Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Milwaukee Ald. McGee charged with extortion, bribery

Prosecutors today charged that a controversial African-American city councilman solicited a series of bribes from businesses in his Milwaukee district in exchange for promises of favorable treatment.

Among the evidence cited against Michael McGee: a man who paid $1,250 because he feared losing his liquor license and then helped the alderman shake down other businesses, according to a criminal complaint released today.

Authorities recorded "dozens" of incidents in which McGee allegedly sought bribes, according to the complaint detailing federal extortion and bribery charges against him.

McGee appeared in Milwaukee Court this afternoon wearing an orange jumpsuit on state charges accusing the alderman of solicitation to commit substantial battery and conspiracy to commit substantial battery. Several supporters stood outside the courtroom, one carrying a sign that read "free McGee."

McGee was arrested yesterday "based on what we determined to be public safety concerns," Milwaukee Co. DA John Chisholm said without elaborating.

The federal criminal complaint included details of several alleged bribes, including a March 8 incident in which an undercover officer, who had prior conversations with McGee about buying a business requiring a liquor license, gave the alderman $1,000 at a fundraiser. The officer handed McGee $900 of that in cash. McGee is reported to have said. "I got you," in response.

On March 26 and 27, 2007 McGee is said to have accepted a total of $2,000 he solicited from a gas station owner who wanted to operate 24 hours. In a recorded conversation, McGee allegedly balked when the gas station owner first offered him $500. "You have got to be kidding me," McGee is reported to have said.

McGee allegedly told him it would cost a "pretty penny" to win approval.

Read the complaint:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/20070529McGeeFedComplaint.pdf

McGee attorney Glen Givens declined to comment, saying he wanted to wait until after a hearing scheduled for tomorrow to determine whether to release details of state charges.

Also facing state charges in connection with the case are Little Stewart and Dimitrius Jackson. Neither Chisholm nor U.S. Attorney Steve Biskupic would reveal if any others are under investigation in the matter.

Chisholm said he was not opposed to releasing details of the state charges, which remained under seal this afternoon, but had to wait for a judge to give him clearance.

McGee faces up to 30 years and prison and a $500,000 fine if convicted of the federal charges.

Biskupic said no federal court date has been set for McGee and said that wouldn’t likely happe n while McGee remains in state custody.

According to Biskupic, the investigation began in May 2006 following complaints by business owners in the district about McGee's actions. Biskupic urged others to come forward if they felt they have been extorted by city officials.

"If business owners in this city believe they are having to pay money for their government services in violation of the law, by all means contact the FBI, the Milwaukee police or the District Attorney's office," Biskupic said.

In response to the charges, Common Council President Willie Hines announced that he's removing McGee from his committee assignments with the council. Hines said in a statement "until this matter is resolved, I will act decisively to protect the institution of the Common Council."

See the Hines press release:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/070529__hines_mcgee.pdf

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ziegler settles with Ethics Board

Supreme Court Justice-elect Annette Ziegler has agreed to pay $5,000 and the state Ethics Board's legal costs to settle a complaint the agency filed against her over cases she heard in her Washington County court room involving a bank for which her husband served on the board of directors.

The Ethics Board, which estimated its legal costs at about $12,000, said in a release Ziegler had acknowledged Wisconsin's Ethics Code's standards of conduct in hearing the cases involving West Bend Savings Bank.

"To demonstrate that they are fair and neutral, judges should not participate in or adjudicate cases involving parties with which they or members of their immediate families are associated; Judge Ziegler did," SEB executive director Roth Judd said in a statement. "Even so, the Ethics Board found no evidence that Judge Ziegler used her position to obtain any financial gain or advantage for herself or for her family."

Ziegler stressed in a statement that the board found she and her family did not benefit in any way from her decisions in the cases.

The Supreme Court refused last week to grant Ziegler's request to take original jurisdiction in her suit seeking to block the Ethics Board complaint, which was scheduled for a hearing tomorrow. That hearing has been canceled.

Ziegler said she continued to believe the Judicial Commission was the proper body to examine the case. But given the court's decision and her desire to quickly complete any reviews of her work as a circuit court judge, she decided it was best to settle. She is scheduled to take the oath of office for the Supreme Court in August.

"Finally, I'm hopeful the Judicial Commission can complete its review in a timely fashion," Ziegler said. "I am confident they will similarly find I did not benefit from any judicial decision I made, and that I did not show any bias toward any party in any case that c ame before me."


Read the settlement:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/070516SEBZieglerSettlement.pdf

Read the Ethics Board statement:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/070516SEBZieglerRelease.pdf

Read the Ziegler statement:
http://www.wispolitics.com/index.iml?Article=96041

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Monday, May 14, 2007

State's real estate agent charged with soliciting kickback

The real estate agent hired by the state to sell a $30 million Madison office building was charged Thursday with asking a bidder for a $75,000 kickback and revealing confidential bid information.

