FBI Denies FOIA Request in 2020 Case of Faked Applications by National Voter Registration Firm
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In 2020, the FBI took over an investigation into alleged voter registration fraud that happened in Muskegon, Michigan. Now that case is making headlines because the agency has denied a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request regarding the federal probe, claiming an exemption in the act protects ongoing investigations.
According to police reports from the Muskegon Police Department and Michigan State Police, a firm called GBI Strategies was under scrutiny related to allegations of voter registration fraud in the 2020 presidential election, Just the News reports.
Local authorities started the initial investigation almost three years ago, when City of Muskegon Clerk Ann Meisch alerted law enforcement to suspected fraud on absentee voter registration forms, according to WKAR Radio. Michigan Public Radio obtained a copy of the Muskegon police report through a FOIA request, the outlet said.
Meisch said at the time, her office received an estimated 6,000 applications from one organization. Most of the applications were valid, she told WZZM-13, but she estimated that "several hundred" had "irregularities," including wrong birthdays, addresses, and signatures that did not match versions on file, according to Bridge Michigan.
Danny Wimmer, a spokesperson for Democratic Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, told Bridge Michigan last month that law enforcement authorities suspected employees at the "lowest levels" of a national voter registration firm were responsible for the fraudulent applications. But Wimmer said the decision to prosecute the case is with the FBI.
The case was referred to the FBI in March of 2021, according to WKAR.
In an email to the outlet, Wimmer said, "The primary individuals in the matter were believed to have left Michigan at this time, the employer GBI Strategies was based in Tennessee, and the organization was in operation in multiple states."
"An organization turned in some thousands of voter registrations throughout the fall of 2020, estimated on the high end to be cumulatively 8-10,000, and some within those batches were found to be suspicious or fraudulent," Wimmer told Just the News.
"None of the fraudulent material was incorporated into the state's qualified voter file, and this had no effect on any ballot requests or associated processes. This attempted fraud was detected because the system worked," he added.
Memos obtained by Just the News through a Michigan state FOIA request show local law enforcement agencies and the FBI continued discussions about the case last year. But since that time, there has been nothing to indicate what happened with the case, the outlet reported.
FBI Denies FOIA Request
Just the News reported the FBI denied its Freedom of Information/Privacy Acts request last week regarding records from its investigation into GBI Strategies.
"The material you requested is located in an investigative file which is exempt from disclosure," the FBI told the outlet.
"The records responsive to your request are law enforcement records; there is a pending or prospective law enforcement proceeding relevant to these responsive records, and release of the information could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings," the FBI said.
The outlet said it is considering a legal challenge to the FBI's denial of its FOIA request.
The FBI has declined to comment on the case.
Even though the 2020 presidential election results in Michigan were verified in several audits and investigations, Michigan Republican state Senator Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) who led one of the probes told WKAR the Muskegon investigation deserves a much deeper look. He warned that dismissing concerns about voter fraud only fuels conspiracy theories.
McBroom said the agency is taking too long with its investigation in the case.
"We need answers about why it has. The other thing though, that people should recognize, is that this is not tantamount or evidence that the election itself is stolen," the lawmaker said.
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