Friday, March 23, 2012

Walkergate: Trouble In Paradise Revisited

In my post from yesterday, I pointed out an article that appeared on the JSOnline website which reported about partial transcripts of chats between Kelly Rindfleisch and Jim Villa.  One of the key parts of the article, at least to me, was that they discussed that Tim Russell was supposedly in Scott Walker's bad graces, and thus had been banished from the county executive's office:

According to Rindfleisch and Villa, Russell did something to get in Walker's bad graces.  That would explain why he was banished from the courthouse and put in the Housing Division in a different building altogether.  It would also explain why in the spring, while Russell was travelling and illegally campaigning with Walker on his Harley Davidson tour of the state, he was acting like a good sycophant, almost to the point of debasing himself, as depicted in the different videos taken during that trip.
And given that the actual transcripts, courtesy of JSOnline and reporter Dan Bice, are now available, it does seem like this might be a logical conclusion to make.  After all, Russell was moved out of the courthouse and had his privileges to the county executive's suite revoked.  Those could easily be interpreted as a sign of a fall from grace.

But as I thought about it, I started to wonder if that was the right explanation for the course of events.

Some things weren't just adding up.  If Russell was out of Walker's good graces, why would Walker take him on that Harley tour of the state just a couple of months later?  And why would he allow Russell to remain as administrator for his campaign website, right up until the day he was arrested and charged?

This nagged at me until I thought of one of the myriad details that is part of the Russell Tangent to Walkergate - Operation Freedom.

Operation Freedom was the thinly-veiled annual campaign stunt by Walker in which he would purportedly honor veterans by giving them a free day at the zoo.

If the reader will recall, Russell had bought the domain for the Historical Guard Preservation Society and turned that into a front group for him to manage the funds meant for Operation Freedom.  Russell did this in the summer of 2009 and in October of that year, Walker personally signed over the funds for Operation Freedom to Russell's pseudo-society:
If you read the complaint against Russell, you'll notice that most of the thefts were taken from the Heritage Guard Preservation Society. What's that? Well, it helped handle a Milwaukee County veterans' event at the Milwaukee County Zoo called "Operation Freedom," and how Tim Russell landed a gig handling its finances goes straight to Walker. 
Due to alleged financial mismanagement, in about 2009, Operation Freedom donations were entrusted to the Alonzo Cudworth American Legion Post. While by all reports the Cudworth Post discharged their financial duties in exemplary fashion, in October 2009, then County Executive Scott Walker transferred the Operation Freedom funds - some $19,000 - to HGPS, the corporation controlled by [Walker's then- Deputy Chief of Staff] Tim Russell. 
And interestingly, Russell had set up bank account in HGPS' name 2 months before Walker's proclamation, and named two Milwaukee County Walker employees as 2nd and 3rd in command- Darlene Wink and James Tetjen (hilariously, both of them say they have no idea what this organization was and never attended any of its meetings). Amazing this new "community" organization was being run by a bunch of Walker lackeys, huh?
But during all this time, the Ethics Board was on Walker's back to have that funding out of the county executive's office, meaning that it should be handled by a private agency.  Walker apparently chose to take them more literally and had Russell leave his office a few months after taking over the fund.

Instead of a demotion and sign of mistrust, Russell leaving the county executive office might have been more a sign of trust in which he let his faithful  friend and ally take this away from Walker's micromanagement.

One also needs to keep in mind that just two months after Russell left the county executive's office, another one of Walker's aides, Darlene Wink, got busted leaving comments on JSOnline and on political blogs.  When the news broke, Walker went straight to Russell, telling him to make sure that nothing like that happened again, not because it was illegal, but because he was worried about the impact to his campaign.

The simple fact that Walker went straight to Russell shows that Russell was very much still an integral part of Walker's campaign.  Not exactly the sign of someone that is on the outs with Walker, is it?

It could very well be that Russell wasn't kicked out of Walker's executive's office but was rather sent on a mission to help protect Walker's image by handling the funds away from the executive's office and taking away the heat that Walker was getting from the Ethics Board.

That scenario would fit in better with what we already know about the deep level of involvement Russell had in Walker's campaign, such as having oversight of Wink's campaign and fundraising activities.  This would make Rindfleisch's hiring and subsequent promotion appear even more politically motivated, since she admits that she did not have the experience to fit her official duties, but was more than an able campaign operative.

And as already mentioned, it was Walker that was personally responsible for not only the transfer of the veterans fund to Russell's front group. but for the hiring and promotion of Rindfleisch.  

If one or the other or both Rindfleisch and Russell decide that their own fates and freedom are worth more to them than Walker's political career, Walker would be in for a world of hurt, both politically and legally.


  1. Walker giving back part (50%?) of his salary always smelled (reeked) of corruption to me. He has never held a private job, where did those funds come from? Considering he has a wife, two kids, and a house in tosa.

  2. Capper, you raise good points especially regarding the timeline (Harley ride and email instructions after Wink incident). That hardly sounds like someone that was on the outs with Walker. Seems like Kelly Rindfleisch didn't know as much as she thought she did.

  3. Those funds came from his brown bag. It's a magic bag! Not only does it supply Walker with funds, it also has the ability to separate a state, rip apart unions, balance a budget that never seems balanced (hence taking from the mortgage settlement) and making teachers, support staff, and all of our public sector jobs seem like a joke to the rest of the state.

