Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Ladwig Pleads Guilty to Misdemeanor Count

Former GOP state Rep. Bonnie Ladwig pleaded guilty this morning in Dane County court to a misdemeanor count of an ethics violation by a public official.

Dane County DA Brian Blanchard recommended a $1,000 fine plus court costs and restitution of $3,500. Blanchard is asking for no jail time or probation for Ladwig. The charge carries a maximum fine of $5,000 and a term of 12 months imprisonment.

Dane County Judge Steven Ebert accepted the guilty plea and set the Ladwig sentencing hearing for on or after March 10.

The plea agreement includes a stipulation that Ladwig will "cooperate completely, candidly, and truthfully" either in private interviews with law enforcement or at the scheduled trial involving former state Rep. Steve Foti and current state Rep. Scott Jensen, both former Republican Assembly leaders. Jensen was the former speaker, Foti was the former Assembly majority leader, and Ladwig was the former assistant majority leader.

"That means that she's required as a condition of the plea agreement to tell the truth when asked about these topics by anybody, and if she's called as a witness by somebody at trial to tell the truth at trial," explained Blanchard.

Asked whether he expects Ladwig to be called to the stand, Blanchard had no comment.

Ladwig was charged in October 2002 with the misdemeanor for using her office to help the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee. Ladwig took over as assistant majority leader in the state Assembly beginning in 1997, and assumed some responsibilities for guiding the campaign committee.

"To the defendants knowledge, RACC did not have its own office location or staff at any time before she assumed her RACC responsibility in 1997, and books and records of RACC were routinely kept on state property, although some records were at times kept at the defendants residence," reads the plea agreement. "This continued to be the case until at least May 2001. As part of her RACC duties, the defendant directed members of her Capitol office, who were state employees, to perform activities relating to RACC. These state employees performed some of these RACC activities at times when they were paid as state employees and using state resources. These
activities included fundraising for RACC, maintaining RACC records and preparing RACC campaign finance reports."

In a written statement the Racine Republican said the methods of operating the Assembly Republican caucus were set long before she arrived in Madison. But she
added: "Circumstances do not relieve anyone of the responsibility of making sure that their actions conform to the strict requirement of the law. This is what I failed to do."

"Finally pleading guilty is not enough," the statement continued. "Anyone who has done wrong owes an apology. I do apologize to my former constituents, to the taxpayers of Wisconsin, and to my former colleagues in the legislature. I am so sorry I have embarrassed any of you who put your faith in me. I know I have embarrassed my family, but I thank them for standing behind me through this trying time. It is now time to put this unfortunate situation behind me and move on with my life."

Ladwig is the third former legislator to plead guilty to ethics charges this year, following former Democratic Sens. Chuck Chvala and Brian Burke. Chvala pleaded guilty to two felonies, misconduct in office by instructing state workers to raise campaign money on state time and to making a campaign contribution of more than $1,000 in violation of state campaign laws. He was handed a nine month jail sentence and two years probation, plus a $5,500 fine. More costs may be added to Chvala's sentence, as Dane County Judge David Flanagan gave prosecutors 45 days to come up with a restitution order.

Burke pleaded to one felony count of misconduct in office and one misdemeanor count of obstructing an officer and received a six month jail sentence. Dane County Judge William Foust also ordered $75,000 in restitution, which he said could be paid by Burke's campaign fund, and fined Burke an additional $2,500.

The fall 2002 cases of Foti and Jensen are set for trial on Feb. 21.

Jensen is charged with three felony counts of misconduct in office and acting inconsistently with his duty, and one misdemeanor charge for code/ethics violations by a public official. Foti is charged with one felony count of misconduct in office and acting inconsistently with duty.

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