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Thursday, July 24, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 58.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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CITIZEN

Gov. Scott Walker's corruption scandal brings shame to Wisconsin

The John Doe investigation reflects the fact that Gov. Walker has surrounded himself with a band of alleged criminals.
The John Doe investigation reflects the fact that Gov. Walker has surrounded himself with a band of alleged criminals.
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A government that has lost the trust of its citizens is not long for power. Under Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin has gone in one year from being a state renowned for open and clean government to one that is shabby and nefarious.

Actually, we need to start before Walker was elected governor -- specifically 1987, when Walker ran for student body president at Marquette University. During that campaign, he was found to be in violation of the school's campaign rules, including engaging in door-to-door campaigning, which was strictly prohibited. Walker was ultimately described to be "unfit for presidency" by the Marquette Tribune. When the Tribune endorsed Walker's opponent, Walker's supporters destroyed as many copies of the newspaper as they could find. This provides a window into our governor's character. Unfortunately, this incident received only cursory media attention during Walker's bid for governor.

Fast forward to July 2011. At that time, a staunch Walker supporter, William Gardner, was sentenced in Milwaukee County Circuit Court for two felony charges related to violations of campaign finance law. Gardner was the majority owner of Wisconsin and Southern Railroad, and during 2009 and 2010, he illegally funneled over $50,000 of company money to Walker's campaign through railroad employees. Gardner's scheme unraveled after his ex-girlfriend reported the activity to the Government Accountability Board. It was reported that Gardner and Walker met just days before Gardner's girlfriend notified the GAB, although Walker insisted later that he only spoke with Gardner about his "transportation philosophy."

Then, in September of 2011, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation executed a search warrant at the residence of Cynthia Archer, a high-ranking official in Walker's Department of Administration described as having played an active role in the plan to eliminate the collective bargaining rights of public employees. Archer was, by all accounts, a top aide to Walker, and was present during the dinner Walker assembled to announce the collective bargaining bill to his cabinet. It was reported that during the FBI raid, agents seized a box of documents from Archer's home, and a hard drive from a computer that Archer had recently given to her neighbor.

From there, Walker's inner circle, both from his campaign organization and his former staff at the Milwaukee County Executive office, utterly unraveled. So far, six of his closest allies have been arrested and charged with felonies. At least one of them is talking. Let me ask you: How many of your close friends have committed felonies on your behalf?

Here is a description of the cast of characters, with more likely to come.

Darlene Wink: Wink served as Constituents Services Coordinator in the Milwaukee County Executive's office. Wink has entered a guilty plea to two misdemeanor counts of political solicitation by a public employee, and is currently cooperating with prosecutors in the John Doe investigation. While employed with Walker's office, Wink posted numerous comments on political blogs promoting Scott Walker for governor. Even more troubling, Wink, while paid by the Milwaukee County taxpayers, actively worked on Walker's campaign, including organizing gala fundraisers while on duty. One of the people Wink communicated with regarding these fundraisers was none other than Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

If there was any doubt as to Wink's knowledge of the fact that she was breaking the law, an email she sent to Tim Russell (see below) puts this to rest. In 2009, Wink sent Russell an email asking how she could erase a document from an online chat session. Wink remarked to Russell: "I just am afraid of going to jail - ha! ha!"

When Wink's online posting during work hours was exposed in 2010, she resigned from her position in Walker's office. In response to this, Scott Walker sent an email to Tim Russell about Wink and her situation. Walker stated:

I talked to her at home last night. I feel bad. She feels worse. 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.

There are two striking things about this email. First is that when Walker sent this email to Russell, Russell was no longer working in the County Executive's office, and was instead working for another county department. Additionally, Walker sent this email from his campaign account, not his county email account. The second striking thing is the tone of the email itself: no surprise, no outrage, no denial. In my opinion, it is proof that Walker knew what was occurring in his office on his behalf.

Tim Russell: Russell was Walker's Deputy Chief of Staff in the Milwaukee County Executive's office until 2010. According to the criminal complaint, Walker transferred control of Operation Freedom, a veterans charity event, in 2009 to a corporation controlled by Russell. Russell is alleged to have embezzled thousands of dollars that were supposed to go to veterans and their families.

If this wasn't enough, Russell is alleged to have set up an entire secret shadow email system in the county executive's office. This system was allegedly 25 feet from Walker's office. The purpose of the system was to allow people working in Walker's office to secretly work on Walker's gubernatorial campaign while being paid by taxpayers. The criminal complaint alleges multiple people in Walker's office engaged in this activity utilizing the system that Russell built.

Russell has been charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor regarding his activity.

Kelly Rindfleisch: During 2010, Rindfleisch served as Walker's Deputy Chief of Staff in the County Executive Office, after Russell vacated the position. During her employment, on taxpayer time, Rindfleisch sent over 1,000 Walker campaign emails through Russell's secret email system.

