Tag Archives: john doe investigation

Watchdog group asks SCOTUS to overturn John Doe 2 ruling

On June 29, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), the Brennan Center for Justice and Common Cause filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court urging the justices to overturn the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that shut down John Doe 2.

John Doe 2 was a criminal investigation into potentially illegal campaign coordination between Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign and groups that spent millions to help him survive the 2011–2012 recall elections.

The brief argues in part that the Constitution’s guarantee of a fair and independent tribunal was violated in the case due to the extraordinary conflicts of interest of two justices.

Justices David Prosser and Michael Gableman denied a motion from the special prosecutor to step aside because they’d received millions of dollars in support from the defendants in the case. According to the brief, they then proceeded to: help “cancel oral argument, issue sweeping secrecy orders, halt the investigation, fire the special prosecutor, order the evidence returned and copies destroyed, and dramatically curtail Wisconsin’s campaign finance law, rendering the longstanding limits and other restrictions the state places on contributions to candidates virtually meaningless.”

According to the brief, inappropriate actions were taken by the state’s high court to impede the prosecutors’ appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Specifically, the brief argues that:

  • Special prosecutor Fran Schmitz filed a Motion for Recusal asking justices Prosser and Gableman to step aside and raising concerns about two other justices. Those two justice and two others have received a combined $10 million since 2007 from the defendants in the case.
  • The special prosecutor may have unearthed documents suggesting that justices Prosser and Gableman or their campaigns benefited from the same kind of coordinated activities by the subjects of the investigation as Walker did. They may have had direct campaign-related interactions with the groups under investigation. Still, the two justices refused to recuse themselves from the case.
  • The activities of the groups under investigation in John Doe 2 aided the election of Prosser and Gableman to an even greater degree than in a case on which the Supreme Court has already ruled. In Caperton v. Massey, a West Virginia justice helped reverse a multi-million dollar verdict against a coal baron whose spending got him elected. The ruling in that case, which was issued the same day as the Citizens United decision, the U.S. Supreme Court intervened due to the potential corruption.
  • The expenditures for Prosser and Gableman were made during the same time period and involved the same players as the actions under investigation in the John Doe 2 case. The defendants and their offshoots spent a combined total of $3.2 million to support Gableman’s election, nearly eight times the $411,000 spent by Gableman’s campaign itself.
  • Shortly after the recall elections, one of the defendants, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, issued a press release boasting of the $6.75 million it had spent on the previous three Supreme Court elections.

CMD’s brief notes: “Not only were the justices put in a position of making rulings that could cost their biggest campaign supporters millions in civil fines, but upholding the district attorneys’ theory of prosecution could have sent those supporters to jail. … As in Caperton, the amount spent by the movants and the organizations they controlled ‘eclipsed’ the amount spent by other supporters of Prosser and Gableman, as well as the amount spent by their own campaign committees.”

Close connections

As noted in Schmitz’s motion to recuse,“Two of the movants had ‘direct involvement’ with the re-election campaign of one justice; the treasurer of Walker’s campaign committee was also associated with the campaign committee of one justice; and one justice’s campaign had a ‘close connection’ with more than one movant.”

Schmitz is a former anti-terrorism prosecutor for ex-President George W. Bush’s Department of Justice.

The motion also noted “there is a potential overlap between the activities” of Prosser’s campaign “during the … election (that’s) within the scope of the investigation now before this court.” Prosser was re-elected in 2011, the same year of the Senate recall campaigns.

According to the brief, the criminal investigation “appears to have turned up at least one interaction with a justice’s campaign that ‘gave rise to a reportable contribution as a coordinated expenditure’ — the activity at the heart of the case and the court’s decision. As a result of that activity, ‘the Justices will be deciding issues that may well reflect back on their own campaign committees and any interaction that may have taken place between these committees’ and movants in the case.’”

