By the time he was arrested Monday outside a Lansing, Mich., coffee shop, Dunnings had racked up hundreds of illegal encounters in three Michigan counties between 2010 and 2015, according to an arrest affidavit.
But Dunnings wasn’t just any John, authorities say.
For the past 20 years, he’s been the top prosecutor for Ingham County, a man who put sex traffickers in jail and built a reputation as “an outspoken advocate for ending human trafficking and prostitution,” according to a statement released by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (R).
“This is not a going into Barnes and Noble and buying something as a client or a customer,” Schuette said. “This is an instance where an officer of the law, an officer of the court, the prosecutor in the capital city of Michigan has a responsibility to enforce the law, report crimes, but he did just the opposite. He was a participant in commercial sex activity.”
Dunnings faces 15 criminal charges across three counties, including willful neglect of duty and pandering. The latter charge stems from the prosecutor paying for sex with a woman who was seeking help resolving a child custody dispute, according to the affidavit.
He was also charged with 10 counts of engaging in the services of prostitutes, a misdemeanor, in Ingham, Clinton and Ionia counties.
After being processed in the Ingham County jail, Dunnings was arraigned and released on bond. Neither Dunnings, nor his attorney, has commented publicly on the case.
If convicted, he could spend more than 20 years behind bars, authorities told The Washington Post.
The prosecutor’s arrest was preceded by a year-long investigation by the Ingham County Sheriff’s Office, assisted by the FBI and the state attorney general’s office, authorities said.
“I’ve known Stuart for a long time,” Ingham County Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth said at a news conference. “We’ve done some campaigning together. This was a huge betrayal of his trust, his oath of office, his service to the people of this county.”
For much of his career as a prosecutor, he appeared to be an unlikely candidate for engaging in illegal activity.
In 2001, according to the Journal, Dunnings began prosecuting the city’s prostitution-related crimes. Chief among the prosecutor’s goals, the paper reported, was imposing harsher penalties on lawbreakers.
He took an aggressive approach to his job and quickly cracked down, impounding Johns’ vehicles and smacking prostitutes and their clients with felonies after three offenses, according to the Journal.
“In the first two years alone, his prosecutors charged 19 people with felonies and impounded 53 vehicles,” the paper reported.
Only seven years later, Dunnings had adopted the illegal behavior of the very people he was putting behind bars, according to the affidavit.
He met most of the sex workers online. Over time, he became increasingly involved with them, taking them to dinner, paying their bills, buying them groceries, and even revealing his identity as a prosecutor, according to the arrest affidavit.
He paid one woman’s YMCA membership and spent $80 a week for methodone treatments for her heroin addiction, the affidavit states.
Dunnings also shared a prostitute with his brother, Steven Dunnings, a Lansing attorney who is facing two charges of engaging in the services of a prostitute, according to the affidavit.
The prosecutor became involved with another woman in 2010 after she told him she had been the victim of domestic violence and sought assistance in a “custody matter,” the affidavit states.
Dunnings invited the woman to lunch on two occasions. During their second meeting, the affidavit states, Dunnings said he knew she was struggling financially and had a proposition: money for sex.
After initially declining his offer, the woman told investigators that she eventually felt she had no choice but to accept, fearing he might “cause her problems” if she backed out, according to the affidavit.
The woman — who estimated that the district attorney paid her $600 every two weeks — told investigators that “she would not have gone along with the commercial sex if Dunnings had not been the prosecutor,” the affidavit states.
Wriggelsworth, the sheriff, told the Journal that authorities were aware of “chatter” about Dunnings’s activities, but they lacked proof. A 2015 FBI investigation into an alleged trafficker eventually led authorities to Dunnings.
Before Dunnings was arraigned Monday, his lawyer, Michael Hocking, declined to comment, according to the Journal.
The paper reported that Hocking was overheard outside the courtroom telling one of Dunnings’s relatives that the attorney general’s motivations were political in nature. He repeated a variation of that line in court, the Journal reported, telling Magistrate Laura Millmore that the charges against his client were “somewhat of a political case” full of “titillating-type accusations.”
Schuette has called on Dunnings to resign, according to the Journal.
“We live in a time where people wonder if government actually works,” the attorney general said. “People wonder if the system is rigged. People wonder whether we have a ‘wink and a nod’ justice system where the chosen few skate and escape punishment because of who they know or because they hold an important position in government.”
“Well, let me be very direct and crystal clear,” he added. “The system in Michigan is not rigged. Not on my watch.”