Walker’s office stonewalled DA inquiry, record shows
By Daniel Bice, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Milwaukee County prosecutors opened the secret John Doe criminal investigation more than two years ago after being stonewalled by Gov. Scott Walker‘s office when he was county executive, according to a newly released record.
The document appears to cast doubt on some of Walker’s claims about his role in launching and cooperating with the investigation.
On May 5, 2010, Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf filed a petition with court officials asking if his office could initiate a secret investigation into what happened with $11,000 in donations intended for Operation Freedom, an annual event honoring veterans.
By making it a secret John Doe investigation, Landgraf wrote that prosecutors might get better cooperation from Walker’s office, which had been “unwilling or unable” to turn over records and information needed in the investigation. He said he would need to subpoena county records and officials.
“It may be the County Executive’s Office is reluctant to provide information to investigators due to a fear of political embarrassment,” Landgraf wrote, noting that Walker was then running for governor.
But Ciara Matthews, spokeswoman for the governor’s recall campaign, said the filing was inaccurate.
In 2009, Matthews said, Walker had his former chief of staff, Tom Nardelli, contact the DA’s office over concerns about what a local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart had done with donations it received from the county for Operation Freedom.
“Multiple follow-ups were made by the chief of staff to the district attorney’s office to offer assistance in that investigation, and any statement to the contrary is not correct,” Matthews said.
The document was included in a court filing this week by the lawyer for Timothy Russell, a former top-level Walker aide who has been charged with embezzling more than $25,000 intended for Operation Freedom and two political candidates. His attorney, Dennis Krueger, wants a judge to dismiss the charges against his client because they involved matters that reached far beyond the original scope of the John Doe probe.
The investigation has led to criminal charges against three former Walker aides, an appointee and a major campaign contributor.
On Thursday, Walker’s former county spokeswoman, Fran McLaughlin, was granted immunity as part of the investigation. She is the 13th individual to receive immunity in the case. Walker’s current spokesman, Cullen Werwie, also has been given immunity to testify behind closed doors.
Records show McLaughlin was given immunity after she invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions to avoid self-incrimination. Her attorney, Michael A.I. Whitcomb, refused further comment.
“I can’t say anything,” Whitcomb said.
Landgraf’s 2010 petition provides new information about the origins of the two-year probe, much of which is veiled in secrecy.
Walker has repeatedly brushed aside questions about the John Doe by claiming credit for launching it.
“Another interesting thing for people tuning in tonight is to know,” Walker said during last week’s recall debate, “this investigation started because my office asked for it nearly two years ago.”
Prosecutors have previously acknowledged that investigators met with Nardelli and another Walker aide in 2009 over Operation Freedom. Nardelli told the DA’s office that Purple Heart’s treasurer had refused to provide any records or accounting of the event’s finances.
But Landgraf’s filing is the first public suggestion Walker’s office later reversed course and quit cooperating.
“As part of the pre-Doe investigation, Investigator Jeffrey Doss sought to obtain documentation that would form the basis of tracing the funds from Milwaukee County to the Order,” Landgraf wrote in his May 2010 petition. “The Office of the County Executive has been unwilling or unable to provide such documentation. It is unclear at this juncture why the Office of the County Executive has not produced (or has not caused another Department to produce) these records.”
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