Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Tire-Slashing Trial: GOP Official Initially Thought Pro-Kerry 527 to Blame

By Dennis A. Shook
For WisPolitics.com

A top Wisconsin Republican said that when he heard of slashed tires on vans his party had rented for 2004 get-out-the-vote efforts, his inclination was not to blame paid staffers from the Democratic Party or from John Kerry's presidential campaign. Rick Wiley, executive director for the state Republican Party, confirmed that he told a conservative magazine he thought an independent group was responsible for the vandalism.

"My gut told me it wasn't the Democrats," Wiley said, as he read his own words from a copy of the National Review. "I thought it was one of the 527s (independent advocacy groups). I didn't think anybody on the Democratic payroll would be stupid enough to do this."

Wiley testified Friday in the trial of the five Milwaukee men accused in the Election Day 2004 vandalism case -- he was called by the prosecution for the mundane reason of confirming the bills for van rental and damages, but he also answered questions on cross-examination from a defense attorney.

The Milwaukee men charged are Sowande A. Omokunde, son of Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, Michael Pratt, son of former acting Milwaukee Mayor Marvin Pratt, Justin Howell, Lewis Caldwell, and Lavelle Mohammad. Both Moore and the senior Pratt were in the courtroom for parts of the trial on Friday.

Defense attorneys for the five Milwaukeeans continued to challenge testimony of a national campaigner on Friday, pointing out her differing accounts of the day's events.

Alicia Smith of Virginia, testified Thursday and Friday that she saw the five men charged return to local Democratic Party headquarters just after the time the slashing is believed to have occurred. Smith said she heard the men say, "We got 'em." Smith said she took that to mean the men had performed the vandalism which ended up with 100 tires being slashed as part of something they called "Operation Elephant Takeover." She also said they were sporting muddy clothes and shoes upon their return.

Defense attorney Robin Shellow challenged Smith's credibility, pointing to several differences between her recent testimony and statements she gave to the FBI for its report filed in December 2004. Smith acknowledged she omitted some details during the FBI investigation in order to protect herself and her political career.

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