A jury Thursday found contractor Homer Key, accused of colluding to steal federal grant money from Milwaukee County, guilty of felony forgery and conspiring to commit the crime of having a private interest in a public contract.
He was found not guilty of two felony theft by fraud charges.
Key was accused of conspiring with former Milwaukee County employee Freida Webb to steal more than $40,000 in grant money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Webb ran the county’s Office of Community Business Development Partners and hired Key to run an educational program for disadvantaged business enterprises from 2005 through 2010.
The state claimed Key had time-and-materials contracts with the county and accused the contractor of habitually overbilling to ensure he was paid the full amount of available grant money. Key contended he had lump-sum contracts and was entitled to all the money he was paid.
The jury determined Key did not commit a crime from 2005 to 2010.
The guilty verdicts stem from Key’s 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 the 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.
The state also claimed Key then paid Webb a kickback of $2,700 from his 2011 contract payment, which is the basis of the conspiracy charge.
Key declined to comment after the verdict.
His attorney, Richard Hart Jr., of Milwaukee-based Hart Law Offices, said he expects to appeal the guilty verdicts. If his client is guilty of forging the contract then the contract is not legal, he said, and should not have been the basis for a conspiracy charge.
“If it’s a false document, then it’s not valid,” Hart said. “But then on the other one, they’re trying to force judgments under the contract. It’s either valid or it’s not.”
Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley, who represents the state, declined to comment after the verdict.
Webb also was charged with four felonies, but she pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor theft charge in September, and the state dropped the felony charges.
Webb was not called to testify during Key’s trial, and if she had been, Hart said, she could have refused to do so for fear of incriminating herself, especially because her sentencing was postponed until Key’s trial is resolved.
“I don’t blame her attorney for not letting her testify,” Hart said.
A misdemeanor theft charge carries a maximum sentence of nine months in prison and $10,000 in fines.
Key’s felony forgery and conspiracy charges carry a maximum of 9 ½ years in prison and $20,000 in fines.
Hart said he does not know when Key will be sentenced. He said his client’s actions in 2011 were not nefarious, and the problem stemmed from inappropriate monitoring and administration.
“These people were trying to do the right thing,” Hart said, “and they may have done it wrong, but their intentions were good.”
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