Former Sterling Heights City Council candidate accused of election fraud

By: Eric Czarnik | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published August 19, 2022

 Paul Manni

Paul Manni


STERLING HEIGHTS — The Michigan Attorney General’s Office is accusing former Sterling Heights City Council candidate Paul Manni of allegedly trying to unlawfully submit absentee ballots last year.

Manni, 27, of Sterling Heights, was arraigned in 41-A District Court Aug. 5 on nine counts of forging a signature on an absentee ballot and nine counts of making a false statement on an absentee ballot’s application. If found guilty, the penalty for the first type of crime is a five-year felony, and the second is a 90-day misdemeanor, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

According to the MiCOURT website, during Manni’s arraignment, Judge Annemarie Marino Lepore set Manni’s bond at $10,000. The court records also show that a probable cause conference court date is set for Dec. 5.

In a press release, State Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office explained that voter fraud cases are first handled by local police or the state’s Bureau of Elections. If a first look turns up red flags, then the Michigan State Police or the Michigan Department of Attorney General takes over the case.

According to the court records, the offense date listed for all the charges is Oct. 26, 2021, just before the November 2021 general election.

Manni ran as a challenger during that year’s Sterling Heights City Council races. He survived the cutoff for the August primary with 6.1% of the vote but failed to unseat any of the incumbents in November with 7.3% of the vote.

The release from Nessel’s office said Sterling Heights City Clerk Melanie Ryska grew suspicious after Manni reportedly stopped by in person and allegedly handed over an estimated 50 absentee voter applications “with his signature.” According to the Attorney General’s Office, Manni allegedly indicated “that he was delivering the applications at the voters’ request.”

The clerk’s office reportedly reached out to nine voters named in the applications, and all of them reportedly told the office that they hadn’t sought to obtain an absentee ballot. After that, Ryska’s office told the state’s Bureau of Elections about the incident, and later Nessel’s department got involved.

The Attorney General’s Office said none of the applications that Manni allegedly turned in successfully led to a voter actually getting a ballot.

“These charges prove the state’s signature-matching standards and other election security checks and balances catch instances of wrongdoing, prompt thorough investigations and result in appropriate action,” Nessel said in a statement. “I appreciate our ongoing partnership with the BOE to root out attempts to undermine our elections.”

Manni’s attorney, Michael Balian, said he thinks the state will have a “difficult case to prove.”

“I don’t think my client will be found guilty of the charges that they have filed against him,” he said.

Balian explained that he thinks that the felony charges would be “impossible for them to prove,” adding that “they’ll need to have a handwriting expert or someone who will testify that they saw him sign their name.”

“And from the evidence I’ve seen from the Attorney General’s Office, none of that exists to say he forged the documents,” Balian said.