Larry J. Lupton, a vice president for UGL Equis Corp., got hit with federal charges of wire fraud and corruptly soliciting an improper payment. He faces up to 30 years in prison and a fine of $500,000. He is expected to make his first court appearance within 30 days.

See the release from the U.S. attorney's office:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/070510DOJEquis.pdf

Equis has an exclusive listing agreement with the Department of Administration to sell its building at 101 E. Wilson St. According to the U.S. attorney's office, Lupton sought up to $75,000 in kickbacks from a potential bidder and then revealed to the bidder secret bid amounts from other parties seeking to buy the building.

The potential bidder notified authorities and worked with the FBI and State Division of Criminal Investigation to secretly record conversations with Lupton, who works in the Brookfield office of Equis. The FBI and DCI executed a search warrant at the office. The Department of Administration has formally noticed UGL Equis that it is moving to terminate a deal with the company. The state Department of Regulation and Licensing is also looking at whether to take action against Lupton.

Equis signed a deal in 2004 to help the state identify surplus property to sell. Some have questioned the terms of the state's deal with Equis, including a commission rate of 4 percent, which is about twice the normal rate for transactions of this size, according to some brokers.

DOA spokeswoman Linda Barth said the state hasn't sold any of the property Equis has so far identified, though two parcels have been approved for sale by the Building Commission. The state has paid Equis $2.9 million to date, she said, and is assessing the opportunities to recoup damages. Barth said investigators notified the state two weeks ago about its investigation. "We cooperated with them," Barth said.

The contract has also been under scrutiny because Equis employees from Illinois and Colorado donated $17,500 to Doyle's campaign in 2005.

See DOA Secretary Morgan's statement:
http://www.wispolitics.com/index.iml?Article=95632

See the DOA notice to Equis:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/Equis___Notice_of_Termination_5.11.07.pdf

See DOA spreadsheets of properties for sale through Equis:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/Fee_Structure_summary__4_5_.xls

See a list of Equis donations:
http://www.opensecrets.org/wdc/employerdetail.asp?name=Equis+Corp

State Sen. Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield, is calling on fellow Republican and AG J.B. Van Hollen to investigate the Doyle administration's procurement process following the charges against Lupton.

See the Kanavas release:
http://www.wispolitics.com/index.iml?Article=95626

Lupton did not immediately return a call from WisPolitics to his Brookfield office. Company spokeswoman Christine Petersen gave this brief statement. "The only thing I can tell you is that we are fully cooperating with the FBI, and that's the only comment I can make right now." Petersen declined to say whether Lupton was still employed by Equis.

See a brief career bio for Lupton from the UGL Equis Corp. site:
http://www.equiscorp.com/people/person.cfm?pid=218

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Judge denies request to reconsider Hurtgen charges

A federal judge has denied a request to reconsider his decision to dismiss charges against former Tommy Thompson aide and bond trader Nick Hurtgen.

Federal prosecutors in Chicago filed the request after U.S. Judge John Grady ruled they had failed to provide required evidence to support charges filed against Hurtgen in a kickback scheme involving construction executives and the head of the Illinois board that regulates hospital projects.

The U.S. attorney's office in Chicago has 30 days from last week's decision to file a notice of appeal with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. "That's a decision we haven’t made yet and is under review," said Randall Samborn, spokesman for the Chicago office.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Supreme Court denies Ziegler request for original action, stay

The state Supreme Court today denied Annette Ziegler's request to take original action in her lawsuit challenging the Ethics Board complaint against her and refused her request for a temporary stay.

The court did not give any reasons for its decision in the one-page order. Justice Pat Roggensack dissented.

The Ethics Board filed a complaint against Ziegler last month seeking a $25,000 fine, charging she violated state conflict of interest codes by hearing cases in her Washington County court room involving a bank for which her husband serves as a director. The case is scheduled for a May 17 hearing in a Dane County court room.

Ziegler's attorney says he isn't sure about the next step.

"No decisions have been made as to what further steps we will take to bring up the issues that were raised before the Supreme Court," attorney Dan Hillenbrand said. "We haven't had time to figure that out yet."

Ziegler had argued that the Ethics Board didn't have the authority to discipline her, and the issue should be left up to the judicial branch. The board filed a response yesterday arguing state laws giving it the authority to discipline judges are constitutional and don't violate the separation of powers.

Ethics Board Executive Director Roth Judd says he isn't surprised. "We've expected the hearing to take May 17, and we still do," Judd said.

