Former aide to Wisconsin governor pleads guilty
MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - A former aide to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker pleaded guilty on Tuesday to charges of soliciting campaign contributions while she was supposed to be working at her government job, and agreed to assist in the investigation into illegal fundraising.
Darlene Wink, 61, a former assistant to Walker when he was Milwaukee County Executive, was charged late last month along with another former Walker aide.
The guilty plea to two misdemeanor charges could give fresh ammunition to critics seeking to recall Republican Walker over a law he championed last year curbing the powers of public sector unions. A representative for Walker was not immediately available for comment.
Wink had been charged along with another woman, former deputy chief of staff Kelly Rindfleisch, in an investigation into allegations of illegal political fundraising.
The investigation found that a private e-mail network had been set up and run out of Walker's office in 2010 to communicate campaign and government-related information to "select individuals," according to Milwaukee County prosecutors.
Wink has agreed to assist in the investigation. Walker has said he would talk to prosecutors as part of the investigation.
Wink's lawyer, Peter Wolff, said the plea agreement calls for Wink to serve no jail time. She will be sentenced May 15 by Circuit Court Judge Daniel Konkol, who could reject the agreement. The two misdemeanors each carry a fine of up to $1,000 and six months in jail.
Wisconsin Democratic party chair Mike Tate said the guilty plea is the "clearest evidence yet of the culture of corruption built to benefit Scott Walker on his crooked path from Milwaukee to Madison."
The charges against the former aides followed a fierce partisan battle in the state last year in which Republican lawmakers successfully pushed through controversial measures to curb the collective bargaining power of public sector workers.
Opponents of Walker are also seeking to recall four Republican state senators, including Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch.
Officials at the state's Government Accountability Board are working to verify the petitions, which could trigger special elections in the late spring or early summer.
The illegal fundraising charges stem from the execution of a search warrant at Walker's Milwaukee offices on November 1, 2010 - just a day before Walker beat Democrat Tom Barrett in the race to replace outgoing Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle.
On the laptop of Rindfleisch, Walker's then-deputy chief of staff, authorities found what they said were hundreds of e-mails and instant messages showing Rindfleisch raising money for Brett Davis, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor favored by the Walker campaign, while she was being paid by Milwaukee taxpayers, the criminal complaint said.
Rindfleisch, 43, has been charged with four felony counts of misconduct in public office. Each charge carries a maximum term of 3-1/2 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
Also in January, another former deputy chief of staff to Walker was charged with fraud, accused of embezzling thousands of dollars from a fund for families of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.