CMD’s brief to the U.S. Supreme Court also urges the Court to overrule the Wisconsin Supreme Court for legal errors in its analysis of binding precedent allowing legislatures to limit coordination that would circumvent anti-corruption rules.

The brief states that the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s ruling is wholly at odds with … longstanding decisions, as well as the holding of the U.S. Court of Appeals in this very same case. In O’Keefe v Chisholm (2014), the court ruled that “no opinion issued by the Supreme Court, or by any court of appeals, establishes (‘clearly’ or otherwise) that the First Amendment forbids regulation of coordination between campaign committees and issue-advocacy groups — let alone that the First Amendment forbids even an inquiry into that topic.”

In summation, the brief argues that the facts in John Doe 2, the grave legal errors made by the state court, the potential bias of some of the state justices, and the extraordinary intervention by that court provide compelling reasons for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case and repudiate the decision of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Hearing expected later this year

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to consider the prosecutors’ petition later this year.

Last year, before the Wisconsin Supreme Court intervened in the state criminal prosecution of John Doe 2, federal prosecutors were investigating illegal campaign coordination similar to that alleged in the Wisconsin case under parallel federal laws. In Virginia, a “campaign finance manager and political consultant pleaded guilty … in the Eastern District of Virginia for coordinating $325,000 in federal election campaign contributions by a political action committee (PAC) to a Congressional campaign committee.”

As the U.S. Department of Justice stated in that case, “The significant prison sentence imposed on Tyler Harber should cause other political operatives to think twice about circumventing laws that promote transparency in federal elections,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “As the first conviction for illegal campaign coordination, this case stands as an important step forward in the criminal enforcement of federal campaign finance laws. Illegal campaign coordination can be difficult to detect, which is why we strongly encourage party or campaign insiders to come forward and blow the whistle.”

In the Wisconsin case, the targets of the investigation and related search warrants have denied any wrongdoing and claimed in court and through their allies in right-wing media that any coordination was protected by the First Amendment, in light of the Citizens United decision. That claim was embraced by the majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, despite justices’ manifest conflicts of interest in ruling on those claims.

The brief submitted by CMD, the Brennan Center, and Common Cause refutes that claim and highlights the overwhelming legal precedent supporting state and federal rules that limit coordination to help guard against the corruption of elected officials, including judges.

CMD, an investigative watchdog organization based in Madison, Wisconsin, has been reporting on John  Doe 2 since 2013 when the public first learned that a bipartisan group of state prosecutors had begun a criminal investigation into suspected illegal coordination spearheaded by Walker and his team to orchestrate ads from outside groups trying to aid Republican senators and Governor Walker himself as they faced potential recall elections stemming from Walker’s extremely controversial legislative agenda.

A prior criminal investigation of Scott Walker’s staff and associates, during the time he served as Milwaukee County Executive, resulted in 15 felony indictments for six people who have been sentenced for a variety of crimes including misconduct in office, including three Walker aides. Scott Walker was not charged in that case known as “John Doe I.”

Click here to read CMD’s full brief

Louis Weisberg edited this article from a release provided by CMD.

Scott Walker calls for dismantling independent agency that oversees elections

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has called for the dismantling of an independent state agency that oversees elections. The agency authorized an investigation into his 2012 recall campaign.

Walker, who launched his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination last week, told reporters following a bill signing ceremony in Oshkosh that he wanted to scrap the Government Accountability Board and replace it with “something completely new that is truly accountable to the people of the state of Wisconsin.”

Walker also called for an investigation into the board’s activities. He did not say who should lead the investigation.

Walker’s comments come just four days after the state Supreme Court halted a board-approved investigation into whether conservative groups illegally coordinated with Walker’s 2012 recall campaign, saying the groups broke no laws.

Republican state lawmakers have been talking for months about reshaping the board, and the Supreme Court’s ruling has only bolstered the calls for change.

The board, which replaced the partisan Ethics and Elections boards in 2008, is comprised of six former judges appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. It oversees elections as well as campaign finance, lobbying and ethics laws.

