Milwaukee Ald. Chantia Lewis guilty of crimes, removed from office
Milwaukee Ald. Chantia Lewis was removed from her post on Monday after being convicted in Milwaukee County Court of two crimes related to her leadership.
She pleaded guilty to one count of misconduct in public office and uncontested to one count of intentionally accepting an unlawful campaign finance disbursement.
Three other charges – two felonies and one misdemeanor – were dismissed and read into the docket, meaning they could be considered at sentencing on August 25.
The case is being overseen by Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Milton L. Childs.
Lewis, 42, appeared remotely because she had symptoms of COVID-19, her lawyer Michael Chernin said.
Lewis earned a base salary of $73,222 a year as a member of the Common Council. She represented the 9th Alderman District on the northwest side of the city and briefly entered the Democratic race for the U.S. Senate.
Prosecutors said she took at least $21,666 in campaign funds and bogus travel reimbursements from the city between 2016 and 2020.
The criminal complaint said she used campaign funds for family trips and basic personal expenses such as car and credit card bills, engaged in ‘double-dipping’ by asking the city for reimbursement travel expenses related to the city that she had actually paid. from his campaign account and violated campaign finance laws, including structuring a campaign contribution to avoid limits.
Lewis was charged in September.
Lewis argues she lacked knowledge
While Lewis’ comments were mostly one-word responses to Childs’ questions, at one point she said she didn’t “necessarily agree” with an element of the misconduct in the prosecution. that she knew her conduct was unlawful.
She said she disagreed “that I was aware of the process and how to do a campaign finance report.”
This prompted Chernin to say that Lewis was doing his own accounting and that his conduct violated the law. But, he said, she maintained that she did not know her conduct was illegal at the time.
“There were disbursements to his campaign account that shouldn’t have happened,” he said. “So she knew she was withdrawing those funds from her campaign account, and … the conduct itself was conscious, but apparently what she’s saying is that she did it out of lack of knowledge. “
However, Childs said that if she entered a guilty plea, she would have to acknowledge that her conduct was outside of her authority, a position Assistant District Attorney Matthew Westphal agreed with.
“The knowledge element is not knowledge that she did something, it is knowledge of the illegality or prohibited nature of the conduct itself,” Westphal said.
After a brief private conversation with Chernin, Lewis accepted this element of the charge.
The prosecutor will plead for time at the reformatory
Westphal said he would argue at sentencing that Lewis would serve 12 months in the Milwaukee County Reformatory, followed by three years of probation.
If she violated the terms of probation, she would be sentenced to 3½ years in the state prison system, broken down into 18 months in prison and two years of extended supervision.
After the hearing, Chernin declined to say what sentence he would plead, although he told the hearing that mitigating circumstances would be part of their argument.
Childs is not bound to follow the recommendation of the defense or the prosecution and could impose the maximum sentences. Each of the charges Lewis was convicted of carries a maximum sentence of 3½ years in the prison system and a $10,000 fine.
Lewis’ impeachment leaves three board seats vacant
Lewis was removed from office under a state law that requires disqualification from office when convicted of a campaign finance violation, Westphal said in court. .
Childs entered that command on Monday.
Lewis’ departure leaves three of the 15 Common Council seats empty, after Mayor Cavalier Johnson left his District 2 seat after being elected mayor earlier this year and Nik Kovac left his District 3 seat to become manager Johnson’s budget. Special elections for seats in Districts 2 and 3 will be held this fall.
It was not immediately clear when Lewis’ seat would be filled.
Common Council President José G. Pérez is to call a special election to be held after the Nov. 8 general election.
Pérez did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday morning.
After Lewis was charged, Johnson, who was then chairman of the board, removed her from “all committee assignment duties”.
In a statement on Monday, Johnson called Lewis’ guilty plea “an important step forward in holding her accountable for her financial misdeeds.”
“City officials hold the public trust, and each of us has an obligation to the people of Milwaukee to operate with the highest level of integrity,” he said. “I expect this from every member of my administration and from all my colleagues in elective office.”
The criminal complaint says Lewis used campaign funds to attend a worship conference in Florida, tuition at Agape Love Bible College, and family trips to Georgia and the Wisconsin Dells. She is also accused of using campaign funds for personal expenses such as car and credit card payments, vehicle repairs and rent for an apartment in Milwaukee.
The complaint also says she provided inaccurate information about her campaign account balances, contributions, and expenses; deposit campaign contributions into personal bank accounts; and filed a claim with the city for city-related travel expenses she had actually paid from her campaign account.
The complaint also says she violated campaign finance laws, including structuring a campaign contribution to avoid limits.
Lewis was elected to the Common Council in 2016 when she defeated incumbent Ald. Robert Puente. She was re-elected in April 2020 without a challenger.