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2 years in prison recommended for Walker aide (UPDATE)

Associated Press

Tim Russell is led into Milwaukee County intake court on Jan. 5, 2012, after charges were filed against him in Milwaukee. Russell is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday. Prosecutors are seeking a penalty of two years in prison after Russell pleaded guilty to stealing more than $20,000 from a nonprofit group. (AP File Photo/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Michael Sears)

MILWAUKEE (AP) – A close associate of Gov. Scott Walker who was convicted of stealing more than $20,000 from a nonprofit group deserves to spend two years in prison, a Milwaukee County prosecutor recommended this week.

Timothy D. Russell pleaded guilty in November to felony theft, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. While first-time offenders are often sentenced to probation for property crimes such as theft, prosecutors said Russell should be held to a higher standard because he was a public official who violated the community’s trust.

“This crime reflects moral depravity,” Bruce Landgraf, an assistant district attorney, wrote in a sentencing memorandum Thursday.

Most of the money Russell was accused of stealing came from the account of the Heritage Guard Preservation Society, a nonprofit group that organizes outings for veterans to the Milwaukee County Zoo. Russell was appointed to lead the group by Walker, in whose administration Russell worked while Walker was the Milwaukee County executive from 2002 to 2010.

Russell used his position to steal at least $21,000 from the group in 2009 and 2010, the criminal complaint said. He spent the money on vacations to Hawaii and the Caribbean and on a trip to Atlanta to meet GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain.

Russell is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday morning. His attorney, Parker Mathers, told The Associated Press he planned to file his own sentencing recommendation Friday afternoon.

“We’ll be asking for probation,” he told AP. He declined to say what length of time he would recommend.

Prosecutors, in addition to seeking a two-year prison term and two years of probation, will ask that Russell be ordered to pay total restitution of more than $27,000. Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David Hansher won’t be bound by the recommendation when he hands down Russell’s sentence.

Landgraf said Russell faced foreclosure proceedings in 2010 and filed for bankruptcy in 2012. However, he said Russell appeared to use the stolen money not to alleviate his financial stress but to pay for vacations and expenses, including a $140 veterinary bill for a sick pet.

“It was not important to Mr. Russell that the money he was stealing was donated through the generosity of private citizens, both individuals and corporations, for the benefit of military heroes,” Landgraf wrote.

The charges against Russell stemmed from a secret investigation prosecutors launched into Walker’s county administration in May 2010. Three other former aides to Walker as well as a campaign donor have been convicted on charges ranging from theft to misconduct in office.

Russell’s domestic partner, Brian Pierick, was also caught up in the probe. Prosecutors charged him with child enticement last year after investigators working on Russell’s case said they uncovered evidence Pierick tried to coax a 17-year-old boy into his van for sex. Pierick’s trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 29.

Walker hasn’t been charged and has repeatedly said he is not a target in the probe. It’s unclear whether investigators have finished their work, though. Landgraf has declined to comment on the investigation’s status, and everyone involved, included the targets of the investigation, is prohibited from discussing details.

The judge overseeing the investigation has said the probe remains open.

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