Amazingly, Walker claims not to know who hired Rindfleisch as Deputy Chief of Staff, a top-level position in his administration.

Brian Pierick: Pierick was Tim Russell's partner, and an aide to Scott Walker's campaign. Pierick was also the operator of Scott Walker's campaign website, ScottWalker.org. During the investigation into Russell's illegal activities, prosecutors discovered evidence that Pierick was engaged in sexually explicit conversations with a minor, and was trying to entice the minor to participate in sexual activity. Pierick has been charged with Child Enticement and Causing a Minor to Expose Sex Organs.

Kevin Kavanaugh: Kavanaugh is a close friend of Walker's and was Walker's appointee to the Veteran Service Commission. Kavanaugh is also accused of embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from veterans charities, and is facing numerous felony charges.

It is important to note that a significant amount of this illegal activity was committed in order to benefit Walker and his campaign for governor. These people were some of his closest allies, and flagrantly violated the law on behalf of Scott Walker, yet he claims no knowledge of any of this. As a former prosecutor, I find this claim preposterous. Even in the light most favorable to Scott Walker, it is indisputable that Walker routinely surrounded himself with people who had absolutely no qualms about committing felonies to benefit him.

The John Doe investigation reflects the fact that Gov. Walker has surrounded himself with a band of alleged criminals. The fix for that is relatively easy: prosecute the offenders and recall Walker from the position he has so utterly denigrated. I can tell you this: I have known John Chisholm, the Milwaukee County District Attorney, for years. We went to law school together, and served as junior assistant district attorneys together in the Milwaukee DA's office. John is absolutely beyond reproach when it comes to ethics and character, period. If anyone can get to the bottom of this sordid mess, it is John and his staff.

To my Republican friends: The situation in which we find ourselves is far beyond the bounds of party politics. Walker and his legislative cronies have utterly dishonored the institutions they represent. They have behaved like a conquering army that is dividing up the spoils of the state, breaking the rules whenever necessary or expedient. We need to get back to a real debate about the future of our state, not one about secret email networks. If I were you, I would do everything I could to drive these disgraceful characters from your party and find representatives worthy of Lincoln and Eisenhower. This is not a taunt, it is a genuine plea.

By supporting these people, you are losing a part of yourselves that is not easy to reclaim. How do you tell your children that these are the people you want to lead our government? Please, put aside your anger at liberals for a moment and recognize that these people are destroying your party for their own gain. Consider the fact that a small number of people are robbing us all of a real political discourse.

Remember Georgia Thompson? She was a civil service employee responsible for bidding out state travel contracts when Jim Doyle was governor. Thompson, by all accounts, was not a political person and did not know Gov. Doyle. She was prosecuted in a highly political witch-hunt by Republican U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic for awarding the state travel contract to a firm that contributed to Doyle's campaign. In a case that became the central theme for the Republican gubernatorial campaign against Doyle, Thompson was convicted of corruption and sent to prison.

Here's the thing: Thompson awarded the contract to the travel firm because it was the lowest bidder. She was also hired by a Republican governor and had no ties to the Doyle administration. Furthermore, Biskupic failed to demonstrate that Thompson benefited from her awarding of this contract in any way, either professionally or financially. Finally, Thompson had no knowledge that the travel firm even contributed to Doyle's campaign.

When Thompson's case was brought before the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the court was so appalled by the lack of evidence that it ordered her released from prison that day, before a written decision could even be issued. This is, in the world of appellate courts, absolutely extraordinary. One of the judges of the court told the prosecutor "Your evidence is beyond thin... I'm not sure what your actual theory in this case is."

Gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker had quite a bit to say about the indictment of Thompson as it related to Gov. Doyle. In his press release, he stated in part:

Unfortunately, we have a Governor and administration that condones unethical and illegal behavior. The people of Wisconsin deserve better...Today's indictment provides further confirmation that the Doyle administration is damaged and must be removed from the Capitol.

If this was Scott Walker's assessment of a case that was thrown out with disgust by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, then he should clearly resign his post. His terms in both the Milwaukee County Executive and governor's offices have been marked with an overwhelming stench of corruption and lawlessness. However, I have no illusion that Walker possesses the moral fiber or courage to do what is right.

Therefore, it is up to the people of Wisconsin to show him the door. It just so happens, if the John Doe investigation continues its current trajectory, that door could ultimately lead to a jail cell.


Brian Austin is a Dane County resident and police officer. He previously served as an Assistant District Attorney in Milwaukee and Kenosha counties, received his degree from UW Law School, and is a political and labor activist. He publishes Badger Blue, Times Two, and the original version of this commentary was published here. "Citizen" is an opinion series that presents the views of the author. If you would like to reply, please comment or consider submitting an op-ed in response.

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