Sunday, October 14, 2012

This week in WisGOP corruption pt. 1 - Walkergate convictions

Quite a remarkable run this week for the Wisconsin Republican Party and stories about sleazy behavior and corruption. Let's review.

1. The John Doe convictions of Kelly Rindfleisch and Kevin Kavanaugh. Both were appointed by Scott Walker in Milwaukee County, and both flagrantly broke the law during their time in office. Kavanaugh was found guilty of stealing more than $51,000 from veterans while working for Walker, as part of Walker and WTMJ's sponsored "Operation Freedom" campaign. As I mentioned last week, Operation Freedom may have been a noble charity, set up to give aid to the families of fallen and injured vets, but some skeptical minds might also note that it also seemed to be a GOP source of support for one Scott Walker. And I am one of those skeptical minds, as I mentioned last week
Kavanaugh was a Walker appointee who handled Operation Freedom funds for several years, and is accused of embezzling the money between 2006 and 2009. After Walker's Chief of Staff Tom Nardelli noticed the funds missing (note, it was NOT Walker who brought this up), Walker gave control of Operation Freedom funds over to a local American Legion post in early 2009. Interestingly, later in 2009 Walker took away the handling of funds for Operation Freedom from the American Legion, and gave it over to a non-profit headed by...Tim Russell. And Russell allegedly began to embezzle the funds for his own use, as well as a "Scott Walker for Governor" website.

The other part people forget about the Kavanaugh and Russell cases is that a lot of the donations for Operation Freedom came from some connected names and businesses, as mentioned on Page 17 of the Tim Russell criminal complaint. Kavanaugh is alleged to have used donations by then-State Rep. Mark Gundrum (who Walker would later appoint as a Court of Appeals judge), and Russell also got some of his Operation Freedom funds from GOP backers and politicians.
In addition to Russell (whose trial is slated to start in December), Rindfleisch's criminal complaint quotes her as "doing Operation Freedom" when she landed Russell's old job in Walker's office in early 2010. She was given a sweet deal, where she pleaded guilty to 1 of the 4 felonies of misconduct in office she was accused of. Rindfleisch then tried to weasel out of that great deal by pleading no contest (admitting no guilt) and trying to maintain her voter eligibility (which the felony would take away). She was laughed out of the courtroom, with the record showing her as guilty, and the GOP loses her vote for November (barring voter fraud, which we know the GOP is totally against, right?).

Now what did Kelly tell the Milwaukee County D-A's to get such a good deal? Guess we'll find out soon enough, and you can bet it'll be good.

2. We also had an update regarding the first person convicted under the John Doe investigation- former Wisconsin and Southern Railroad CEO William Gardner. Gardner was found guilty of two felony counts last year of telling his employees to give contributions in 2010 to Walker's campaign and others, and then paying those employees back, and got fined over $166,000 for doing so.

Since Gardner's conviction, WSOR got bought by Kansas-based Watco, whose says its biggest customer is Koch Industries, and has given huge donations to Kansas Republicans over the years. But I'm sure that's all coincidental.

Just like I'm sure that it's coincidental that Watco announced plans to move 30 jobs out of Wisconsin and into Kansas, and that other managers had already left the former WSOR. And Gardner? He's already parachuted out of there. So this WSOR pay-to-play deal helped Scott Walker's campaign, helped Bill Gardner and WSOR grab quite a few taxpayer funds, and increase the amount of rail availability for Koch Industries. In return, the state of Wisconsin fewer jobs and less integrity. Cool trade-off, eh?

The more you look into these incidents, the less isolated they are. Common tactics, common contrbutors, and connected people. It's very hard to think that Gardner, Kavanaugh, Rindfleisch, and Russell were all going rogue, and I have a feeling the Milwaukee County D-A's office knows it as well.

So just wait for the dots to be connected, and realize that there are other shoes to drop on the organized crime synidcate known as the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

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