Friday, September 23, 2011

Everyone's Favorite John Doe Investigation just went from Interesting to Downright Sexy

If there's such a thing a speculative corruption porn -- and let's face it, there is -- then today's JDI news should be this month's centerfold:
A report from out today reveals that Gov. Scott Walker's spokesperson, Cullen Werwie, and two other individuals have been granted immunity in the ongoing John Doe investigation (outlined earlier by dane101 here).

"Rose Ann Dieck, a retired teacher and Milwaukee County Republican party activist, and Kenneth Lucht, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad, have also been granted immunity in matters 'still under inquiry' through the secret probe, according to the judge overseeing the case."
Why is this news suddenly so sexy? Two reasons:

First, the fact that immunity has been granted means investigators believe the grantees know something. Maybe they do, maybe they don't, but the investigators think that granting them immunity will further their case. This says a lot about how far along the investigation is and where it is headed.

Which just so happens to be reason #2. Heretofore, the investigation appeared to be limited to Milwaukee County employees campaigning for Scott Walker on tax-payer time (and possibly using public resources), but the news that immunity has been given to a lobbyist for Wisconsin & Southern Railroad brings back a story most assumed was dead a year and a half ago:
Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co.'s top official reported to state regulators this week that he used company money to reimburse employees for making political donations.

Donating corporate money to political candidates in Wisconsin is illegal.

The situation prompted Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker to return $43,800 in donations on Wednesday.

Robert Friebert, an attorney for railroad President and CEO William E. Gardner, said the donations were made to the gubernatorial campaign of Walker, as well as other campaigns he declined to name.

"Bill Gardner has self-reported these incidents and is fully cooperating," Friebert said. "What occurred was a mistake and were unintentional acts on his part."
Yeah, a mistake...

This is a completely different ballgame and suggests, not only misappropriate use of public office, but also wholesale corruption and bribery: the presence of Kenneth Lucht on the immunity roster seems to indicate that Walker may have been aware of Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co and/or Robert Friebert's plan to launder campaign donations through various employees. If Walker was aware of the scheme, and since the "donations" exceeded the legal limits, this could open up the potential for bribery allegations against the Governor.

Now that's all the worse case scenario, but that possibility didn't exist in the public imagination as early as this morning. The scope and the potential consequences of the John Doe Investigation just got a whole lot larger today.

MORE: Dan Bice has more on when immunity was granted for several of the players:
Former Appeals Court Judge Neal Nettesheim, who is overseeing the secret criminal probe, said he had granted immunity to three people, including Cullen Werwie, spokesman for Walker, in this part of the case. Records show he was granted immunity April 14.


Lucht is the manager of community development with Wisconsin & Southern Railroad. His attorney could not be reached late Friday. He received immunity on Jan. 14.

Dieck, a longtime Republican operative, is listed as the chairwoman of the southwest surburban branch of the Milwaukee County Republican Party. She was granted immunity on Dec. 21.
So these folks have had immunity for sometime now. This obviously takes a lot of the dramatic wind out of the news' sails.

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