MILWAUKEE (AP) — One of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's close associates pleaded guilty Thursday to stealing thousands of dollars from a nonprofit group he ran, in a deal with prosecutors that could spare him more than a decade behind bars.
Tim Russell, 49, was charged in January with two felony counts of theft and a misdemeanor count of theft. Prosecutors accused him of stealing at least $21,000 from the Heritage Guard Preservation Society and $3,500 from two Milwaukee County board candidates' campaign accounts.
He would have faced up to 14 years behind bars and $45,000 in fines if he was convicted on all three charges.
Instead he brokered a deal with Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf that called for him to plead guilty to one felony count relating to the Heritage Guard Preservation Society and pay $28,000 in restitution. In exchange, Landgraf agreed to drop the two charges tied to the campaign thefts, promised not to seek any fines and pledged to recommend Russell serve 30 months in custody and 30 months on extended supervision. Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David Hansher won't be bound by the recommendations when he hands down Russell's sentence on Jan. 22, however.
At Thursday's hearing, Russell spoke only in response to Hansher's questions about whether he understood the terms of deal. The proceeding was over in less than 15 minutes.
Russell, who remains free on a $20,000 signature bond until his sentencing, ducked into a stairwell after the hearing to avoid reporters. His attorney, Parker Mathers, quickly read a statement saying Russell was glad his case was close to being resolved before following his client.
According to a criminal complaint, Russell worked on and off in Walker's administration while Walker served as Milwaukee County Executive from 2002 to 2010. Walker appointed him in 1999 to lead the Heritage Guard Preservation Society, a nonprofit group that organizes outings for veterans to the Milwaukee County Zoo. Russell used his position to steal at least $21,000 from the group in 2009 and 2010 and spent the money on vacations to Hawaii and the Caribbean and on a trip to Atlanta to meet GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain, the complaint said.
Russell also controlled county board candidate Chris Kujawa's campaign account in 2007, the complaint said. After Kujawa lost his bid for office, Russell transferred $3,000 from the campaign fund into Russell's personal account. He used money from the Heritage Guard Preservation Society to refill the campaign account two years later, the complaint said.
Russell also handled county board candidate Larry Spicer's campaign account in 2010. Months after Spicer lost in a primary, Russell withdrew $550 from the campaign account with Spicer's knowledge, the complaint said.
The charges stem from a secret investigation prosecutors launched into Walker's county administration in May 2010. Four of Walker's former aides as well as a campaign donor have now been convicted on charges ranging from theft to misconduct in office.
Russell's domestic partner, Brian Pierick, was also caught up in the probe. Prosecutors charged him with child enticement in January after investigators working on Russell's case said they uncovered evidence Pierick tried to coax 17-year-old boy into his van for sex.
Walker hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing and said this week he's "absolutely" not a target in the probe. It's unclear whether investigators have finished their work, though. Landgraf declined to comment on the investigation's status Thursday.
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