MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Milwaukee judge sentenced one of Gov. Scott Walker's former top aides to six months in jail and three years of probation Monday for doing campaign work on the taxpayers' time, saying she needs to learn the difference between right and wrong in public office.
Kelly Rindfleisch, now 44, worked as Walker's deputy chief of staff when he was the Milwaukee County executive in 2010. Prosecutors accused her of working on Republican Brett Davis' lieutenant governor campaign out of her county office.
She pleaded guilty last month to one felony count of misconduct in office in a deal with prosecutors. She faced up to three-and-a-half years in prison and $10,000 in fines, but Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf agreed to recommend probation with jail time and promised to not seek restitution.
Rindfleisch's family packed the tiny courtroom for her sentencing hearing Monday, listening as Rindfleisch and her attorney tried to persuade Judge David Hansher to forego any jail time and instead give her community service. Rindfleisch told the judge that Milwaukee County taxpayers were always her first priority.
"I take full responsibility for my actions and pretty much guarantee you I will never behave that way again," she said.
Her family let out a collective gasp as Hansher ordered her to spend a half-year in jail. The judge said Rindfleisch should have known better and he wanted to send a "shot across the bow" to all public workers that they can't campaign on the taxpayers' dime.
"She clearly knew what she was doing was illegal and wrong," Hansher said. "Her rehabilitative need is simply to know what is right and what is wrong in public office. It's not that hard to understand."
Rindfleisch is one of six people charged in a secret investigation Milwaukee prosecutors launched into Walker's county office. Charges have ranged from exceeding legal campaign contribution limits to theft. Walker himself hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing, but since the investigation is secret, it's unclear how much more work investigators plan to put in.
Landgraf put on a lengthy slideshow presentation in court, displaying Rindfleisch emails he said incriminated her. He noted investigators recovered nearly 1,500 Davis-related emails from Rindfleisch's account that were sent during the workday, most of them centered on lining up hosts for fundraisers, he said.
He also alleged high-ranking officials in Walker's gubernatorial campaign were in routine contact with Rindfleisch and other county employees, asking them to research local issues for the campaign and setting up daily conference calls to decide how to handle the media.
"You guys are in the driver's seat," she wrote in one message to Walker campaign manager Keith Gilkes.
Landraff said in a sentencing memo that Rindfleisch should have known her activities were illegal after she got caught up in a 2002 investigation into legislators and their aides campaigning on state time. Rindfleisch received immunity in that investigation and underwent ethics training.
Rindfliesch's attorney, Franklyn Gimbel, blasted prosecutors for not going after Walker, Gilkes, Davis and other county workers who corresponded with the Walker campaign. He said her friends and co-workers have deserted her.
"The impact on this woman has been devastating," Gimbel said.
Hansher granted Gimbel's request to stay the sentence pending appeal, but he said the case against her is solid. She has demonstrated "a pattern of undesirable behavior," the judge said.
A spokesman for Walker's campaign didn't immediately respond to telephone and email messages late Thursday afternoon.
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