One night in mid-August, Rachel Wilson decided she needed to make a secret phone recording.
Because things had gotten really bad.
“I want to help you!” Wilson can be heard yelling on the tape. “But then you send me a text like that, that’s like, ‘Come shoot me!’ And I know that you have a gun! Do you know what that does to someone when they see that on their phone?"
"No, I said it was out in my bag, and the gun is in the car, I made it explicitly clear,” a man is heard saying. Wilson says it’s Brian Kolodziej, who was an assistant attorney general for the state at the time, and had just won a conviction in the prosecution of Wilson’s rapist.
“Yeah but you’ve done it to me before, where you’ve said you had it in your hand, loaded,” Wilson says on the tape.
“Yeah, but we’re talking about tonight, we’re not talking about before. Other people are allowed to be depressed, Rachel,” the man says. “I’m the one who wants to die,” he later adds.
A years-long battle for a conviction, now at risk
Wilson has spent the last three years of her life trying to get justice, she says, after she was sexually assaulted by a fellow Central Michigan University student in 2016. Finally, this summer, that former student was sentenced to one year in prison after pleading “no contest” to sexual misconduct.
But now, it’s all unraveling. Because Kolodziej, 41, had an “inappropriate relationship” with Wilson, age 24, which led to Kolodziej’s resignation and an internal investigation. (Kolodziej declined to comment for this story, through his attorney.) As a result, the attorney general is now agreeing to set aside the former CMU student’s plea, potentially allowing him to get out of prison.
Wilson’s seen the headlines about her case, and her relationship with Kolodziej. She knows what it looks like, she says. “I’d be the ‘girl who put that poor boy in prison falsely and was screwing the prosecutor the whole time,’ Wilson once told Kolodziej in a text message, when they were discussing what might happen if their relationship became public.
But Wilson says that's not at all what happened. And she wants you to know, it’s more complicated than you might think.
A charismatic, empathetic prosecutor
Brian Kolodziej wasn’t just any state prosecutor. In his world, he was a big deal: a sexual assault prosecutor in a special, federal grant-funded role designed to tackle cold cases, he took over the job for Angela Povilaitis, the attorney who prosecuted Larry Nassar.
Frankly, he was a long-shot candidate. He didn’t have a ton of experience: previously, Kolodziej had been an assistant prosecutor in Macomb and Genesee counties, and before that, he’d been an actor. But he nailed the interview with the AG’s office and convinced the team he could gain trust from reluctant victims and local prosecutors.
(Unbeknownst to the AG’s office, which was then run by Bill Schuette, Kolodziej’s previous supervisor in Macomb County wanted him removed from the sex crimes unit for “really shady” and “flirtatious” behavior with victims.)
One of Kolodziej’s first cases for the AG’s office was Rachel Wilson’s, in the fall of 2018. “The first day I met him, I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, no one has listened to what I have to say,’ Wilson says. “‘No one has fought for what is right, and this person in front of me wants to do this.’”
A second chance at a 2016 rape case
Wilson never expected the state to be interested in her case.
In 2016, Wilson went out to a bar with some friends at Central Michigan University, where she started chatting with the former student body president, Ian Elliott. Later that night, Elliott raped her, Wilson says. She reported it and underwent a rape kit examination, and after a preliminary exam, a judge said there was enough evidence to bring the case to trial. But, in a controversial move, the then-interim county prosecutor dropped the case.
The student newspaper wrote a story about Wilson’s case, and that article found its way to Brian Kolodziej’s desk at the Michigan Attorney General’s office. To Wilson, this was a second chance to put Elliott behind bars. She told Kolodziej everything he said he needed to know, anything that Elliott’s defense might try to use against her in court: family drama, mental health history, previous romantic relationships.
Kolodziej was easy to talk to, friendly and open, Wilson says. And he was extremely dedicated to the case: His team identified other women who had problematic relationships with Ian Elliott, and who were willing to testify in Wilson’s case.
By the spring, Wilson says, she and Kolodziej were talking all the time on the phone about the case, and then, how his day was going, his friends...and eventually, the feelings they had developed for each other.
