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Contractor sentenced to 5 months in kickback scheme

Homer Key

Homer Key

Homer Key on Tuesday became the second person to be sentenced for his role in a scheme to steal federal grant money from Milwaukee County’s disadvantage business enterprise program.

Milwaukee County Circuit Judge William Brash sentenced the contractor to five months in the Milwaukee County House of Correction and 100 hours of community service. Key’s sentence will be concurrent with 30 months of probation. He does not have to pay restitution.

Brash on Monday sentenced Freida Webb, the former leader of the Milwaukee County Office of Community Business Development Partners, to 100 hours of community service for her role in stealing more than $40,000 in grant money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Key’s attorney, Richard Hart, argued that his client may have been sloppy but was not a criminal. He noted that Key is 69 and had no previous criminal record.

Hart also said his client is being made to bear the bulk of the responsibility for practices that could have been prevented by those in Milwaukee County government.

“The only two people who are being punished here,” Hart said referring to Key and Webb, “are the two people who are lowest on the totem pole.”

Brash agreed that county officials appeared to be nothing more than a “rubber stamp” but said he was convinced that Key and Webb were at the center of the wrongdoing found in the case. Brash agreed with Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley that forgery of a contract and providing kickbacks are serious crimes.

Brash said a message should be sent making clear those practices are not acceptable. Brash also said Key should have known his actions were wrong.

In May, a jury found Key guilty of felony forgery and conspiring to commit the crime of having a private interest in a public contract. Prosecutors said he conspired with Webb to steal more than $40,000 in grant money.

Webb had hired Key to run an educational program for disadvantaged business enterprises from 2005 through 2010, though his convictions stem from actions in 2011. That year, Webb attempted to run the program herself but struggled. She did not have contracts or insurance for her instructors and was unable to pay them, according to testimony during Key’s trial, so she asked Key to help her skirt the problem.

They wrote a contract in December 2011 to make it appear that Key had been running the program all along. They then dated that document back to September 2011, which was before the classes had begun and which the state claimed made the contract a forgery.

Prosecutors also claimed Key then paid Webb a kickback of $2,700 from his 2011 contract payment, which is the basis of the conspiracy charge.

Prosecutors also charged Key with two felony theft by fraud charges, but a jury found him not guilty of those.

Webb, 65, pleaded no contest in September to misdemeanor theft by fraud.

Wisconsin Law Journal staff writer Eric Heisig also contributed to this report.

About Dan Shaw, dan.shaw@wislawjournal.com

Dan Shaw is the associate editor at the Wisconsin Law Journal. He can be reached at dan.shaw@wislawjournal.com or at 414-225-1807.

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