By DINESH RAMDE
MILWAUKEE (AP) – A former top aide to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was sentenced Tuesday to two years in prison after he was convicted of stealing more than $20,000 from a nonprofit group Walker appointed him to lead.
Tim Russell, 49, pleaded guilty in November to felony theft, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. First-time offenders are often sentenced to probation, but Judge David Hansher said he gave prison time because Russell’s contrition was insincere.
“There is absolutely no true regret, remorse or repentance,” the judge said. “I find that you don’t even have any shame.”
Russell was one of six people charged in a secret investigation of the Milwaukee County executive’s office back when Walker held that office between 2002 and 2010. Russell and four others have been convicted, and a trial for the sixth begins next week.
Walker, a Republican, has not been charged with wrongdoing and has repeatedly said he is not a target in the investigation. The probe began in May 2010, six months before Walker was elected governor.
As Walker’s deputy chief of staff, Russell was the third most powerful person in Milwaukee County behind Walker and Chief of Staff Tom Nardelli. The criminal complaint alleges that Russell used his position and influence to gain financial control of the Heritage Guard Preservation Society, a nonprofit group that organizes outings for veterans to the Milwaukee County Zoo.
When asked Tuesday whether he thought the two-year prison sentence for Russell was fair, Walker said, “I’m not a judge.”
Walker noted that it was Nardelli who first alerted authorities about the accounting regularities, and Walker said he was thankful that investigators followed through.
The case began in 2009, when another Walker associate was suspected of embezzling donations meant for veterans and their families. When those discrepancies were discovered, financial control of the donations was handed over to a separate group.
Later in 2009, Walker ordered that group to transfer control to the Heritage Guard Preservation Society, to which Russell had exclusive financial access. The judge seemed confused as to why Walker would order that change, when, by all accounts, the group was doing a fine job of handling the accounts. He asked Russell to explain the decision.
Russell replied that Walker wanted the zoo event to be run out of the county executive’s office so Walker could control it even when he was no longer in that position.
In a brief statement to the judge, Russell apologized Tuesday to his family and friends, and said he didn’t expect forgiveness from the people he hurt. He spoke in a clear voice, but he choked up when he described how he had disappointed his loved ones.
He also said he was committed to turning his life around.
“Please know that I will spend every day that I have left attempting to make up for what I’ve done,” Russell said.
The judge wasn’t persuaded, however, noting Russell had previously argued he was a victim of politics. Hansher also said that taking money from a veterans’ group was akin to stealing from orphans and widows.
“I do not see how you can look at yourself in the mirror based on what you’ve done,” Hansher said.
Defense attorney Parker Mathers had requested a sentence of three years’ probation, citing his client’s lack of a criminal record. He left the courtroom without comment, as did Bruce Landgraf, the assistant district attorney.
Landgraf had sought a sentence of two years in prison plus two years on extended supervision. The judge imposed five years of extended supervision, saying he wanted to make sure Russell paid his restitution debt. Russell still faces another hearing to determine how much that will be.
Mathers said the defense would agree to pay $22,000.
Associated Press writer Scott Bauer also contributed to this report from Madison.