“I really did feel those feelings for him,” Wilson says. “Um, but then very quickly after, his behavior just was like odd and almost like possessive." Kolodziej needed to be on the phone with her all the time, she says. He told her how lonely he was now that she was living out of state, and grew suspicious when she’d have a coffee meeting with a male coworker.
Wilson says within a couple weeks of admitting they had feelings for each other, she told Kolodziej she needed some space.That's when his texts became more alarming, she says. He’d talk about how she didn’t appreciate him, what he’d done for her, and that he was suicidal.
“I can't even express to you how scary it is, to not only be getting like suicide threats from this person that's sending me the message that like, anything I do could be the nail in his coffin,” Wilson says. “Anything I say that upsets him could just be the one thing that pushes him over. But just as scary was receiving those texts, where it's like, I saw it in a flash of a moment: everything that I had fought for, everything, every fight that I had to overcome over three years, all of it was in his hands. And he was unstable.”
A text, a gun, and a turning point
By this point, other people in the case had raised concerns about Kolodziej. Ian Elliott’s defense attorney, Joseph Barberi, complained that Kolodziej was withholding information, and interviewing witnesses himself, rather than having them go through police. One of Kolodziej’s team members, Special Agent Karen Fairley, complained that Kolodziej was trying to “take over the case” and “do her job for her,” according to Landrea Blackmore, one of the witnesses who said she was also assaulted by Elliott.
But eventually, by the summer, Ian Elliott agreed to a deal: he would plead “no contest” to third-degree sexual misconduct. He was sentenced to one year in prison, and both Wilson and Blackmore were able to give victim impact statements in court. It was a surreal victory, Wilson says.
But outside the courtroom, things were getting worse. One night, after a fight on the phone, Wilson says she was alone in her apartment, running a bath, when she turned around and saw a man below her on the stairs. She screamed, and then realized, it was Kolodziej. He’d let himself into her apartment with his key, without telling her he was coming over. Wilson says he “charged” up the stairs towards her, and slammed the bathroom door against the wall with such force that the doorknob left a dent in the wall.
Kolodziej yelled at her, she says, before taking her key off his keychain and throwing it on the floor. After he left, he sent her a series of text messages, which she took screen shots of and provided to Michigan Radio.
“I’m leaving my door unlocked. I’m taking an ambien. My keys are on desk. Please get gun out of center console and shoot me in my sleep. No joke...the jury will see I wanted this. I don’t want to be treated like shit anymore. I’ve given you my all. I’m sorry it’s never enough. I try to give everything my all. Goodnight. Please follow all above instructions.”
“Why are you talking like this?” Wilson texted in response. “You know I could never do this to u.”
Scared, Wilson considered calling the police, she says, but worried her name would be on the report. So she went to Kolodziej’s place, she says, hoping to remove the gun from his car so he couldn’t hurt himself. They argued again, and at one point Kolodziej went into the kitchen and removed a knife, throwing it down in front of her. “Keep stabbing me with your knives,” he said, according to Wilson.
(We need to say here that in reporting this story, there was one conversation with Wilson that raised concerns about her immediate safety, as well as Kolodziej’s. So we asked Wilson to alert her attorney and the attorney general’s office about these threats.)
An uncertain future
Eventually, Wilson says, she became concerned enough that she did contact a counselor, who reported it to the police, who in turn contacted the Attorney General’s office in September. Kolodziej resigned, and the AG’s office opened an internal investigation to review all of his cases, including Wilson’s.
On Monday, Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office announced it was dropping child sexual abuse charges against two men in one of Kolodziej’s cases, and would agree to let Ian Elliott’s plea be set aside in Wilson’s case. But the AG’s office stressed it is not dropping the original sexual assault charges against Elliott.
Elliott’s defense attorney, Joseph Barberi, says the case still needs some kind of final resolution. “So that Mr. Elliott, who is 24-year-old college student, [and] when all of this stuff happened, he was 21, that he knows how this is going to come out, rather than going back to the uncertainty of starting all over.”
One possibility, AG spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney says, is for Elliott to serve a reduced sentence, and possibly be transferred to a county jail (his sentence started August 2nd).
Rachel Wilson says while she’s devastated this is how everything has turned out, she just doesn’t know if she can handle going through yet another trial, all over again. But if she needs to, she will, she says. “I also need to move on with my life,” she says. “I deserve that much.”