Since May 2010, the Milwaukee County District Attorney has been conducting a secret “John Doe” criminal investigation involving Scott Walker’s former staff and associates during the time that Walker served as the Milwaukee County Executive and was running for governor. The wide-ranging investigation has included allegations of illegal campaign work on the public payroll, embezzlement of funds from a veterans’ charity, and even child enticement. So far, it has netted 15 felony indictments and, at this moment, three people are awaiting trial.
The Milwaukee County District Attorney has been carefully lining up the cases so that the smaller fish are squeezed before the big fish take the stand. Yesterday, a pretty big fish made a plea deal and the question is, what shark did she implicate?
Criminal Corruption in Scott Walker’s Office
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Kelly Rindfleisch served as Deputy Chief of Staff to Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker. She was charged (PDF) with 4 felonies relating to political fundraising while on the county payroll. Her trial was set to begin next week in Milwaukee County Court. On Monday, October 8, Rindfleisch’s lawyers subpoenaed the Governor to testify in her trial.
On Tuesday in a surprise development, news broke that Rindfleisch had reached a plea deal with Milwaukee prosecutors. News reports indicate that she will plead guilty to one felony count of misconduct in office in an attempt to avoid jail time. Rindfleisch was in particular jeopardy, because she had been implicated in similar activities in the past and was granted immunity in an earlier “caucus scandal,” which resulted in sentences of jail time for more than one Wisconsin legislator and the disbanding of partisan political caucuses in the state legislature in 2001.
In the more recent case, Rindfleisch was charged with using a secret Wi-Fi system and a campaign laptop to raise funds for lieutenant governor candidate, then-Rep. Brett Davis, while her salary was being paid by the taxpayers. Her desk was located just 20 feet away from Walker’s in the County Executive’s office.
Rindfleisch is scheduled to be in court on Thursday to seal the plea deal; the trial scheduled for next week is cancelled. Speculation is rampant, did Rindfleisch provide evidence against another party in order to secure the plea? If so, whom?
Secret Email System
It is possible that Rindfleisch provided information about her former boss Scott Walker. It is also possible she provided information about Brett Davis, Walker’s current top official for Medicaid, or Tim Russell another top Walker aide deeply enmeshed in the scandal. We may not know until any further indictments are issued.
John Doe investigations are secret proceedings, before a single judge, similar to a grand jury investigation. The primary allegation is that Walker’s former staffers set up a secret wireless network in his County Executive office, to conduct political work on state time, while being paid by taxpayers. In the course of the investigation, other crimes were uncovered including embezzlement of veterans’ funds and child enticement. Walker himself has not been charged with any crime, although he is represented by two teams of experienced lawyers including criminal defense lawyers.
The scandal broke into the open in May 14, 2010 when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Walker’s constituent services coordinator, Darlene Wink, was caught Facebooking nasty comments about Walker’s democratic campaign opponents while working at her county job. That same day, Walker sent an email to another top aide Tim Russell, telling him simply “we cannot afford another story like this one. No one can give them any reason to do another story. That means no laptops, no websites, no time away during the work day, etc.”
Trials Still Pending
Rindfleisch is the second former Walker staffer to plead to criminal charges as a result of the investigation. Wink pled guilty to working for Walker’s gubernatorial campaign while on the county clock, but she has yet to be sentenced. William Gardner, a railroad executive and Walker supporter, pled guilty to illegally funnelling campaign contributions to Walker through his staff. Walker’s current Press Secretary, Cullen Werwie, and 12 other individuals have been granted immunity in the investigation so far.
This fall and winter more trials and hearings are scheduled.
KEVIN KAVANAUGH: The jury trial began, October 8, in Milwaukee County. Kavanaugh was the county veterans’ affairs official appointed by Walker, who was charged (PDF) with five felonies in connection with embezzlement of $42,000 in funds from the veterans’ charity Operation Freedom.
DARLENE WINK: Darlene Wink, former Walker constituent services aide, pleaded guilty (PDF) to two misdemeanor counts of political solicitation by a public employee in a plea agreement entered with prosecutors. Her sentencing hearing was delayed twice due to the delays in Russell’s trial. She is now scheduled to be sentenced on November 21, 2012.
TIM RUSSELL: Timothy Russell was a top aid to Walker, holding over eight positions including deputy chief of staff. Russell charged (PDF) with two felony and one misdemeanor counts of embezzlement of $11,000 from a veterans’ charity. Curiously, Russell has not been charged with political corruption even though he is mentioned in the Rindfleisch indictment, and appears to be involved in the disturbing activities in the Pierick indictment as well. Russell’s trial is scheduled to begin on December 3, 2012, in Milwaukee County. Scott Walker appears on the possible witness list related to his trial.
BRIAN PIERICK: Finally, Brian Pierick, Russell’s roommate and partner, was charged (PDF) with child enticement and exposing himself to a 17 year-old boy, evidence of which was discovered through the “John Doe” investigation. His trial begins on January 29, 2013, in Waukesha County.