Friday, March 23, 2007

Charges Against Hurtgen Dismissed

A federal judge has dismissed fraud and extortion charges against former Tommy Thompson aide Nick Hurtgen, ruling prosecutors did not present any evidence he knew about an alleged kickback scheme in an Illinois hospital project.

Prosecutors had charged Hurtgen with three counts of mail fraud, three courts of wire fraud and one court of extortion. They alleged he was involved in a scheme with Stuart Levine, who was a member of the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board, which has to sign off on any hospital project in that state can be built. They alleged Hurtgen told hospital authorities which construction firm to select if they wanted approval for a project.

But U.S. District Court Judge John Grady wrote in his decision that Hurtgen would have had to know that Levine was expecting a kickback from the construction firm to prove the mail and wire fraud charges. He wrote prosecutors had not provided evidence of that.

He also wrote there was nothing in the indictment to suggest Hurtgen knew Levine favored the construction company for anything other than the quality of its work.

"Certainly knowledge is an essential element of extortion; there is no such thing as accidental or negligent extortion," Grady wrote in his explanation for dismissing the extortion charge.

Hurtgen attorney Steve Hurley did not return calls from WisPolitics. Randall Samborn, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago, said, "We are reviewing the opinion and will consider our options, including an appeal to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals."

See the ruling:


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Blanchard Files Brief Seeking Fees from Jensen, Foti, Schultz

Ordering former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, Majority Leader Steve Foti and legislative aide Sherry Schultz to pay back legal fees that taxpayers had covered would "dissuade the defendants from allowing themselves to be in situations that might encourage them to engage in criminal conduct again," Dane County DA Brian Blanchard argued in a brief filed March 7.

Jensen owes $67,147 in legal fees to the Assembly. Schultz owes $68,629, while Foti owes $27,981.

See the filing:


Saturday, March 03, 2007

Troha Charged with Felony Fraud, Making False Statements

Kenosha businessman Dennis Troha faces up to 25 years in prison and $500,000 in fines after he was charged with two felony counts stemming from allegations that he funneled money to family members so they could make campaign contributions in an attempt to win approval of a proposed casino.

U.S. Attorney Steve Biskupic said the investigation is ongoing, but no one else has been accused of any wrongdoing yet.

Troha and his family members have given some $274,000 to Gov. Jim Doyle and his inaugural committee over the past five years. Biskupic said Doyle's campaign has cooperated with investigators, but he refused to identify any other campaigns that investigators may have looked at.

"The indictment alleges that Mr. Troha improperly funneled in excess of $100,000 in campaign contributions to political candidates and parties and then took an effort to conceal those transactions from the state of Wisconsin in order to obtain an Indian gaming compact," Biskupic said.

Troha attorney Frank Gimbel said in a statement his client would be exonerated "when the facts are presented." He also called Troha an honorable man whose deeds have been mischaracterized.

"There are no secrets here. Mr. Troha's political contributions have been fully disclosed and are a matter of public record. His actions are legal and responsible," Gimbel said.

It is the second time Biskupic has issued an indictment related to contributions to Doyle's campaign. Last year, former Department of Administration employee Georgia Thompson was convicted of steering a state travel contract to a Milwaukee company whose executives donated to Doyle's campaign. Doyle, who is recuperating from his surgery, said in a statement that his campaign "will immediately return the money" if the allegations against Troha prove true.

"My campaign was aware of nothing to suggest that the contributions received from Mr. Troha were in any way inappropriate or unlawful," Doyle said. "In fact, by all appearances, they were indistinguishable from the many contributions received by countless campaigns, Democratic and Republican, across the state."

Troha had been a driving force in the effort to build an $808 million casino complex at a Kenosha dog track, but he dropped out of the project abruptly last week as news broke that the FBI was looking into his campaign contributions.

The fraud charge stems from the allegation that Troha funneled money through Johnson Houston Partners to his family members so they could make more than $100,000 in campaign contributions. The second charge stems from a Jan. 12 interview with the FBI in which Troha denied any link between Johnson Houston and the donations.

According to the indictment, Troha used Johnson Houston Partners to issue loans to several family members who then turned around and made campaign contributions for the same amount within days. The loans were not repaid until after Troha met with FBI agents, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors also allege a Doyle campaign official met with Troha in June 2005 asking him to help raise money by the end of the month. According to the indictment, Troha issued a $50,000 check to Johnson Houston Partners as a loan around June 28 of that year. Within a day, five family members and three of their spouses wrote checks to Doyle's campaign totaling $47,500. In early July, Johnson Houston Partners issued $47,500 in loan checks to the same five family members. None of them repaid the loans until after Jan. 12, according to the indictment.

The indictment does not identify the family members. But a WisPolitics check of Doyle's campaign finance reports shows the following Troha family members made donations on June 28 and 29 that year. They are:

Matt and Jennifer Troha - two checks totaling $12,500
Leslie Troha - $5,000 contribution
Todd and Lynn Troha - two checks totaling $12,500
Brad Troha - $5,000 contribution
Tina and Nathan Cambio - two checks totaling $12,500

Troha had stood to gain some $88 million if the casino project was approved. The Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut, which is working with Wisconsin's Menominee Tribe on the project, has reached an agreement to buy out Troha. The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs is currently reviewing the project. Doyle would also have to sign off on the project for it to go forward.

The Troha family donated to a variety of candidates and committees, including President Bush, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, and the National Republican Congressional Committee. Ryan, whose district includes the proposed casino site, said in a statement the indictments were "very troubling."

"I am anxious to learn the results of this investigation," Ryan said. "Once all of the facts become available, if any contribution to the Ryan For Congress campaign is found to be legally in question, I will take appropriate and corrective action at that time."

Read the Troha Indictment:

Statement from Troha's Attorney Gimbel:

Doyle Campaign Statement:

Ryan Campaign Statement:

Listen to WisPolitics Audio of Biskupic's Announcement:

RPW Statement:


Greg Bump
JR Ross

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