A former aide to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Tim Russell, has reached a plea deal on charges he stole money from a veterans charity. The deal is the latest news in Wisconsin’s ongoing John Doe Investigation into the misdeeds of staffers in the Milwaukee County Executives office during the Scott Walker years that is now being conducted by Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf.
The investigation has unfolded so far without touching now-Governor Walker himself. Russell, who served as Walker’s Director of Housing, had his hearing yesterday. He could face up to 14 years in jail. The charges against Russell include:
Two felony counts of theft and one misdemeanor theft charge, related to money he allegedly took that was meant for veterans and their families. Russell took more than $20,000 from a veterans group known as the Heritage Guard Preservation Society, as well as thousands from two Milwaukee County Board candidates’ campaign committees, according to the criminal complaint against him. He allegedly used the money for trips to Hawaii and the Caribbean, for meetings with former presidential candidate Herman Cain and campaign operative Mark Block in Atlanta, and for renewing campaign websites for Walker’s gubernatorial campaign. The complaint said Russell “stole more than 50 cents of every donation dollar deposited” into the preservation society’s account in 2010.
Last week, former Walker staffer Kelly Rindfleisch was sentenced to six months in jail for doing illegal campaign work on county time. According to the Wisconsin State Journal’s Chris Rickert, the sentencing tarnishes Walker whether he is charged personally or not:
Charged or not, though, Walker hardly seems blameless.
Assume that Rindfleisch and other county staffers worked with Walker and his campaign staffers to advance Walker’s political career. What does it matter that the former did it on the taxpayer’s time and the latter on the campaign’s time?
It reminds me of the scene from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” where Jeff Spicoli, a high school surfer/stoner, has a pizza delivered to his classroom. His teacher, Mr. Hand, is not pleased that Spicoli is eating on “my time.”
Spicoli’s response — “If I’m here and you’re here, doesn’t that make it ‘our’ time?” — speaks to a certain universal truth that, nevertheless, doesn’t seem to apply to Walker.
It might be that Rindfleisch and Walker spent a lot of their time cheating taxpayers. But only Rindfleisch ends up doing any time.
Darlene Wink, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges, has had her sentencing pushed back to January 10th. She is expected to testify in the Russell trial which is expected to start on December 3rd.