The Orland Park pastor charged in Georgia won’t accept a plea deal

An Orland Park pastor charged with conspiring with others to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia says he doesn’t plan to enter into a plea deal, but his attorney said a trial would likely be very costly .

The Rev. Stephen Cliffgard Lee, pastor of Living Word Lutheran Church in Orland Park, was indicted alongside former President Donald Trump in Georgia state court in August.

He is accused of crimes including extortion, influencing a witness and conspiracy to incite false statements and writings. Some defendants subsequently pleaded guilty, and Lee’s lawyers are trying to have the charges against the pastor tried separately from the other defendants.

At a fundraiser Thursday at Families of Faith Ministries, a church in Channahon, Lee insisted he would not follow the lead of some co-defendants and try to reach a plea deal that could result in a less severe sentence. He said he faces at least five years in a Georgia state prison if convicted.

“I will not own up to a lie,” he told a crowd of about 70 supporters. “I will not cooperate with evil. This is bigger than me.”

His legal team includes David Shestokas, a Chicago-area attorney who spoke at the fundraiser and said Lee’s expenses (excluding legal fees) could be around $150,000 if he had to spend several months in Georgia during the trial . These costs could be lower if his case is dismissed.

“That’s the price of saying ‘not guilty,'” Shestokas said.

Shestokas, a former Cook County assistant prosecutor, is working on the case with Georgia-based attorney David Oles and they are waiting to hear whether their client will be tried separately.

If all defendants are tried together, something as simple as selecting a jury — with so many attorneys on both sides of the case — could take several months, Shestokas said.

Shestokas maintains that many of the alleged criminal acts Lee is accused of are acts protected by the First Amendment, including freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion.

The fundraiser’s broadcasts were titled “Weaponizing the Government Against Religion,” and supporters of Lee portrayed the charges as an attack on the Constitution and religious freedom. The programs provided information about donations to Lee’s defense fund.

“We must, each of us, take up the fight,” said the 71-year-old Lee.

According to a biography, Lee has been pastor at Living Word since 2019 and pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Burbank from 2012 to 2019.

Before attending seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, from 1988 to 1992, Lee had extensive law enforcement experience, according to his biography, including working as a sheriff’s officer in California and as a special agent with the Naval Intelligence Service, including while in California lived.

Lee was living in Colorado Springs, Colorado, at the time of the Columbine High School shootings on April 20, 1999, when 12 students and a teacher were killed, and was a senior agent at the scene for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives.

“It was two or three days of pretty intense work,” Lee told supporters at the fundraiser.

He said he has been married to his wife, Elaine, for 46 years and they have four adult children and seven grandchildren.

Lee said he has retired from the pastorate and has been with Living Word while the church tries to find a permanent replacement. He said it is a small church and “they fully support their pastor in all of this.”

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He had been subpoenaed to testify in the election case before a grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, and Lee said that after years of working as a law enforcement officer, he had found himself on the other side of the coin.

“I thought, ‘What the hell are they doing here?'” he said. “I didn’t know where to turn.”

He contacted Shestokas, and a judge in Kendall County – Lee lives in Montgomery, near Aurora – ruled last November that Fulton County had not presented enough evidence to call him to Georgia to testify before the grand jury. said Shestokas.

The Georgia indictment against former President Donald Trump, photographed on August 15, 2023, includes charges against Rev. Stephen Cliffgard Lee.

The charges concern Lee over an interaction between him and a poll worker named Ruby Freeman in December 2020.

The indictment alleges that Lee knocked on Freeman’s door and spoke to her neighbor “with the intent to knowingly mislead Ruby Freeman by purporting to offer her assistance and with the intent to influence her testimony.” .”

Freeman has faced scrutiny from Trump and others over allegations that she altered the voting results. In March, those allegations were determined to be “unfounded,” according to a report from Georgia’s Foreign Ministry, which conducted an investigation that enlisted the help of multiple agencies, including the FBI.