Freida Webb, the former director of Milwaukee County’s disadvantaged business enterprise program, pleaded no contest Wednesday to stealing federal grant money.
After her plea, Webb was found guilty of misdemeanor theft, and Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge William Brash dismissed three felony charges against her.
She originally was charged with felony forgery, misconduct, theft by fraud and having a private interest in a public contract. She faced a maximum of $55,000 in fines and 23 years in prison. The theft by fraud charge was reduced to the misdemeanor, which carries a maximum $10,000 fine and nine months in prison.
Webb refused to comment after the hearing.
Her attorney, Rodney Cubbie, said Webb did not want to risk being found guilty if she proceeded to trial.
“You walk into that courtroom,” Cubbie said, “you take a big risk, especially with four felony charges staring you in the face.”
Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley declined to comment after the hearing.
Benkley told Brash during the hearing that the state is comfortable with reducing the theft charge and dropping the others because of Webb’s lack of a criminal record and her age. Webb is 64.
The state also believes, Benkley said, that Homer Key, Webb’s alleged accomplice, is the more culpable of the two.
Key pleaded not guilty Sept. 3 to felony charges of forgery, conspiracy to commit the crime of having a private interest in a public contract and theft by fraud. He faces a maximum of $70,000 in fines and 29-1/2 years in prison.
Webb and Key’s charges are based on an alleged conspiracy to steal federal Community Development Block Grant money from Milwaukee County’s Office of Community Business Development Partners. The block grant money comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
From 2005 to 2010, Webb hired Key to oversee the Capacity Building Program, which offered, among other things, accounting and marketing training to DBEs. She contracted with Key for services in 2011.
The state based Webb’s theft by fraud misdemeanor charge on a fraudulent $675 invoice submitted by Key for a class he did not teach. Her dismissed felony charges, according to the original complaint, were based on similar occurrences.
Key’s attorney, Rocky Coe, said he does not believe Webb’s plea will affect Key’s case.
“What their motivation is for their plea,” Coe said, “is totally unknown to Mr. Key.”
Key’s case is set for a scheduling conference in October.
The state has requested Webb’s sentencing be delayed until Key’s case is resolved.