U.S. Senate candidate from Wisconsin pleads guilty to misconduct in office

MILWAUKEE (CN) — A Milwaukee alderwoman who participated in last summer’s crowded Democratic primary race for a U.S. Senate seat in Wisconsin pleaded guilty to criminal misconduct in public office on Monday in a campaign finance case that seems to have effectively ended his career in elected office.

Alderman Chantia Lewis, a Democrat, was charged last September in Milwaukee County Circuit Court with filing false campaign finance reports that misrepresented her campaign account balances and activity. , deposited campaign contributions into his personal bank accounts, attempted to circumvent campaign contribution limit requirements and used campaign funds for personal expenses.

According to the criminal complaint, from 2016 to 2020, Lewis, 42, spent more than $13,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses and approximately $3,200 in campaign funds while traveling out of state. for Milwaukee City Affairs, and deposited approximately $2,700 in campaign funds. checks to his personal bank accounts. She also arranged to be fraudulently reimbursed by the city for more than $2,000 in travel funds, according to the complaint.

Prosecutors specifically allege that Lewis fraudulently sought reimbursement from the city for expenses she incurred to travel to conferences and conventions in Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Houston, Miami and other locations, but paid for this trip from her campaign account and deposited reimbursement funds into her. personal bank account.

The charging document further alleges that the alderwoman took campaign money for family trips to Georgia and Wisconsin Dells, a trip to a worship conference at Deeper Fellowship Church in Orlando, expenses tuition at Agape Love Bible College in Milwaukee, payments at a Milwaukee auto repair shop. and rent from his apartment in Milwaukee, as well as illegal ATM withdrawals and credit card bill payments.

Lewis was charged with four felonies, two alleging campaign finance violations and one misdemeanor fraud theft. An embezzlement charge carries the heaviest penalty, including up to $25,000 in fines and a maximum of 10 years in prison, or both. The alderwoman has been free on $1,000 bond since September.

On Monday, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Westphal and Lewis’ attorney, Milwaukee defense attorney Michael Chernin, said the parties negotiated to read and dismiss three of the five charges she faces, including the felony of embezzlement and a felony for filing false campaign finance. report.

There remained the felony for misconduct in public service and a campaign finance felony for intentionally accepting an illegal disbursement. The state recommended a year in prison for the first and a sentence of 3 and a half years divided between 18 months in prison and two years of prolonged supervision to be suspended for probation for the second. Westphal also included full restitution for all victims and a judgment barring Lewis from office as additional conditions.

Lewis, who appeared remotely after showing symptoms of Covid-19 on Sunday, eventually pleaded guilty to public misconduct in office and did not contest the campaign finance charge.

At first the alderman refused to admit that she had knowingly and intentionally misconducted her duties and said she disagreed “that I was aware of the process and how write a campaign finance report”.

Chernin clarified that Lewis did her own accounting while admitting that “there were disbursements from her campaign account that shouldn’t have happened,” though he said she did “by lack of knowledge”.

Judges Milton Childs and Westphal questioned whether this really constituted a guilty plea. After a brief break in the proceedings for a confidential conversation between Lewis and Chernin, Lewis agreed that she knew her conduct exceeded her authority and upheld her guilty plea. She did not dispute any element of the remaining campaign finance charge.

Childs entered a judgment of condemnation on the record and an additional judgment declaring the forfeiture of Lewis’s right to hold office. After pleading out of court, Lewis then faces sentencing at a court hearing scheduled for the morning of August 25. fines per charge.

First elected in 2016 and re-elected in 2020, Lewis served on the Milwaukee Common Council, the legislative body responsible for developing policy in the city of Milwaukee. It represented the city’s 9th Alderman’s District, covering much of the farthest northwest region of the city. Lewis was officially removed from his post following Monday’s court orders.

Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson, then chairman of the Milwaukee Common Council, immediately relieved Lewis of his committee duties when the complaint was filed in September, although he reserved judgment as to his guilt. or his innocence while the case unfolded in court.

Last summer, Lewis threw his hat into the ring for the closely watched 2022 midterm race for a U.S. Senate seat currently held by Ron Johnson of Oshkosh, a Republican. Although Lewis’ Milwaukee office and campaign staff have not provided a response to recent repeated inquiries about the status of his dormant Senate campaign, Monday’s proceedings appear to confirm the end of his run for the public service.

The field for the Aug. 9 Democratic primary is led by frontrunners Mandela Barnes, lieutenant governor of Wisconsin, and Alex Lasry, an NBA Milwaukee Bucks executive, in addition to state treasurer Sarah Godlewski, manager of Outagamie County Tom Nelson and others. Lewis did not join those candidates in a televised debate in Milwaukee on Sunday night.

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