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Top former aide to WI Gov Scott Walker accused of embezzling veterans funds

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Background: Before Scott Walker was elected Governor of Wisconsin in 2010, he was the chief executive of Milwaukee County. During that time, Timothy Russell was Walker's deputy chief of staff. This story is about Russell and two accomplices in an embazzlement scheme.

The Journal-Sentinel:

Two Milwaukee County officials appointed by Scott Walker when he was county executive were charged Thursday with embezzling more than $60,000 intended for veterans and their families, instead using the stolen funds on everything from Caribbean cruises to wedding expenses to renewing Walker-for-governor websites.

Prosecutors are accusing the two men - Timothy D. Russell, Walker's one-time deputy chief of staff, and county veterans official Kevin Kavanaugh - with multiple felonies as part of the ongoing John Doe investigation into Walker staffers. The pair is accused of stealing the funds at different times using separate means.
Russell's domestic partner, Brian Pierick, was also charged in an unrelated offense.

Four points:

1. "Ongoing John Doe investigation" means there could be more charges and more, yet-to-be-revealed defendants.

2. It appears that Walker's team may have instigated the investigation, though it's unclear why Walker put Russell in charge of the finances when there were already indications that Kavanaugh was cooking the books:
Walker, in an eight-minute conference call Thursday with reporters, said he was "very disappointed" about the alleged theft but emphasized that his office had been responsible for raising initial concerns about bookkeeping at Operation Freedom, an annual military appreciation day held at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Tom Nardelli, his chief of staff at the time, had contacted prosecutors about discrepancies in Operation Freedom's past records under Kavanaugh.

Walker did not directly respond to questions about his decision to later put Russell, one of his top Milwaukee County aides, in charge of the finances of Operation Freedom. The charges allege Russell then siphoned off thousands of dollars from the group's bank account for his personal use.
So three facts: Kavanaugh looked dirty; Nardelli contacts prosecutors about it; Russell was put in charge of a dirty operation and takes part of the skim. Take out the middle fact, and the story is clear.

Add in the middle fact and you can't figure out why Walker's deputy chief of staff implicates himself in an investigation called by his own boss into Kavanaugh.

Something doesn't add up, and no one's saying what.

3. Did you notice that this Mr. Russell is gay, with a domestic partner? Just a reminder of Scott Walker's public attitude toward gays:
Governor Scott Walker is teaming up with the ultra-right wing whack jobs at Wisconsin Family Action to fight against hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples in his state. Seriously. He's attacking gay couples when they're most vulnerable -- when there's hospitalization required. Add extreme homophobia to Walker's growing resume of shame[.]

No indication that Walker himself is implicated in the embezzlement, though I can't imagine that Russell, if he knew that Nardelli, another Walker staffer, had contacted prosecutors, would take the risk of becoming part of the operation. Absent Nardelli's notification, you could conclude that Walker either didn't know of the embezzlement, or had put a favored staffer in position to benefit from it.

By the way, the scale of the theft was impressive; in 2010, Russell stole half of all money collected by the veterans group. The rule in Hollywood used to be — "You can't steal $10 million from a $20 million movie." Russell and Kavanaugh found a way.

The article is good; there's much more and it's well researched. This will move forward, as the investigation and trials proceed. Stay tuned.


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