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Former Milwaukee County business director sentenced for fraud

By: Eric Heisig//June 9, 2014//

Former Milwaukee County business director sentenced for fraud

By: Eric Heisig//June 9, 2014//

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Freida Webb
Freida Webb

A judge on Monday sentenced the former director of Milwaukee County’s disadvantaged business enterprise program to 100 hours of community service for her role in a scheme to steal federal grant money.

Freida Webb, 64, pleaded no contest to misdemeanor theft by fraud in September, sidestepping three felony charges and a trial. She faced up to nine months of incarceration.

In exchange for her plea, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge William Brash also put Webb on probation for a year and she will have to pay the county $13,362.50 in restitution.

About a dozen people supporting Webb attended Monday’s hearing, which lasted about 90 minutes. Two of them testified that she has always been an honest person who cared about helping the disadvantaged.

Prosecutor Kurt Benkley painted a different story, though, calling Webb a “corrupt Milwaukee County official” whose actions caused residents to question the honesty of their leaders.

Webb lead the county’s Office of Community Business Development Partners until 2012, when the charges came to light. She testified Monday that she made about $80,000 in her role and collects $1,229 in a monthly pension.

Her charge was based on a fraudulent $675 invoice submitted by contractor Homer Key for a class he did not teach.

Her dismissed felony charges — which were read in at sentencing — were based on allegedly related conspiracy between her and Key to steal federal Community Development Block Grant money from the county. Prosecutors say Webb and Key colluded to overbill and forge contracts to spend all the grant money available in 2011. The block grant money comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

A jury in May found Key guilty of felony forgery and conspiring to commit the crime of having a private interest in a public contract. Brash is scheduled to sentence him Tuesday afternoon.

Rodney Cubbie, Webb’s attorney, pointed to the 22 letters of support he submitted to Brash as evidence of Webb’s true character. He called her an “icon in the African-American community” and chalked up her criminal actions to being “too casual and at some point she became sloppy.”

Brash, before handing down his sentence, said he had read all the letters, but that her supporters either glazed over the criminal behavior or claimed they did not know what happened.

“It always raises a question, in the court’s mind, as to ‘Do you really know that person?'” Brash said.

After the hearing, Cubbie said he did not expect Webb to appeal her sentence. He also said he did not expect Webb to have any problem completing the terms of her probation.

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