Walker said in December that he was open to changing the board, but didn’t then call for its complete replacement.

“I’m willing to work with the members of the Legislature in both political parties to make sure that we have a fair and accountable entity that manages elections and ethics in the state of Wisconsin,” Walker said.

Democratic supporters of the board have said Republicans want to replace it with a partisan lap dog. Walker didn’t say whether he wants to replace the non-partisan judges on the board with partisan appointees.

“You want something that can stand the test of time, so it’s got to be fair,” Walker said. “It’s got to be accountable, it’s got to be transparent.”

The board has drawn criticism of its handling of recall elections in 2011 and 2012 that targeted both Republicans and Democrats, the secret John Doe investigation that the Supreme Court ended last week, as well as designs of ballots in the 2014 election.

Republicans have also pointed to an audit released this year that details problems with the operation of the board, but did not recommend dismantling it or moving toward a partisan structure.

No specific proposal for changing the board has been made public, but Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has called for its director Kevin Kennedy to be replaced.

Kennedy, who previously served as head of the elections board that preceded the GAB, has defended the board’s makeup and scope of duties. He says one of its biggest benefits is that it serves as a one-stop-shop for questions about elections, ethics and campaign finance laws that often overlap.

A spokesman for the board did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Thousands of Gov. Walker-related emails released

Thousands of emails prosecutors collected during the first secret investigation into Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s former aides and associates when he was a county executive were released on Oct. 21.

The public release of the documents prompted allegations from Walker and other Republicans that the timing two weeks before the election was politically motivated but freedom of information advocates and Democrats said the release of the documents was a long time coming.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele’s office made public the nearly 16,000 emails and attachments that prosecutors seized from county and personal computers during the investigation that ended in 2013. Walker was never charged but six of his aides and associates were convicted on charges ranging from theft to misconduct in office.

The documents’ release comes in the midst of Walker’s fierce re-election contest against Democrat Mary Burke. A Marquette University Law School poll released last week showed the race is tied.

Burke released a new campaign ad two hours before the emails were made public that mentions the convictions and says the state can’t afford four more years of Walker. Burke told reporters before she voted early in Madison on Oct. 21 that the timing of the ad wasn’t based on the emails’ release.

“The timing is about that people when they go to the polls need to consider his entire record over the last four years when looking at the next four years,” Burke said. “Part of that, not only a lagging economy and historic cuts to education, but certainly the scandal around his administration.”

Burke said she never discussed the release of the records with Abele. And Paul Bargren, the attorney for Milwaukee County who oversaw release of the records, said in an email that when to release the records was up to his office alone. Abele was not involved, Bargren said.

“As material was ready for release, I chose to make it available rather than hold on to it,” Bargren wrote.

Walker, in a prepared statement, noted that Abele, his wife and campaign committee had donated $63,000 to Burke. Walker said releasing the emails now so close to the election was designed to “distract voters from my opponent’s failed record.”

The emails released were collected during the first secret investigation, known as a John Doe, involving Walker. Included were more than 1,000 pages of emails sent and received by Walker from private and campaign accounts. The messages, many of which were sent during Walker’s 2010 run for governor, show county staff interacting with those on Walker’s gubernatorial campaign, discussing strategy and seeking advice on how to answer questions from reporters.

It had been previously revealed that Walker held daily calls with county workers and those on his campaign.

A judge in May turned over the 500 gigabytes of records to Abele’s office and ordered that they be released. Two previous batches of documents were released by Abele’s office in August and September and 27,000 pages of emails collected during the investigation were previously released as part of an appeal made by one of Walker’s aides convicted of misconduct in office.

A second John Doe investigation was launched in 2012 focusing on alleged illegal coordination between Walker’s recall campaign and more than two dozen conservative groups. That investigation is on hold after the judge overseeing it in January blocked subpoenas prosecutors requested.

