The driving force behind the phony petition signatures that likely disqualified half of the Republican candidates for governor was previously convicted of felony election fraud and participated in a shadowy signature collections for former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.

Shawn Wilmoth, owner of a political consulting firm in Warren called First Choice Contracting, allegedly scammed five of the 2022 GOP hopefuls — providing them with a combined 68,000 fraudulent voter signatures for their nominating petitions, according to the state Bureau of Elections.

James Craig, Perry Johnson, Donna Brandenburg, Mike Brown and Michael Markey apparently fall well short of the 15,000-signature requirement for each candidate and were disqualified from the ballot on Thursday by the state Board of Canvassers.

Many petition pages submitted included signatures of dead voters and evidence of a forgery assembly-line approach by First Choice workers signing voters’ names without their knowledge. The efforts were so sloppy that some voters’ names were misspelled.

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This is an excerpt of a column I wrote for Deadline Detroit.