Will a criminal probe undo the GOP Guv even before a recall?...
By Ernest A. Canning on 3/19/2012, 12:55pm PT  

Guest blogged by Ernest A. Canning

What is it with Republicans and residency laws? Recently, in covering the conviction of Indiana's Republican Secretary of State Charlie White for six felonies, including three counts of felony voter fraud, Brad Friedman listed the growing number of high-level Republicans, including Mitt Romney, who may have committed voter fraud by casting ballots as registered voters from residences where they did not reside.

Now we find a little-noticed Feb. 23 report from Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) which reveals that criminal defense attorney Frank Gimbel filed a motion for change of venue --- from Milwaukee County to Columbia County --- in the criminal case pending against his client, Kelly M. Rindfleisch. Rindfleisch served as Scott Walker's Deputy Chief of Staff when Walker was the Milwaukee County Chief Executive and is one of four top deputies to have been indicted, so far, as part of Milwaukee County prosecutors' long-running "Joe Doe" investigation.

In his motion, Gimbel alleges Rindfleisch, "didn't live in Milwaukee County when the misconduct allegedly took place," according to WPR.

In the bargain, as a comparison of Gimbel's motion to the allegations contained in the 51-page criminal complaint [PDF] (the "Rindfleisch complaint") against her suggests, Gimbel may have implicated Rindfleisch and Walker in a criminal conspiracy to violate the residency requirement for Milwaukee County employment. That apparent violation appears to have occurred as part of the broader scheme alleged by prosecutors to misuse that office to gain a political advantage for Walker and other GOP candidates during the 2010 campaign...

Resident until charged

Last month we reported that the Rindfleisch complaint, which formally charges Walker's former Deputy Chief of Staff with four felony counts of misconduct in public office, contains factual allegations which implicate a number of individuals, listed as "interested parties." Those parties include WI's controversial Republican Governor in a wide-reaching criminal conspiracy to misuse public employees and resources for partisan political gain during the time of Walker's tenure as County Executive, before his ascendancy to the Governor's mansion in November of 2010.

To establish proper venue in Milwaukee County, prosecutors allege in the Rindfleisch complaint that, per her personnel file, "Rindfleisch claimed her residence as 133 South 93rd Street, West Allis, Wisconsin," which just happened to be the residence of "James Villa, former Chief of Staff for the Milwaukee County Executive Office and long-time personal friend of Scott Walker. He served as informal advisor to the Friends of Scott Walker in 2010."

According to WPR, in his change of venue motion, Gimbel alleges that the case against Rindfleisch should not be heard in Milwaukee County Circuit Court because she did not actually reside in Milwaukee County at the time she was employed in the Milwaukee County Executive Office. However, the official complaint alleges that Villa testified Rindfleisch began living in his home several days per week "to fulfill her residency requirement as a Milwaukee County employee." According to the prosecutors' complaint, that allegation was confirmed by "chats" pulled from Rindfleisch's laptop.

County employment as cover for campaign activity

WPR reports [emphasis added]:

The governor has distanced himself from Rindfleisch, although a copy of her personnel file obtained by Wisconsin Public Radio shows Walker was the only person to sign off on her hiring. He was also the only person to approve her promotion two months later.

In last month's article on the continuing "John Doe" investigation, we noted that Rindfleisch's promotion to Walker's Deputy Chief of Staff placed her less than 25 feet from the door of Walker's office as County Executive. That was at the same time, according to the Rindfleisch complaint, that she was routinely using a secret email system set up by Walker's former Deputy Chief of Staff Tim Russell to carry out extensive campaign activities on behalf of Walker's campaign arm which calls itself Friends of Scott Walker. But the complaint also alleges that Rindfleisch began her illegal participation in campaign activities during office hours from the moment she began working in the Milwaukee County Executive Office.

The change of venue motion, placed in the context of the allegations contained in the Rindfleish complaint, suggests that extraordinary efforts were made to evade the residency requirement in order to bring a political operative (Rindfleish --- who was also previously tied to the Assembly Republican Caucus Scandal that put several high-ranking state officials in jail several years earlier), into the Milwaukee County Executive Office in order to misuse that position for the political advantage of Walker in his 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

The fact that Walker signed off on both her initial hire and her later promotion strongly suggests that Walker was in on the scheme from day-one. That inference is reinforced by the "smoking gun" 5/14/10 emails between Walker and Russell and between Rindfleisch and Russell. That series of emails reveals that Rindfleisch pulled the plug on the secret email system just ten minutes after Walker told Russell, in the wake of public exposure of former Milwaukee County employee Darlene Wink's illegal political missives sent during office hours: "We cannot afford another story like this one…That means no laptops, no websites, no time away during the day, etc."

All-in-all, these points seem to back up our contention from last week, in the wake of the establishment of his new Legal Defense Fund, that Scott Walker may be now be a target of prosecutors in the long-running "John Doe" investigation which has already led to the indictments of four of his former top deputies.

While Walker is now set to face an historic recall election in June, based on his performance as Governor, one wonders whether a criminal indictment against him for his activities while County Executive could, in fact, occur even sooner than that...

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Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968). Follow him on Twitter: @Cann4ing.

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