*See the court's one-page order:
http://www.wispolitics.com/index.iml?Article=95378

*View the original complaint:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/large/070418ZieglerComplaint.pdf

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Federal Elections Commission says Green did not violate federal law

Mark Green did not violate federal law when he transferred money from his congressional account to his gubernatorial fund for his 2006 bid, according to an FEC ruling.

The decision was in response to a complaint the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign filed during the campaign, arguing Green's transfer of some $468,000 violated federal law because the transfer was not permissible under state statutes. But the FEC rejected that argument in its ruling, handed down April 30. It found the transfer was allowable under federal law and stated that a violation of state law did not equate a federal violation as well.

Mark Graul, who served as Green's campaign manager, called the decision a vindication for the Republican, who had argued the transfer was legal. Green reached a settlement with the state Elections Board earlier this year to settle the lawsuit he filed challenging the agency's ruling. In the settlement, the SEB acknowledged that Green was following past precedent and the advice of a board attorney in transferring the money.

"It validates, vindicates everything that Mark Green said, everything that his campaign said," Graul said, calling the SEB decision a result of manipulation by Gov. Jim Doyle and one of his attorneys, who had contact with several Dem members before the vote ordering Green to dump the money.

A Doyle spokesman declined to respond to the comment, pointing out the election is over.

WDC Executive Director Mike McCabe said the FEC punted on what is essentially a moot point. He said he sympathized with Green because the SEB gave him "horribly mixed signals," but he disagreed Green has been validated because he cannot use the disputed money for a gubernatorial bid as he originally intended.

"I think it's sort of a weak-kneed response," he said of the FEC ruling.
"They ducked the larger issues. But they came down very clearly saying that state law trumps federal law. How often do you see that?"

*See the FEC analysis:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/070507_Green_FEC_Analysis.pdf

*See the Green settlement with the Elections Board:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/Green_Settlement.pdf

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Ethics Board agrees to give Supreme Court jurisdiction in Ziegler investigation

The state Ethics Board argued that Wisconsin laws giving it authority to discipline judges are constitutional and do not violate the separation of powers doctrine.

In its May 7 filing, the board also consented to the Supreme Court taking original jurisdiction in a suit Annette Ziegler filed to block enforcement of an Ethics Board complaint against her.

Ziegler, who won a spot on the Supreme Court last month, has challenged the board's complaint that she violated conflict of interest statutes by hearing cases in her Washington County courtroom involving a bank for which her husband is a director. She argues the judicial branch alone has oversight authority for state judges.

The Judicial Commission has opened its own investigation into Ziegler's handling of cases in her court.

The Ethics Board also consented to the stay Ziegler has requested pending the outcome of her suit. The board's complaint has a May 17 hearing scheduled in Dane County court.

See the Ethics Board filing:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/070507SEBZieglerRe.pdf

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Biskupic won't appeal Thompson decision

A spokeswoman for Milwaukee U.S. Attorney Steve Biskupic said he will not pursue an appeal to the reversal of DOA employee Georgia Thompson's conviction. The deadline for the appeal is today.

"We have not filed anything," said first assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Jacobs. She declined to elaborate on the rationale for not pursuing the appeal.

Last month, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago overturned Thompson's conviction on charges of steering a state contract to Adelman Travel, a company whose executives contributed to Gov. Jim Doyle's campaign. Biskupic argued that Thompson steered the contract to Adelman to gain favor with her superiors.

The appeals court ordered the immediate release of Thompson, who had served four months of her 18-month prison sentence. She has since returned to work at the DOA.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Supreme Court suspends Burke, Chvala law licenses

The Supreme Court suspended the law licenses of former Dem state Sens. Brian Burke and Chuck Chvala through 2008, writing in one ruling that the punishment was warranted to send a message to other attorneys.

Burke and Chvala first had their licenses suspended in 2006 after the Office of Lawyer Regulation filed complaints against both men stemming from their convictions on misconduct charges in the "caucus scandal."

Chvala's two-year suspension is retroactive to April 10, 2006, when his license was first suspended. Chvala initially objected to OLR's request to suspend his license but later entered into a stipulation admitting to the misconduct and agreeing to a two-year suspension.

The court did not require Chvala to pay the costs of the proceedings because he entered into a "comprehensive stipulation" that avoided the need for a referee. He cannot get his license back until after he successfully petitions for reinstatement.

Burke's two-year suspension is retroactive to Jan. 3, 2006. He also was ordered to pay court costs of more than $11,000 within 60 days and to take 15 hours of legal education ethics credits.

See the Burke decision: http://www.wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.html?content=html&seqNo=28900
See the Chvala decision: http://www.wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.html?content=html&seqNo=28899

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