  4. 2:20 OT, afaik, Tonette comes from money. Not the daughter of a billionaire like Sen. Ron Johnson married (google on Ron and Shrink-wrap princess), not an heir to the Kimberly-Clark fortune (Sensenbrenner), but still substantial.

  5. What would be the circumstances in these future scenarios.

    - If (Gods forbid!) Walker squeaks to a win in the recall that happens before the criminal indictment, would Walker have to, or choose to, resign or could he stumble along conducting official duties along with sitting as a defendant?

    -If Walker wins (suspect voter tabulation fraud!) but Mahlon Mitchell wins the Lt. Gov. recall wouldn't he be in position to be governor if Walker resigns under indictment or is convicted prior to a regular state election?

    -If Walker remains in office (again, Gods forbid!) & refuses to resign but is convicted before the end of his term, am I right that the Lt. Gov. becomes governor- or will it require another election?

    Finally, is there any public disclosure of monies migrating from the Walker Recall Election Fund to Walker Legal "Cooperation" Fund? (with or without donor expressed permission?

  6. These blogs are filled with so much information that I can't find anywhere else. Thanks everyone!

  7. I have to differ with the MSJ reporter who suggests that KR was saying that Russell was on the outs with Walker. It sounded more to me like they, (Rindfleishch and Villa) thought that Russell was the one who decided to leave. One of them uses the term "pull the trigger", not meaning anything about guns, but meaning "made a decision" and it isn't clear to me whether that was Walker or Russell who pulled the trigger. I don't have any inside knowledge of this, I just didn't see it that Russell was demoted, they said he got a pay raise and had taken a cut to be in the "office" anyway.

  8. Is there any significance to Vilas having these weekly meetings that he mentions? Is that the usual way these politicians operate at the county level?

    1. The meetings are the Republican Party of Milwaukee County. I don't know if he is a member of them, but Tim Russell was their treasurer, so it might have been seen a slap the face, figuratively speaking.

  9. Agree with Cory, the timeline analysis is excellent.

  10. This analysis matches what I thought as soon as this 'on the outs' was reported.

    Misled and mistaken players in Walkergate: That not a bug- it's a feature!

    In a dysfunctional organization it is not unusual for people to be denied critical information, and sometimes they are the victims of disinformation. Obscuring both the reasons and motivations for decision making can cover up mistakes and sins, and keep the power concentrated.

    As far as these people under indictment figuring out that what they weren't told now has them on the hook, and now their friends were just ambitious backstabber, well schadenfreude baby.

  11. Looking at Rindfleisch and her background, she's painfully UNaware that Walker and his entire staff is just using her as a fundraiser. With her background, who would hire her? Except Walker, who needed dirty work of campaign fundraising on taxpayer time, and, she was stupid enough to do it. Looks like Rindfleisch will be stupid enough to take the fall for Walker too...which means she won't have to worry about a job for at least 14 years when she's bunking at Taycheedah. When she gets out, she'll probably be close to collecting Social Security.

  12. Something very interesting:

    1147 FRI 05MAR2010
    Rindfleisch: Quick question, is Gerry Geishart one of your members?

    Villa: Don't think so.

    Rindfleisch: Ok. Would any of your members know what a hotel would lease for? (end of chat)

    Who is Gery Geishart? He is a realtor who buys and sells properties, many of which deal directly with counties. Why is a County Executive Deputy Chief of Staff asking the former County Executive Chief of Staff? Turns out, Villa is now President of the Commercial Association of Wisconsin Realtors, thus Geishart could be "one of Villa's members". What else do we know? Andrew Jensen, a different realtor, was given immunity in the John Doe investigation and later arrested for failure to comply with authorities. Anything else suspicious? The lawyers Walker hired specialize in real estate and complex criminal law.

    So, I guess the real question is, why would hotel lease costs motivate Rindflesch to ask Villa about Geishart? I suppose the county could be interested in leasing one of Geishart's properties, assuming he is the current owner. But why? The other details seem to paint a picture of the County Executive's Office being accused of engaging in some form of real estate shenanigans. These chat transcripts are the first physical documents that link the Executive's Office, Walker's Campaign, and real estate dealings.

  13. From the Milwaukee County website:

    "...leases of County-owned real estate and appurtenances are administered by the Department of Public Works..."

    "...The Real Estate Services Section (Part of Public Works) administers the leasing, acquisition and disposition of a wide variety of buildings and vacant property owned by Milwaukee County. Real Estate Services is specifically responsible for marketing, negotiating and selling excess County-owned properties..."

    At least from the website, the Executive's Office doesn't seem to deal with procurement, property, or leasing, making the question above even more interesting...

  14. When you connect how much the Realtors have given to Walker, both in 2010 and in supporting him now, and then put it together with Villa and Jensen...yeah, I think it's more than coincidental. There's definite pay-to-play action here. And I'm betting Chisholm is arranging just how deep and how much pay it was.

    Also, thanks for the props on the article, Capper. Good work by the commentators here too.

  15. I first have to also laud the work of the author and commentators, bravo, peoples! Although a resident of WA state, I've watched with horror what has gone on in wisconsin these last few years. My biggest fear is having Rs take over the Gov mansion (very possible in Nov) and/or house&senate (less likely). Your brave response to Walker's and fellow R's shameless overreach and brazen criminality has inspired progressives across the nation and provided a template for action, and you should all be as proud of yourselves as I am of you. Keep up the fight. You will prevail. Thank you!

    WJC III, Olympia