That case is pending before the state Supreme Court.

Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this report in Madison.

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Need to know about ‘John Doe’ investigation

A federal appeals court on Sept. 24 overturned a ruling halting an investigation into Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign and more than two dozen conservative groups for alleged illegal campaign activity.

Some questions and answers about the case:

Q. What’s the gist of this investigation again?

A.  Walker was the subject of recall elections in 2012 over the measure he pushed in 2011 to effectively end collective bargaining for most public workers. Prosecutors are looking into whether several conservative groups improperly coordinated with the Walker campaign during recalls, which also targeted Republican state senators, in both 2011 and 2012.

Q. What do the two sides say?

A. Prosecutors say the coordination was illegal. Walker and the conservative groups say it wasn’t, and they’ve portrayed the investigation as politically motivated. Besides being locked in a tough race to win a second term this year against Democrat Mary Burke, Walker’s a decent bet to run for president in 2016.

Q. So what happened Sept. 24?

A: The federal appeals court said the issue belongs in state court, and the court chastised the federal judge in Wisconsin, Rudolph Randa, who sent it their way. The court said Randa abused his discretion. The court said uncertainty over the legality of what occurred is a “powerful reason to leave this litigation in state court, where it may meet its end as a matter of state law without any need to resolve these constitutional questions.”

Q. OK, so now what?

A. Nothing just yet. The case is blocked at the state level because a judge had quashed subpoenas back in January on the grounds that there wasn’t enough evidence of wrongdoing. There’s a request in for the Wisconsin Supreme Court to resolve the matter.

The appeals court decision removes an important barrier to the case restarting.

It also is a defeat for Walker and his allies, who had used Randa’s ruling as fodder to argue the whole thing was political.

Q. What’s the reaction?

A. Walker says the ruling’s impact is limited, given that the investigation remains halted.

An attorney for the lead investigator said the decision adopts their argument in its entirety.

The attorney for Wisconsin Club for Growth said the ruling is “simply wrong” and the group will ask the full Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to hear the case.

Appeals court hears arguments in Walker-related probe

Wisconsin prosecutors on Sept. 9 tried to persuade a federal appeals court to let them to resume their investigation of Gov. Scott Walker’s recall election campaign, in a case that touches on broader issues about just what constitutes constitutionally-protected political activity.

In more than 90 minutes of questioning, three judges on a panel at the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago didn’t give a clear indication of which way they might be leaning. But two of the three repeatedly broached questions about whether federal judges should intervene in what appeared to be a state matter.

When it comes to federal courts dictating to states about criminal investigations or anything else, Judge Frank Easterbook said, what precedent demands is, “Be modest. Be careful.”

The arguments in a downtown Chicago building took place two months before Walker – a Republican seen as a potential 2016 candidate for president – faces a closely contested re-election against Democrat Mary Burke.

Walker made a national name for himself when he took on public sector unions in 2011. That fight led to the 2012 vote to recall Walker, which he won. The recall battle ultimately led to the legal dispute now in the Chicago court.

No one has been charged in the investigation and prosecutors have said Walker isn’t a target. Republicans have dismissed it as a partisan witch hunt against conservative groups, while Democrats say it has revealed serious questions about possible illegal activity by Walker and his backers.

The case centers on the type of political activity done by the conservative groups during the recall campaign and whether that work required them to follow state laws that bar coordination with candidates, require disclosure of political donations and place limits on what can be collected.

Much of the arguments in the hearing this week focused on the intricacies of Wisconsin’s criminal system.

Easterbrook, who was appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan, and Judge Diane Wood – named to the bench by Democrat Bill Clinton – both sounded skeptical about whether a federal court was justified in telling a state how to conduct criminal inquiries.

“I don’t understand why a federal court – at this micro-level – should be brought in,” Wood said.

Prosecutors, who opened the investigation in 2012, want the appeals court to reverse a preliminary decision halting the investigation in May and dismiss the federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth and its director, Eric O’Keefe.

