Milwaukee County investigators have officially closed an investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s former Milwaukee County Executive office that resulted in six officials being charged and began nearly three years ago, according to a statement released Friday.
Neal Nettesheim, a Milwaukee County reserve judge who presided over the investigation, signed an order Feb. 21 to close the John Doe investigation. The investigation charged six people, three of whom are former Walker staffers, who were convicted of embezzlement or campaigning on county time.
“The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office follows a policy of filing charges only where it believes proof beyond a reasonable doubt supports the allegations in the criminal complaint,” Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said in the statement. “After a review of the John Doe evidence, I am satisfied that all charges that are supported by proof beyond a reasonable doubt have now been brought and concluded.”
The statement said Nettesheim authorized public disclosure about the investigation’s end after Feb. 28 and ordered all evidence not already made public that was gathered during the investigation to remain secret.
Walker said in a statement the investigation began when his office asked the DA’s office to look into concerns they had regarding Operation Freedom, a nonprofit event supporting veterans. In November, former Walker Deputy Chief of Staff Tim Russell plead guilty to stealing $21,000 from the funds supporting the event.
“I am glad the process has been completed,” Walker said in a statement. “We appreciate the effort that was undertaken and to bring appropriate matters to justice.”
In a statement, Rep. Don Pridemore, R-Erin, congratulated Walker on his vindication in the probe and admired Walker’s “resolute spirit despite the often presumptuous media coverage.”
However, Jay Heck, Common Cause in Wisconsin executive director, said regardless of whether Walker knew about his employees’ criminal actions, he still bears responsibility for hiring them. He said Walker should not take credit for initiating the investigation since he hired the employees who created the problems in the first place.
“Governor Walker dodged a bullet,” Heck said. “The fact that two of his top aides, deputy chiefs of staff during his tenure as Milwaukee County Executive were charged raises serious questions about his judgment.”
Heck said the interview transcripts and evidence that investigators collected would not be released to the public due to the nature of the probe. However, he said investigators may release how many people and who they interviewed.
In a conference call with reporters, Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate called on Walker to release all emails involved with the probe so the public could see a full picture of the investigation.
“There is a difference between being charged of a crime and the district attorney feeling as though he has enough evidence to go through with the conviction,” Tate said. “It’s important that we understand the full nature and behavior of what transpired here.”
United Wisconsin Political Director Erik Kirkstein said in an email to The Badger Herald the decision not to charge Walker was disappointing. He said it is impossible to believe Walker had no knowledge of what was happening in his own office.
Kirkstein said the six people charged with crimes, in addition to the unknown number of officials who received immunity for cooperating with the investigation, show a pattern of corruption that Walker failed to stop.
“Milwaukee County residents expected and deserved better than what then-County Executive Scott Walker gave them,” Kirkstein said. “Now the entire state is left wondering what may be happening on Walker’s watch in the governor’s office.”
The end of the investigation provoked a strong response from DPW spokesperson Graeme Zielinski, who posted three tweets comparing Walker to Jeffrey Dahmer, a serial killer who killed 17 people.
In his tweets, Zielinski claimed Walker spent more money than Dahmer to “beat criminal charges” and had better lawyers, making it “clear that he committed crimes.”
“What do @GovWalker and Jeffery Dahmer have in common”? Zielinski tweeted.
Zielinski and Tate did not return emails for comment on the tweets. Zielinski has since tweeted two apologies to Dahmer’s victims and to Walker.