance reports.”

Public officials are required to file campaign finance reports four times a year to track where money comes in, what it’s spent on and where it goes, he said. Swanson added those are public records.

Swanson said his investigators looked into Gleason’s campaign finance reports filed with the state between June and July of 2022 and there was approximately $33,000 that was recorded as refunded donations to different individuals.

“We started making phone calls to those individuals involved, who in the end felt they were betrayed,” said Swanson. “It was because he wanted to finance his legal defense fund for the case I just mentioned.”

Swanson said the law doesn’t allow the use of campaign funds for a legal defense fund. An individual must raise new money for legal defense, he said.

“All those in elected positions – not only those here in the county and state – we are held to that same standard, and we should be, as anybody else,” said Swanson. “Nobody is above the law. Because we are elected officials I think there is even a higher standard.”

Swanson said Gleason campaign finance report showed $33,500 recorded as refunded donations. There was also a legal defense fund filed with the state which contained no money.

What people were allegedly told by Gleason, he said, is he was involved in an “active case” and he needed to fund his legal team.

He then allegedly asked past contributors to his election campaign to write him a check for the amount they had originally donated and he paid them back their refund from his campaign fund.

Instead of directing those checks he collected to his legal defense fund, Swanson said Gleason put those checks in his personal checking account at a local credit union.

He said with a warrant his investigators acquired the cancelled checks and discovered what he called a “money scheme.”

Swanson said his department is able to show not all the money went toward his legal defense. Instead, he allegedly used some to make a personal insurance payment and another was used to make a payment to Sam’s Club.

“In fact,” he said. “There was $15,000 used toward his personal expenses.”

Swanson said the investigators made a “deep dive” into campaign finance laws to determine if a crime had been committed or if it was just bad bookkeeping.

He said ultimately, Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton was able to authorize a 10-count warrant for campaign finance violations. Seven of those are legal defense fund/campaign finance violations, each a 90 day misdemeanor with a $1,000 fine, while the remaining three charges are for co-mingling of funds.

Swanson said count eight was a $1,500 transaction; count nine was a $15,000 transaction and count 10 was a split of the $15,000 that was co-mingled.

He said his department has worked “hand in hand” with Gleason’s attorney, Michael Ewing, to allow Gleason, as a courtesy to a former state and county official, time to turn himself in – which he did Thursday.

Swanson said he thinks the case is solid with more than 20 people who were impacted.

Gleason stepped down from the Genesee County clerk’s office in October after he pled guilty to performing a marriage for a couple in Shiawassee County in 2019 without a license.

In exchange for Gleason’s plea, charges of bribing or intimidating witnesses and willful neglect of duty were dropped against him.

In return for probation, Gleason had to resign and no longer seek any public office as part of his plea bargain.