Wood said she was “troubled” about encouraging the notion that anyone unhappy about a state investigation targeting them can simply “come running across the street to a federal court” and ask a U.S. judge to stop it.

A lawyer for the conservative groups said his clients had little other recourse but to seek federal court intervention. He argued that prosecutors were trampling on rights protected by U.S. Constitution.

“The issue is our clients’ right … to be free of retaliation (for expressing) his First Amendment rights,” said attorney Mark DeLaquil.

In a court filing, prosecutors decried the lower-court ruling halting their investigation, saying it gave too much weight to the interests of well-funded, politically minded groups and not enough to the public interest.

On the surface, the composition of the three-judge panel hearing the case, with two Republican and one Democratic appointee – would appear to favor the conservatives. But judges are fiercely independent and their decisions frequently do not line up with the party of the president who appointed them.

The other judge on the panel is William Bauer, who was appointed by Republican President Gerald Ford in 1974.

The judges this week voiced similar reservations about federal court intervention when they heard arguments from a media attorney asking the panel to order a state judge to open now-seal documents in the investigation.

“We have to assume the Wisconsin judiciary knows Wisconsin law,” Easterbrook said. “You are asking us to… override Wisconsin law” about keeping investigative records secret.

Mining the bottom of the political pits

The latest court documents released from the John Doe investigation of Gov. Scott Walker’s political activities provide an unsurprising but depressing look at how low American politics has sunk.

Apparently Walker instructed donors to get around state-mandated limits on individuals’ donations to his campaign by contributing unlimited amounts to the Koch brothers-backed group Wisconsin Club for Growth. Under the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, individuals and corporations can give whatever they want to third-party political action committees advocating for issues instead of candidates.

The problem here, of course, is that Club for Growth’s issue was advocating for Walker — to help him win his recall race and continue moving forward with their corporate agenda like a charging bull. Emails among Walker’s staffers make that irrefutably clear.

Did the strategy amount to illegal coordination of fundraising under state law? That’s for prosecutors to decide. If Walker is indicted, he’ll be regarded as a martyr by the right; if not, the left will continue to whine about “fairness,” as if such a concept ever existed in politics. The only thing that really matters is that the money Walker raised for CFG was successfully used to promote his messaging and win his recall race.

The most damning donation to the complex Walker campaign apparatus was the $700,000 donation from Gogebic, the company that wants to build a massive, open-pit iron ore mine in the Penokee Hills. As an assemblyman, Walker reportedly opposed mining expansion — as well he should have. It creates a modicum of short-term jobs but very long-term profits for its out-of-state owners and even longer-term, perhaps permanent, damage to the environment.

It’s now embarrassing for Walker and his apologists that one of the first things he did after being elected was to ram through changes in the mine-permitting process without even first gathering input from residents near the mining area. The scenario is no different in effect than the pay-to-play scandals that have landed so many elected officials in prison, even if proving causality in this case is probably impossible.

But we already knew that this was how Walker — and, to be fair, nearly everyone else in politics these days — flies. What’s far more disturbing is that voters have become so accustomed to it, they only complain when an elected official on the other end of the political spectrum is caught. Otherwise, it’s business as usual.

No one should accept this sort of behavior from any candidate affiliated with any political party. Our democratic process has collapsed into a scheme that seeks only to manipulate and trick voters by inundating them with misleading spin and outright lies. The more money you have, the more and cleverer propaganda you can churn out via mailers, print ads and commercials. The higher the office, the more this costs. That’s why our leaders spend the vast majority of their time raising fundraising.

Is it any wonder that nothing ever gets done for the average working stiff?

The big bucks rule in today’s America. And those who believe that’s a good thing — that after 30 years of failure, trickle-down is magically going to help the poor and middle-class lift themselves up by their bootstraps and join the country club — are living proof of how effective mass messaging has become. Once they’re sufficiently propagandized, people will stop believing their own lying eyes.

