Skip to main content

MSP used bomb squad to open Detroit area safe in voting machine probe


Lansing — A Michigan State Police investigation into unauthorized access to election equipment led investigators to serve a search warrant in Metro Detroit, where they used a bomb squad to open a safe and recover evidence, according to documents obtained by The Detroit News.

Police seized the evidence inside the Royal Oak safe in May after interviews with elected officials in Roscommon, Missaukee and Barry counties, including Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf. The officials told police a third party investigator had been in contact with local officials to obtain access to and analyze voting tabulators and other election equipment, according to a report written by a Michigan State Police detective.

The individual who owned the safe and wasn't identified by name in the documents met with police at the MSP Northville Lab, where he told investigators "he had the combo but the batteries were dead on the safe lock and that he couldn't open it as a result," according to another police report.

Investigators drove the safe to the MSP bomb squad unit where it was opened and the contents seized. Descriptions of the contents obtained from the safe by law enforcement were redacted in the document.

Attorney General Dana Nessel's office declined comment Thursday, citing the ongoing investigation.

The reports, obtained through an open records request, provided a broad look at investigators' statewide efforts to track instances of unauthorized access to voting tabulators in three townships and one county. Their work has apparently taken them from Missaukee County in Northern Michigan to Oakland County, according to the documents. 

The probe started after the Michigan Bureau of Elections reached out to Michigan State Police in February, saying the bureau received information from election software company Election Systems & Software of possible third party access to a vote tabulator in Roscommon County's Richfield Township. 

The investigation led to search warrants and interviews with officials who work in Roscommon, Missaukee and Barry counties, according to the investigative reports.

The Royal Oak safe was cracked and its contents seized by state police days after investigators met with Leaf and one of his deputies to speak about their investigation into the 2020 election. 

On June 4, The News reported that Leaf and a lawyer who's worked on his behalf, Stefanie Lambert, were subjects of an ongoing investigation into the unlawful movement of tabulators outside of the jurisdictions of election clerks in multiple counties. Leaf has filed a lawsuit against Nessel, the Michigan State Police and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, claiming through the state's investigation, they were usurping his powers as sheriff.

MORE: 'Unpermitted individual' allowed access to tabulator in Michigan township, email says

MORE: Michigan attorney general expects charges to result from push to overturn 2020 election

Levying unproven claims of fraud, Leaf has been among the vocal critics of the Michigan 2020 presidential election, which Democrat Joe Biden won against Republican Donald Trump by 154,000 votes or 3 percentage points.

The outcome has been upheld by a series of court rulings, more than 200 audits and an investigation by the GOP-controlled state Senate Oversight Committee. However, unproven allegations of wrongdoing in the election's administration have persisted.

More than a year after November 2020, Leaf told investigators one of his deputies was working with a third party "due to him not having experience in these investigations" and that his team was looking into what he described as "data smoothing" in Irving Township, according to one of the Michigan State Police reports dated May 2.

But Leaf denied seizing any tabulators or authorizing anyone to take a tabulator, according to the police report. He said his attorney, Carson Tucker, had advised him "he should seize all the tabulators" but Leaf said he informed Tucker he "can't just do that."

A Barry County sheriff's deputy turned over to police his reports and a DVD that appeared to contain interviews with "various Barry County Twp. Clerks reference voting practices/procedures and suspicious circumstances that surrounded the November 3rd, 2020 election," a Michigan State Police report said.

Despite Leaf's assurances to police that he did not seize any tabulators, an Irving Township official told investigators she believed her township tabulator was "taken by an investigator for the sheriff department." She said the investigator did not have have a search warrant, "but it's the sheriffs responsibility to maintain election integrity," according to the report.

A special agent asked the Irving Township official if the sheriff department asked her to do this. "She said they did," the report said. 

State investigators also interviewed a Lake Township official in Missaukee County about unauthorized access to a voting machine there.

The Lake Township official told police she allowed an individual to take a tabulator and a laptop computer that functioned as a pollbook with voter lists because the individual said "he was conducting an audit from the 2020 election." She said the individual had at least some of the equipment for at least six months, the report said. 

The official told investigators she "did not think she was doing anything wrong" but said she believed there was fraud in the election "but not in her township."

Screenshots of text messages between the Lake Township official and an individual whose name is redacted except for a denotation of "Attny" show the official sending screenshots of information from voting equipment company "ElectionSource," speculating on ways election officials could "cheat" and noting that her "cards & flash drive" were at the courthouse. 

The township official said she could ask the courthouse for the cards and flash drive, according to the report, "however, I will need to come up with a creative reasoning for why I need it."

The texts also indicate the Lake Township official and the recipient of the texts in September set up a meeting point in the parking lot outside Bass Pro Shop at Great Lakes Crossing Outlets in Auburn Hills. 

In an April email recounting some of those events, the official told investigators that she had spoken with the Bureau of Elections about leasing a tabulator for the next election. She told a bureau official that "I try my best to make sure my elections are done right & I told her that I made a poor choice."

The reports obtained Thursday also contained interviews already reported by The News between investigators and officials in Roscommon County and Richfield Township. 

Officials in those jurisdictions also told investigators that they'd provided third party access to their tabulators in spring 2021. 

One Richfield Township official told authorities he allowed a third part to pick up two voting machines and take them to what he believed was a Metro Detroit community. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

cmauger@detroitnews.com