Madison, Wisconsin – About a dozen law enforcement officers, including FBI agents, raided the home of a former top aide to Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday as part of a growing John Doe investigation.
The home on Dunning St. on Madison’s east side is owned by Cynthia A. Archer, who was until recently deputy administration secretary to the Republican governor. Archer, 52, now holds a different state job but is on paid sick leave, records show.
“We’re doing a law enforcement action,” one of the FBI agents told a reporter.
He didn’t identify himself or provide further comment but confirmed that he and three others were with the FBI and that a Dane County sheriff’s deputy was present.
The raid on Archer’s home coincides with a John Doe investigation in Milwaukee County.
That probe was started last year after the Journal Sentinel reported that another Walker staffer who was being paid by Milwaukee County taxpayers to help citizens with county services was instead using her work time to post anonymous comments supporting candidate Walker on websites and blogs. As part of the investigation, authorities earlier seized the work computers of two former Walker staffers and executed a search warrant of one of their homes.
Archer, who also held the top staff position under Walker while he served as Milwaukee County executive, said as recently as Friday in an email to the Journal Sentinel that she was “not involved in any way in the John Doe investigation.”
John Doe investigations are secret proceedings in which witnesses can be subpoenaed and compelled to testify under oath about potential criminal matters and are forbidden from talking publicly about the case. Sources said prosecutors have been looking into whether county staffers were doing political work while on the clock and failing to do county jobs.
The governor’s campaign retained former U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic after it received a subpoena for campaign emails shortly before last year’s November election. His campaign has paid nearly $60,000 to Biskupic’s firm, Michael Best & Friedrich, in the first half of the year.
Agents removed items
Archer’s neighbors said about a dozen law enforcement officers arrived Wednesday sometime before 7 a.m. One agent took photos of the house, and others wore jackets that said they were responsible for gathering evidence.
Around 9 a.m., a reporter saw four FBI agents – two of them wearing latex gloves – talking in Archer’s backyard before going into her house. Later, one removed a large box and put it in the trunk of an FBI car. They left about 10 a.m.
The FBI also seized the hard drive from a computer that a neighbor had bought from Archer six to eight weeks ago at a garage sale.
Next-door neighbor Dale Riechers said he had never turned on the computer because he was planning to work on it later in the fall. He told the agents about the hard drive and they asked to take it, Riechers said.
When a reporter rang Archer’s doorbell shortly after the FBI left, no one answered the door.
Archer has owned the house since 1988. Neighbors said Archer rented out the house during her years working for Walker in Milwaukee, but moved back this year after getting the state job.
At least one of the agents came from the FBI’s Milwaukee office, according to a card left with Riechers.
Archer didn’t return messages left on her personal cellphone or an email sent to her personal account on Wednesday.
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said that he had no comment and that the governor would not take questions on the issue Wednesday. Walker was in the Capitol meeting with business executives, cabinet officials and lawmakers, Werwie said.
Walker has previously said he has not been contacted personally by prosecutors. He said officials asked his campaign last year for emails and information apparently related to the staffer who was posting pro-Walker messages on websites during work time.
Officials at the U.S. attorney’s offices in the eastern and western districts of Wisconsin declined to comment on the search. Leonard Peace, spokesman for the Milwaukee office of the FBI, referred questions about the search to the Milwaukee County district attorney’s office.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm also declined to comment.
Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney said one of his deputies had been placed at Archer’s house during the search at the request of investigators from Chisholm’s office. Mahoney said his office wasn’t involved in the investigation.
Sources indicated that Chisholm’s office continues to take the lead in the case of Walker’s former county staffers, with federal authorities providing assistance with computers and other digital technology.
Milwaukee County prosecutors launched the probe at about the same time Darlene Wink quit her county job as Walker’s constituent services coordinator in May 2010 after admitting that she was frequently posting online comments on Journal Sentinel stories and blogs while on the county clock. Nearly all of her posts praised Walker or criticized his opponents.
Authorities later took her work computer and that of Tim Russell, a former Walker campaign staffer who was then working as county housing director, and executed a search warrant of Wink’s home.
Neither Wink nor Russell landed a job with the state when Walker took office in January. Wink did not seek a state job, said her attorney, Christopher Wiesmueller.
Wiesmueller said he didn’t see any clear connection between his client and the search of Archer’s home. He said Wink hadn’t had clear boundaries and had sometimes done political Web postings and emails at her county job and had also done county work at home.
“We’re talking about an unsupervised employee doing things she shouldn’t be. What Darlene was doing, she was definitely doing on her own,” Wiesmueller said. “I understand what (prosecutors’) argument would be, but I don’t think she broke the law.”
Asked Wednesday about the John Doe, Russell’s attorney refused comment. “I don’t have anything I can discuss,” Michael Maistelman said.
Sources have said the investigation has increasingly focused on the activities of Archer and Tom Nardelli, Walker’s former county chief of staff.
Archer and Nardelli were Walker’s top two lieutenants for the past three years of his eight-year tenure as county executive, including the busy months leading up to the November election. Both eventually followed Walker to Madison from Milwaukee County after the former county executive won the governor’s race in November.
Nardelli quit his state job as administrator for the Division of Environmental and Regulatory Services in July. That was three days after he had accepted the job, a transfer from another state administrative position. Nardelli was Walker’s chief of staff in the county executive’s office.
Nardelli said Wednesday that he knew nothing about the reason for the FBI visit to Archer’s home and that no law enforcement had visited his home. Nardelli has previously said he hasn’t been contacted by the authorities in the John Doe investigation.
Archer, who abruptly left her top post with Walker’s administration last month for “personal family matters,” had another politically appointed job under the governor already lined up.
She took a $25,000 pay cut in moving to a position at the Department of Children and Families, but the nearly $100,000 salary in that job is still tens of thousands of dollars more than the pay of others who have had the job.
The department released records Wednesday that showed Archer began taking paid, personal leave time on Aug. 16. On Aug. 22 – what was to be her first day at the Department of Children and Families – her leave time was changed to medical leave, records show.
Emails released under the state’s open records law showed Archer initially planned to return on Sept. 19. It was unclear from more recent emails whether Archer still planned to return on that date.
Before she abruptly quit on Aug. 19, she was making $124,000 as deputy secretary in the state Department of Administration, the agency that oversees state contracts, the state budget, the state workforce and other key government functions. At the time, state officials said only that Archer had taken a personal leave of absence, giving no details on reasons for the leave, how soon she’d come back or what her duties would be.
Archer, in her resignation letter emailed to Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch, said simply that she was done with her job that same day.
But documents provided by the state show she actually was already hired a day earlier, on Aug. 18, to the $99,449-a-year job in the Department of Children and Families, as the department’s legislative liaison. That’s according to a letter released Friday from Eloise Anderson, who heads the department. Archer’s appointment to the new job was effective Aug. 20.
Anderson said Monday that Archer has a higher salary than her predecessor because of Archer’s extensive background in state and local government and higher educational attainment.
On Aug. 25, Archer said by email that she would leave any announcement about her leave of absence or eventual return to a state job to the governor’s office. But Walker’s office has sent questions on Archer to the department she left and to the one to which she is now assigned.
The John Doe investigation has already resulted in one conviction.
William Gardner, president and chief executive officer of Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co., was sentenced to two years’ probation after pleading guilty to two felony violations of state campaign finance laws for exceeding the donation limits and laundering donations to Walker and other Wisconsin politicians.
John Diedrich and Steve Schultze of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.