There’s only one way out of this tragic ending to the great American experiment in government: a constitutional amendment that overturns Citizens United.

Can it happen? That seems to depend on how much the people against Citizens United can raise versus how much the mega-corporations who are for it can raise.

How much are you in for?

Walker says he didn’t solicit mining company money

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is saying that he played no role in soliciting donations from a mining company on behalf of a key conservative group that ran ads supporting him during the 2012 recall attempt and that he didn’t even know the company donated to the group.

While at a Kenosha campaign stop over the weekend, Walker said he was not aware of $700,000 donated by Gogebic Taconite in 2011 and 2012 to Wisconsin Club for Growth, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

When asked if the donations and subsequent legislation last year — which streamlined state mining requirements and paved the way for an iron mine in northern Wisconsin — were part of some pay-to-play scheme, Walker said, “That’s a ridiculous argument.”

Walker said he had long been supportive of easing regulations on mining.

Court documents released last week by a federal appeals court show that prosecutors believe Walker solicited donations for Wisconsin Club for Growth to get around campaign finance limits and disclosure requirements as he fended off the recall attempt.

Aides told Walker to tell donors that they could make unlimited donations to Wisconsin Club for Growth without having the gifts publicly disclosed. Wisconsin Club for Growth then funneled the money to other conservative groups that advertised on Walker’s behalf.

It’s not clear from the documents whether Walker followed the instructions from his team. But the documents say millions of dollars later moved from donors he was set to speak with to Wisconsin Club for Growth, which in turn funded groups backing Walker in the recall election.

The documents are part of a secret investigation into whether Walker’s campaign illegally coordinated with conservative groups during the run-up to the June 2012 recall, which was spurred by anger over Walker’s signature law stripping most public workers of nearly all their union rights. The probe has dogged Walker as he is locked in a dead heat with Democratic Mary Burke in the governor’s race and considers a 2016 presidential run.

At a later Racine stop over the weekend, Walker said he helped solicit contributions to Wisconsin Club for Growth in 2011 primarily to help Republican state Senators who faced recalls.

He said he is not raising funds for Wisconsin Club for Growth in the current election. He also said he doesn’t believe he raised funds for the group during his 2010 campaign for governor.

A federal judge in Milwaukee halted the secret probe in May after Wisconsin Club for Growth filed a lawsuit alleging the investigation violated its free speech rights and the prosecutors are liberals out to harass and tarnish conservatives.

The prosecutors have asked the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to allow them to restart the probe. The court released the documents tied to that appeal in response to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of media and open government groups.

The documents became briefly available on a federal court website last Friday. Attorneys have been arguing over which ones should be made public, and the records were quickly removed.

Secret John Doe investigation of Walker associates, ex-aides ends

A secret investigation into illegal campaign activity by former aides and associates of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, R, quietly closed last week without any charges against the Republican darling of the national conservative movement.

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm announced on March 2 that the so-called John Doe investigation ended on Feb. 20, the same day Walker delivered his budget address to the state Legislature.

The investigation has hounded Walker – a possible 2016 presidential candidate – throughout his first two years in office. Walker steadfastly and repeatedly denied he had done anything wrong, even as six people around him were charged with crimes stemming from activity in the Milwaukee County executive’s office when Walker held that position between 2002 and 2010.

The investigation began in May 2010, six months before he was elected governor.

The governor said he was glad the investigation is over.

“We appreciate the effort that was undertaken and to bring appropriate matters to justice,” Walker said in a statement issued through his campaign.

Walker reiterated those comments following an awards ceremony in the Capitol, saying he didn’t feel he owed anyone an apology.

“The process was pretty clear. We’re glad the process is done. We think it speaks for itself,” Walker said. “We’re ready to move forward. This is just one more thing that allows us to move forward.”

