Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm (D) announced on Thursday charges against three men, including a former top aide to Gov. Scott Walker (R) during his time as Milwaukee County Executive, in two separate sets of criminal allegations.
Tim Russell, a former county aide to Walker, and Kevin Kavanaugh, former treasurer of the Milwaukee chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart (and also Walker’s appointee to the Milwaukee County Veteran Service Commission), are charged with mishandling funds involved in a military charity project that had been spearheaded by Walker, called Operation Freedom. The money was intended to help wounded veterans and the families of service-members who were killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.
To be clear, Walker’s county office itself, in 2010, asked prosecutors to investigate the missing money, after a shortfall of $11,000 was discovered.The probe stemmed from the ongoing “John Doe” investigation — a secret proceeding in which witnesses can be subpoenaed to testify under oath, but are forbidden from talking publicly about the case. It has been reported to have originated from a staffer resigning in 2010, when she was found using her county time to post reader comments on online newspaper article promoting Walker’s gubernatorial candidacy and criticizing his opponents.
Russell is charged with using over $20,000 from the veterans benefit activities, through an entity called the Heritage Guard Preservation Society, for his own personal purposes, as well as embezzling funds from the campaigns of two candidates for the county board.
He is accused of using the money, in part, to pay for Hawaiian and Caribbean vacations with his domestic partner Brian Pierick. (And for his part, Pierick has been accused of a sex offense discovered in the course of the investigation. More on that below.)
Also among the uses was a trip to Atlanta in early December, to participate in a group meeting with Mark Block, chief of staff to Herman Cain’s presidential campaign. Block is recorded as having cooperated with the investigation, testifying to investigators.
Kavanaugh is charged with stealing over $40,000 from the Military Order of the Purple Heart, including funds connected to the Operation Freedom event. This includes $4,800 taken from part of the donations from then-state Rep. Mark Gundrum (now a judge), who was serving on active duty in Iraq in 2008, and chose to donate his legislative salary to charity for the purpose of helping wounded veterans.
Also charged by Chisholm, in a separate matter that was discovered in the investigation, is Russell’s domestic partner Brian Pierick, on what Chisholm described as a count of child enticement, and a count of causing a child to expose his genitals.
Pierick has worked at the state Department of Public Instruction, as an office operations associate for school improvement grants and education for homeless youth. The Wisconsin State Journal reports that the DPI says Pierick was fired Thursday, had a clear background check at the time of his hiring, and did not work directly with children.
Chisholm said that the alleged child enticement by Pierick occurred in neighboring Waukesha County, but that he has been granted the jurisdiction to investigate the matter in his capacity as a special prosecutor.
As WisPolitics reports, investigators found evidence against Pierick after confiscating computers from the home that he and Russell share.