Rod Meloni: Strange case of the unseated Congressman

Thaddeus McCotter believes former aide took bribe which ultimately led to his political downfall

Former Congressman Thaddeus McCotter was what was commonly referred to in politics as a shoo-in.

He had just shut down an ill-fated run for the Presidency in the spring of 2012 and was ready to continue as Michigan's 11th District Congressman. While on a trip to the orient on congressional business he received a fateful phone call from one of his staffers telling him Michigan's Secretary of State Ruth Johnson wanted to speak with him.

It turned out the nominating signatures turned in for his re-election were not just faulty, in Attorney General Bill Schuette's own words, they were part of such a poorly executed cut and paste job on a computer that they were "an embarrassment to Elmer's glue."

This was a big story in southeast Michigan at the time. McCotter first thought he would have to try and run as a write-in candidate but he quickly discovered he could not win. Yet as time went on he quickly realized he was being blamed for the mistake [the buck really does stop here] and in a cryptic press release stated rather than prolong the agonizing headlines wondering what happened and what would he do about it, he resigned. The ensuing election required to replace him cost voters some $600,000. That is a lot of money for a couple of months of a congressman's term and that alone, much less the ugly headlines, were enough to permanently end McCotter's political career. He now toils anonymously for a Downtown Detroit law firm.

Last April, Local 4 was the first to start delving seriously into what actually transpired. It led us to one man, Don Yowchuang. He was a longtime McCotter aide, one of his right hand advisors. Our investigation turned up legal and money troubles for the aide who eventually ended up pleading guilty to ten counts of forgery for his role in the badly mangled nominating petitions scandal. Others in McCotter's office claimed at the time Yowchuang had them sign documents without explaining what was going or what they were signing. Still, they too ended up with guilty pleas and probation sentences for mishandling the documents.

But the ultimate question is why? Why would anyone crater their own boss' career when they counted on their boss for a livelihood? It was simply too bizarre to ignore. And when we started peeling back Yowchuang's onion we quickly discovered a strange juxtaposition.

He was being chased by the Delta Alpha Association, the organization that ran his college fraternity Sigma Pi, for at least $20,000. His former colleagues told us on camera that creditor calls would come in for Yowchuang almost on a daily basis. He told everyone in the office based on our interviews with them, that "he was not in, even if he was in" when his many creditors would call looking for their cash. And yet at the same time creditors were chasing him he and his wife purchased a brand spanking new three thousand square foot home in New Hudson for $252,000.

When we did our stories last spring about this, Don Yowchuang's dicey finances left us wondering what else we might find as the investigation proceeded. McCotter sued both Yowchuang and another intern by the name of Dillon Breen saying they worked together on the petition scandal. That gave us some idea of what may have happened.

View: Don Yowchuang Complaint

But now, in a court filing by the former congressman himself, we have much more to go on. In no uncertain terms, McCotter precisely laid out what he believes happened. He claims Yowchuang took a bribe to see to it he did not get on the ballot as a way to make certain Yowchuang's financial problems disappeared. McCotter believes Yowchuang then filed personal bankruptcy as a way to avoid the lawsuit. Recall that when someone or even a city like Detroit files for bankruptcy there is a legal process called the "automatic stay." It stops all legal activity and lawsuits while the bankruptcy gets sorted out.

But McCotter points out Yowchuang's financial records were never looked at by the Michigan Attorney General's Office even though investigators asked Yowchuang about possible bribes during their investigation into the petition scandal. So while Yowchuang claims he is insolvent there is no evidence to that effect and worse than that, Yowchuang's bankruptcy filing is based on his losing the lawsuit McCotter filed against him. Strangely enough though, Yowchuang has never responded to the case and it has not even gone before a judge. How could he lose $175,000 in a case that has not even begun? That's McCotter's question in his filing. He says Yowchuang's personal bankruptcy filing is just one more fraud in a long line of frauds that Yowchuang needs to be held accountable for committing.
The Attorney General's Office has claimed all along it did a thorough investigation into the petitions but has never once answered Local Four's repeated attempts to find out if it was ever going to look into Yowchuang's financial background. On separate occasions Local Four has tried to get Yowchuang to answer questions as well, he refused.

So, all of this comes down to a bankruptcy judge's discretion. Will the judge allow Yowchuang to walk away from his debts or have someone look into his finances to see what, if anything, is there?

Stay tuned, it would appear the drama has only just begun.

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