Walker hired high-profile criminal defense attorneys from Chicago, started a legal defense fund that grew to $200,000 through the end of 2012 and met voluntarily with prosecutors in April. He always maintained his innocence and said he did not know that county workers were illegally campaigning while on the job. Walker said he had built a firewall to ensure county workers were not ordered to do campaign work while on county time.

Democrats insisted that evidence uncovered during the investigation showed that Walker was involved in illegal campaigning.

“It’s not a feather in Scott Walker’s cap that he was not charged with a crime,” said Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski. “This is unprecedented in Wisconsin history and it speaks to the poor values of this governor.”

Democratic Party chairman Mike Tate said he hoped all documents related to the case would be made public to present a complete picture of Walker’s involvement. But the judge overseeing the case, in his order closing it, also kept in place a secrecy order affecting documents and other information gathered during the probe.

Chisholm, the district attorney, said in a press release that he was satisfied that all charges supported by proof beyond a reasonable doubt have been brought and concluded.

Democratic Rep. Peter Barca, the Assembly minority leader, said it was good for the stability of the state that the investigation was over. However, he called on Walker to take responsibility for the criminal activity that happened while he was county executive.

“While the governor was not charged, he must make a statement accepting responsibility for the people he trusted, hired and supervised and apologize to the taxpayers, particularly the veterans, who were cheated,” Barca said.

The people charged in the probe were:

– Kelly Rindfleisch: Walker’s deputy chief of staff. She was sentenced to six months in jail after pleading guilty to felony misconduct in office for doing campaign work on county time.

– Tim Russell: Walker’s deputy chief of staff, Russell, was sentenced to two years in prison in January after he was convicted of stealing more than $20,000 from a nonprofit group Walker appointed him to lead.

– Darlene Wink: The former Walker aide pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges of working on Walker’s gubernatorial campaign on county time. She was sentenced to a year’s probation.

– Kevin D. Kavanaugh: Walker named Kavanaugh to the county Veterans Service Commission. Kavanaugh was found guilty of stealing more than $51,000 that had been donated to help veterans and their families. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

– William Gardner, president and chief executive officer of Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co., was sentenced to two years’ probation in July after being found guilty of exceeding state campaign donation limits and laundering campaign donations to Walker and other Wisconsin politicians.

– Brian Pierick: The longtime domestic and business partner of Russell was found guilty of contributing to the delinquency of a minor after investigators examined his and Russell’s phones and computers. The criminal complaint said Pierick exchanged text messages with a 17-year-old boy and tried to entice him into his van, but the boy declined, according to the criminal complaint.

UPDATE: 2 years in prison for ex-Walker aide

UPDATED: A close associate of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker who was convicted of stealing more than $20,000 from a nonprofit group was sentenced to two years in prison on Jan. 22.

Timothy D. Russell pleaded guilty in November 2012 to felony theft, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. While first-time offenders are often sentenced to probation for property crimes such as theft, prosecutors argued Russell should be held to a higher standard because he was a public official who violated the community’s trust.

“This crime reflects moral depravity,” Bruce Landgraf, an assistant district attorney, wrote in a sentencing memorandum last week.

Most of the money Russell stole came from the account of the Heritage Guard Preservation Society, a nonprofit group that organizes outings for veterans to the Milwaukee County Zoo. Russell was appointed to lead the group by Walker, in whose administration Russell worked while Walker was the Milwaukee County executive from 2002 to 2010. 

Russell used his position to steal at least $21,000 from the group in 2009 and 2010, the criminal complaint said. He spent the money on vacations to Hawaii and the Caribbean and on a trip to Atlanta to meet GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain.

Russell was sentenced this morning (Jan. 22). In addition to the two-year prison sentence, he was sentenced to five years probation.

Milwaukee Circuit Judge David Hansher said Russell failed to shore remorse or regret.

Prosecutors, in addition to seeking a two-year prison term and probation, asked that Russell be ordered to pay total restitution of more than $27,000.

