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Trial begins for John Doe defendant

MILWAUKEE (AP) – One of Gov. Scott Walker’s former associates went on trial Monday on charges he embezzled about $42,000 from veterans groups.

Kevin D. Kavanaugh, of Cudahy, has pleaded not guilty to one count of felony theft and four counts of felony fraud. The proceedings are scheduled to run through Friday.

Walker served as Milwaukee County executive before he was elected Wisconsin governor in 2010. During his tenure with the county, Walker appointed Kavanaugh to the county Veterans Service Commission. Prosecutors say Kavanaugh stole donations intended for veterans and their families.

Most of the money was raised for Operation Freedom, an annual veterans event hosted by Walker while he was county executive, according to a criminal complaint.

In his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley told jurors that Kavanaugh regularly skimmed money from deposits for Operation Freedom and from other sources and took it for himself in cash, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. He had access to the money in his role as treasurer for the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

Walker had the Purple Heart chapter handle the donations and payments for the Operation Freedom events after then-Corporation Counsel Bill Domina recommended in 2006 that the county executive’s office no longer directly handle it, Tom Nardelli, Walker’s chief of staff at the county, testified.

Concerns about Kavanaugh’s handling of the money were raised by other Walker county staffers as early as 2007, Nardelli said. After repeated attempts to meet with Kavanaugh failed, Nardelli said, he took the issue to the district attorney’s office in 2009 at Walker’s urging.

Defense attorney Christopher Hartley said Kavanaugh was known in veterans circles as the “go-to guy” for veterans needing help. Many veterans with financial trouble would come to him with requests for immediate cash for things like food or temporary shelter, and Kavanaugh “on a routine basis distributed money to them.”

Hartley said Kavanaugh was a “lousy bookkeeper – absolutely lousy. But that’s not what he’s on trial for here.”

Kavanaugh was charged as part of a secret investigation into activity in Walker’s office. The governor has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, a subpoena has been filed with the court requiring Walker to testify in the upcoming trial of another former Milwaukee County staffer, WKOW-TV reported.

Kelly Rindfleisch is accused of using county time to conduct campaign work for a Republican who lost a lieutenant governor race in 2010. Rindfleisch was Walker’s deputy chief of staff when he was the Milwaukee County executive.

She’s pleaded not guilty to four felony counts of misconduct in office.

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