MSU booster Peter Secchia, who has been under fire for his controversial remarks about the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal, has donated more than $200,000 to the Kent County Republican Party and helped pay for the retirement party of former Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth, who was named by state Attorney General Bill Schuette over the weekend to lead an investigation into MSU’s handling of the Nassar scandal.
An invitation obtained by the Free Press shows the Peter Secchia family, along with grocer Meijer, were the two major sponsors of Forsyth’s retirement party and roast at a Grand Rapids restaurant in December 2016.
Secchia, a wealthy Grand Rapids-area businessman and former U.S. ambassador to Italy, is also a major donor to MSU and to Schuette.
Secchia came under fire last week when he suggested in an interview that Nassar's victims' parents should take some of the blame for the abuse suffered by their daughters, questioning whether some were more interested in winning medals than raising concerns about Nassar.
Secchia also told WZZM: "I would say to (parents) that if you don't feel comfortable with your children at Michigan State, take them somewhere else because we've got a long list of people that want to go to Michigan State and there are some wonderful people left."
Schuette spokeswoman Andrea Bitely rejected any concerns Monday about ties between Secchia and Forsyth as "patently off base."
Secchia had no role in Schuette's selection of Forsyth — announced Saturday — as a special assistant attorney general to investigate how MSU handled complaints about Nassar, she said.
Forsyth's “name came from inside the Department of Attorney General as a highly respected, genuine, rule of law prosecutor who could get the job done without distraction,” Bitely said.
She noted the praise Forsyth received over the weekend from both Democratic and Republican attorneys and said Forsyth “dedicated more than 40 years of his life to finding truth and justice for Kent County residents.”
Schuette, interviewed Monday on “Michigan’s Big Show,” a syndicated radio program hosted by Michael Patrick Shiels, said the investigation headed by Forsyth would expand beyond Nassar to examine the overall culture at MSU related to sexual abuse, as highlighted in recent media reports such as one from ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”
“That’s correct,” Schuette replied when Shiels asked him whether Forsyth's investigation would cover allegations of sexual assault at MSU beyond Nassar.
Schuette tapped MSU football coach Mark Dantonio — whose players or former players are part of the sex abuse controversy at MSU — to write the forward to his book "Big Lessons from a Small Town," published in 2015, which is full of stories about the people who influenced his life.
"Simply put, SUCCESS is about people. It is about finding the TRUTH in your endeavors and following it to the end. As I have grown to know Bill, he encompasses these qualities that have allowed our teams at Michigan State University to succeed at such a high level," Dantonio wrote.
"He continues to REACH HIGHER as he pushes towards change and development in the state of Michigan and beyond. His book is an example of the above; a passion for people born from a life filled with both success and adversity; that of a leader."
Those accolades are just one of the many reasons Schuette shouldn't be the one conducting the investigation into sexual abuse problems at MSU, said Michigan Democratic Party chairman Brandon Dillon. The problems have been brought into sharp focus with the sentencing last week of former MSU sports' doctor Larry Nassar, who was convicted of sexually assaulting 10 girls and young women under the guise of medical treatment. At his sentencing last week, 156 young women came forward over seven days to tell their stories of abuse at the hands of Nassar.
The problems also extend beyond the Nassar scandal, after an ESPN report resurrected stories about sexual assault complaints filed against members of the MSU football and basketball teams.
"He's a walking conflict of interest," Dillon said of Schuette. "The coach wrote the forward to his book. He's a close friend of Peter Secchia, one of the major donors to MSU."
Schuette is the front-runner among Republican candidates for governor, who are looking to succeed Gov. Rick Snyder when his term ends at the end of 2018.
Schuette said on WJR-AM (750) Monday morning that his friendship with Dantonio has nothing to do with the investigation.
"Mark Dantonio wrote a beautiful forward for my book and I appreciated it very much. This investigation, it will be thorough and prompt," Schuette said. "There is one set of rules and they apply to everybody. There is one rule of justice that is applied to everyone equally. That’s what people expect and that is what will occur."
But Schuette does have a tight bond with Secchia, who has donated millions to MSU over the years and has his name on the softball stadium in East Lansing and the Secchia Center, which houses MSU's medical school in Grand Rapids.
Secchia and his wife Joan have donated about $20,000 to Schuette's political and judicial campaigns and more than $200,000 to the Kent County Republican Committee since 2002, state campaign finance records show.
Forsyth, who served as Kent County prosecutor as a Republican for 30 years, received reporting waivers in recent elections because he did not raise or spend enough money to require him to file campaign finance reports, according to the Kent County Clerk’s Office. No reports showing political donations to Forsyth’s campaigns — if such records exist — were publicly available Monday.
Neither Forsyth nor Secchia could be reached for comment.
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