Landgraf said Russell faced foreclosure proceedings in 2010 and filed for bankruptcy in 2012. However, he said Russell appeared to use the stolen money not to alleviate his financial stress but to pay for vacations and expenses, including a $140 veterinary bill for a sick pet.

“It was not important to Mr. Russell that the money he was stealing was donated through the generosity of private citizens, both individuals and corporations, for the benefit of military heroes,” Landgraf wrote.

The charges against Russell stemmed from a secret investigation prosecutors launched into Walker’s county administration in May 2010. Three other former aides to Walker, as well as a campaign donor have been convicted on charges ranging from theft to misconduct in office.

Russell’s domestic partner, Brian Pierick, was also caught up in the probe. Prosecutors charged him with child enticement last year after investigators working on Russell’s case said they uncovered evidence Pierick tried to coax a 17-year-old boy into his van for sex. Pierick’s trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 29.

Walker hasn’t been charged and has repeatedly said he is not a target in the probe. It’s unclear whether investigators have finished their work, though. Landgraf has declined to comment on the investigation’s status, and everyone involved, included the targets of the investigation, is prohibited from discussing details.

The judge overseeing the investigation has said the probe remains open.

Judge: John Doe/ex-Walker aides investigation continues

The judge overseeing the investigation into people who worked for Republican Gov. Scott Walker when he was the Milwaukee County executive said on Nov. 28 that the probe is not complete and remains open.

Walker had said on Nov. 27 that he hoped the so-called “John Doe” investigation would end as early as this week. He made the comments in response to a question at a meeting of the Dairy Business Association and said afterward that he was basing his hope on media accounts and a general feeling that the investigation was winding down.

But retired Waukesha County Judge Neal Nettesheim told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from his home that anyone guessing that the probe was coming to an end was engaging in “pure conjecture.”

“The John Doe is not completed,” Nettesheim said. “It is still open.”

The investigation into Walker’s former aides and associates during his time as Milwaukee County executive began in May 2010, six months before he was elected governor. Six people have been charged with crimes including misconduct in office and theft, but Walker has not been charged or accused of any wrongdoing. 

Walker said early this week that he was “absolutely” confident that he was not the target of the investigation. On Nov. 28, when asked to respond to the judge’s comment that the probe was still active, the governor reiterated that he had no inside knowledge that it was nearing an end, but that was simply his hope.

“It hasn’t stopped us from doing our job,” he said after giving a 45-minute speech to the state’s chamber of commerce about his priorities for next year. “My focus hasn’t changed.”

Walker said he would be “happy and hopeful it would be done this week.”

Bruce Landgraf, an assistant district attorney leading the investigation, has declined to comment on its status.

Six people have been charged so far as a result of the probe:

• Tim Russell, a former deputy chief of staff for Walker in his county office, reached a plea deal with prosecutors in a felony embezzlement case. Russell was charged with embezzling more than $20,000 from a veterans group that Walker assigned him to lead. 

• Kelly Rindfleisch, another former deputy chief of staff, pleaded guilty to a felony count of misconduct in office after she did campaign work on taxpayers’ time. Three similar counts were dismissed. She was sentenced last week to six months in jail.

• Kevin D. Kavanaugh, whom Walker had named to the county Veterans Service Commission, was found guilty last month of stealing more than $51,000 that had been donated to help veterans and their families. He is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 7.

• Darlene Wink, a former Walker aide, pleaded guilty this summer to two misdemeanor charges of working on Walker’s gubernatorial campaign on county time. She has a Jan. 10 sentencing hearing.

• William Gardner, president and chief executive officer of Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co., was sentenced to two years’ probation in July after being found guilty of exceeding state campaign donation limits and laundering campaign donations to Walker and other Wisconsin politicians.

• Brian Pierick, Russell’s domestic partner, was charged with child enticement, evidence of which was allegedly discovered during the investigation of Russell. Pierick’s jury trial is scheduled to start Jan. 29.