(Reuters) - Four staff members for former Representative Thaddeus McCotter were charged on Thursday with forgery and election fraud for creating fake nominating petitions in his 2012 campaign, Michigan's top prosecutor said.
McCotter, a five-term congressman who ran a brief quixotic campaign for president, had so many signatures from his election petitions stricken that he was ruled off the ballot in June. He resigned from Congress in July.
The four former staffers "were engaged in a blatant attempt to commit forgery and election fraud," Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said at a news conference in Detroit.
"They copied petitions, submitted petitions falsely signed by circulators and did cut-and-paste jobs that would make an elementary art teacher cringe," Schuette said.
The upheaval left Tea Party-supported Kerry Bentivolio, a reindeer farmer with no elected experience, as the only Republican candidate in the primary. Bentivolio faces Democrat Dr. Syed Taj in Michigan's Republican-leaning 11th Congressional District in November.
The four staffers worked in the congressman's Michigan office and included former district director Paul Seewald and his deputy, Don Yowchuang.
McCotter, who was not charged, was "asleep at the switch," Schuette said, adding that faked petitions may have been filed in at least one other election cycle.
Yowchuang, 33, faces 17 charges, including 10 felony counts of election law forgery, a felony conspiracy count and six misdemeanors. He was accused of duplicating current petitions and electronically pasting signatures from past election cycles.
Seewald, 47, was charged with one count of felony conspiring with Yowchuang and nine misdemeanor counts for signing petitions he did not circulate.
The felony charges carry maximum penalties of five years in prison and the misdemeanors 93 days in jail. Representatives of the staffers could not be reached immediately to comment.
Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis; Editing by Doina Chiacu