|Prosecutors: Walker county staff, guv campaign met regularly to ensure ‘good coordination’
MILWAUKEE — Prosecutors today said Scott Walker had regular meetings with his Milwaukee County staffers and his 2010 guv campaign to ensure there was “good coordination” between the two.
Milwaukee County prosecutors made the disclosure during the sentencing of Kelly Rindfleisch, a former Walker county aide who reached a plea deal to settle charges against her stemming from the long-running John Doe probe.
Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf said the group that met regularly included people from Walker’s campaign such as campaign manager Keith Gilkes and spokeswoman Jill Bader along with county employees such as chief of staff Tom Nardelli, spokeswoman Fran McLaughlin, administration director Cindy Archer and Rindfleisch, according to email correspondence obtained by investigators.
In court, Landgraf said Walker adviser R.J. Johnson was also part of the group. But he said later in a short interview that Johnson was not.
Landgraf used a detailed power point presentation to implicate Walker and his aides in doing political work using county resources.
Rindfleisch attorney Franklyn Gimbel said “what jumped off the page” in Landgraf’s 65-minute presentation was that his client was the only one of those mentioned in the power point who’s facing jail time.
“Scott Walker has not been accused of any wrongdoing,” Gimbel said, raising both hands in exasperation.
Landgraf did not address in court whether anyone else would be charged in the investigation and declined to answer questions on that topic afterward. Walker has repeatedly said he is not a target of the probe.
Archer hasn’t been charged, though investigators have searched her home as part of the probe. Prosecutors earlier this year requested personnel records for all four former county aides mentioned as part of the group.
Walker’s campaign downplayed the allegations raised in court today.
Walker campaign spokesman Tom Evenson said it is not usual for an elected official’s office staff and campaign staff to discuss meeting schedules, emergency contacts, and how to address media inquiries directed at both the campaign and the official office.
“Balancing the daily calendars, meetings and issues covered by the media for an elected official present challenges in the course of a campaign that require routine communication by both sets of staff,” Evenson said.
State Dem Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski said Rindfleisch was a “victim of her loyalty” to Walker.
“It’s clear now that he presided over a criminal culture where county government in Milwaukee became an adjunct of his campaign,” Zielinski said. “The citizens of Wisconsin should be afraid that this criminal culture has been imported to Madison.”
In his power point presentation, Landgraf also noted an email referencing daily conference calls that included Archer and Tim Russell.
Russell has been charged with stealing money from a fund operated to assist veterans that was run out of Walker’s office. While Russell has been mentioned prominently in other criminal complaints, he hasn’t been charged with campaign violations. Earlier, Landgraf had said those were still possible.
Landgraf also noted that Rindfleisch, in an email to a friend, had said that half of her time in the county executive’s office would be spent on “policy for the campaign.”
In addition to highlighting the political work, Landgraf detailed steps he says Walker’s campaign and county aides took to take the spotlight off negative events that happened in his county administration during the 2010 guv campaign.
Landgraf noted that at one point a request came in for records of work done on a county-owned parking garage after a decorative concrete slab fell onto a teenage boy, killing him. Gilkes reportedly said the open records should be sent to the county’s top lawyer, Tim Schoewe, and that he should “drag it out.”
Another email indicated that Bader “would task” the county exec’s staff to do research on a matter that later was used on Walker’s campaign material.
Yet another time Gateway to Milwaukee had asked for a short essay related to the Walker’s campaign and Bader sent it to the county staff to prepare. Most of the work was done by McLaughlin, Walker’s spokeswoman at the county office. She was given immunity in the John Doe probe.
There was also considerable concern about negative news coming out of the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Institute, and the group of aides talked about the need to redirect the attention to problems at the state hospital in Mendota.
Rindfleisch was sentenced to six months in jail and three years probation. Her sentence was stayed pending an appeal, and Milwaukee County Judge David Hansher said she could serve her sentence in Columbia County, where she lives, and allowed her work release privileges.
Prosecutors have portrayed Rindfleisch as uncooperative in providing information about others as part of the John Doe probe.
Gimbel, though, said while Landgraf described his client as not helpful, she had been truthful and cooperated “notwithstanding that she did not deliver another defendant for them.”
In a court filing Friday, prosecutors alleged Rindfleisch continued to do political work for Walker’s campaign even after she came under suspicion in the John Doe. They also alleged that after she was charged, she went to work for a company that did work for Walker’s guv recall campaign.
But Gimbel said in court Rindfleisch went to work for Friends of Scott Walker only to plan the victory celebrations after the election. While the company she went to work for was retained by the state GOP, it also had medical and dental clients. But the stories that have appeared in the media about the connection may put that job in jeopardy, Gimbel said.
She has had to use her retirement savings on legal fees and to live, he said.
“There is no coziness that continues” between Rindfleisch and the GOP and they have “not stepped up to the plate to assist Ms. Rindfleisch.”
Kelly was tearful and told the judge she accepted full responsibility for her crime.
“I apologize to the people of Milwaukee County and assure them and you that Milwaukee County was always my first priority,” she said. “I take full responsibility for my actions, and I can pretty much guarantee that it will never happen again.”
Hansher note that while the crime was not vicious or violent, it was a felony and that “she clearly knew what she was doing was illegal and wrong.”
He noted that she was on notice after the so-called “caucus scandal” in the state Capitol more than a decade ago. Hansher said her sentence is “a shot across the bow” to let other state and municipal employees know that they cannot do political work during time when they are supposed to be doing government work.
Hansher also said he did not pay attention to Landgraf’s memo noting Rindfleisch had taken a job with Walker’s campaign and a company that did extensive work for the Republicans.
“I presume the implication is that she’s fallen on her sword for Scott Walker and the Republican Party,” he said. “I am giving that no weight at all.”
— By Marie Rohde