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Hall gets 30 days in jail

Becky Vargo • Dec 27, 2016 at 2:35 PM

A 27-year-old Grand Haven man was sentenced Tuesday to 30 days in jail and 18 months probation for election fraud he committed while trying to help a local attorney get his name on the ballot for a 2012 election.

Brandon Michael Hall expressed his apologies before sentencing, and then was taken directly to a holding cell to be transferred to the Ottawa County Jail.

Hall, during a 2013 investigation, admitted to forging numerous signatures on petitions for then-judicial candidate Chris Houghtaling, also of Grand Haven.

The state Attorney General’s Office charged Hall with 10 counts of election law forgery — felonies — in 2013. Hall successfully appealed the case back down to misdemeanors in Ottawa County District Court, Ottawa County Circuit Court and Michigan Court of Appeals.

However, he did not succeed when Assistant Attorney General Gregory Townsend appealed the case to the Michigan Supreme Court. After the high court’s decision that the case should be tried as a felony, Hall said he resigned himself to the fact that he would likely spend some time in jail.

Officials again charged the self-proclaimed political junkie with 10 counts of election law forgery and the case went to trial in late November.

On Nov. 30, jurors came back with a guilty verdict on all counts after just an hour of deliberation.

“This is the most ignorant thing I’ve ever done,” Hall said prior to sentencing on Tuesday. “I’m very regretful.”

When given a chance to comment to Judge Ed Post prior to sentencing, Hall apologized to the people whose names he forged, as well as to “friends, family and the community.”

Michigan State Police Lt. Greg Poulson said the investigation is not closed. However, he would not comment on whether or not anyone else might be charged in relation to the case.

Hall was also ordered to serve 60 hours of community service and pay fines and costs, including $1,000 to his attorney, Anna White.

The maximum sentence Hall faced was five years in prison. 

Poulson said that he was satisfied with Hall’s sentence.

“I think the judge’s sentence was appropriate,” the investigator said. “Brandon Hall has been out and about in the community for four and a half years and hasn’t presented a problem.”

Case background

Hall and Houghtaling first worked together as members of the Grand Haven Area Public Schools Board of Education. That relationship splintered when Hall was convicted of stealing from a fundraiser to benefit the American Cancer Society, according to Poulson.

Hall resigned from the school board after he was convicted. That was in 2010.

When Hall found out that Houghtaling was running for a judicial seat in the 58th District Court, he offered to help as an attempt to regain Houghtaling’s trust.

Houghtaling later said for a Grand Haven Tribune story that he was disappointed in himself for giving Hall that chance.

About 24 hours before the filing deadline, Hall realized he didn’t have enough signatures on Houghtaling’s candidacy petitions. Hall then recruited a friend, Zachary Savage, and the two conducted a round-robin signing session where they used a list of registered voters and signed their names to the petition — changing pen colors, pen angles and hands.

Hall and Savage both testified at Hall’s November trial that they continued signing the petitions while sitting in the back seat of Houghtaling’s car as the attorney drove to Lansing to submit the petitions.

Both Hall and Savage claimed that Houghtaling was aware of what was going on in the car. 

Houghtaling denied that he knew what the two younger men were doing. He has not been charged in the case.

Savage also will not be charged, in exchange for his testimony, Poulson said.

Houghtaling withdrew his name from contention in the judicial race once elections officials called in state police to investigate the possibility of a large amount of forged signatures on the petitions.

Craig Bunce won the race for the District Court seat. Houghtaling continues to practice law in Ottawa County.

Hall, when asked if he planned to continue pursuing a political career, said, “I will never stop caring about my government and the political process.”

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