In 2011, prosecutors in the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office suspected that Scott Walker committed felony misconduct while serving as Milwaukee County Executive due to his direct involvement in a multi-million dollar lease renewal for county offices at a privately held building called the Reuss Federal Plaza.
Newly-released emails, made public as part of a federal lawsuit, reveal crucial details about these bid-rigging allegations originally reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2012–details that were not known to the public when Walker faced recall, ran for reelection in 2014 or for the White House in 2015.
“The Reuss plaza procurement was one of the most egregious examples of procurement misconduct that I have seen,” said Jerome Heer, the head of Milwaukee County’s audit department. Heer has thirty-five years of government procurement experience, twenty-eight with the County of Milwaukee.
“In particular, the sharing of information with one ‘insider’ was unprecedented,” Heer told the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) publisher of PRwatch.org.
Walker’s Campaign Treasurer Given Insider Information
City, county, and state contracts for goods and services are governed by a number of laws and procedures to ensure that the process is fair, transparent, and results in the best price for taxpayers.
All bidders are supposed to have access to the same information and be treated equally and professionally by a designated point of contact.
Yet the newly-released emails listed below show extensive behind-the-scenes contacts by the representative of one bidder–Scott Walker’s campaign treasurer John Hiller–with Walker and his top aides before and during a formal “request for proposal” or bidding process.
“When one party has inside information, they have the opportunity to manipulate the process based on their unfair competitive advantage,” Heer said. “I believe that was the case with one of the Reuss finalists.”
John M. McKeller, a senior lecturer at the Wisconsin School of Business’ Grainger Center who has taught ethical procurement practices for thirty years, agrees with Heer’s description of the procurement process.
“In both the private and public sectors, selectively sharing information with a potential supplier or suppliers engaged in a competitive-bidding process is not acceptable,” he said. “Doing so negates the very objectives of such a process: maximizing the value of the competition, ensuring equity and objectivity for all bidders in making the award.”
When individuals share valuable information with one bidder, and not all of them, “it is a fraud of the process; it simply is not ethical or legitimate,” McKeller told CMD.
Because one former Walker aide is suing Milwaukee prosecutors in federal court alleging a “campaign of intimidation and harassment,” documents have been released that demonstrate that the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office was pursing credible evidence of potential bid-rigging. CMD details this evidence below.
Background and Timeline on Reuss Federal Plaza Deal
In 2005, Scott Walker was the Milwaukee County Executive, Cindy Archer was perhaps the second most important administration official as the head of his Department of Administration, and John Hiller was Walker’s campaign treasurer. Hiller had his own business as a realtor but served as Walker’s treasurer through many races between 1993 and 2010. Schlitz Park, which had housed the Milwaukee County Department of Aging Offices for 20 years, won an initial bid to keep the county lease. But a rushed, last-minute rebid that lasted a mere five hours resulted in the Reuss Plaza getting the $3 million deal which generated protests from other bidders. According to newspaper reports, the Reuss Plaza had significant vacancies they were looking to fill.
The lease provided for renewal on or before June 20, 2010, but would expire at the end of 2010, in the absence of an extension. The Reuss Plaza was owned by the Pennsylvania-based RAIT Financial Trust which employed David Boerke and the Boerke Company as a broker for the building. John Hiller, signed a contract with RAIT in 2009 to secure a lease extension in difficult financial times post the Wall Street meltdown and was paid $8,500 a month for his services.
In documents recently released as part of a civil suit against the Milwaukee County District Attorney, a search warrant alleged Hiller was not a registered lobbyist, yet he had extensive contacts with Walker and Walker’s top staff as he attempted to get an extension of the lease. When that plan was rejected, Hiller continued contacting Walker and other top officials during the formal Request for Proposal (RFP) process.
In the warrant, prosecutors alleged that Hiller had a financial stake in the transaction as RAIT paid Hiller at least $110,500 for his efforts. (Search Warrant, p. 15) A lease extension would mean over $4,265,000 in revenue over the lease’s five-year term for the clients of Boerke Co., according to an e-mail from Hiller. (Search Warrant, p. 16)
Further, prosecutors alleged that Walker, who was running for governor at the time of these events, had a financial interest in the lease transaction because he had received major campaign contributions from David Boerke. Between 2008 and 2010, according to Wisconsin Democracy Campaign data, Walker received $12,500 in campaign contributions for his gubernatorial race from David Boerke and other members of the Boerke Company. Boerke also served on Walker’s “campaign finance committee.”
Prosecutors alleged that the repeated contacts between Hiller and the administration and actions taken by Walker and others violated numerous state and county laws. The warrant cites Wisconsin Statutes §§ 946.12, and 939.05 – Misconduct in Public Office (PTAC); Solicitation to Commit Misconduct in Public Office, contrary to Wisconsin Statutes §§ 946.12 and 939.30; Solicitation involving Public Officials and Employees (PTAC) in violation of Wisconsin Statutes §§ 11.36(2), 11.61 and 939.05; and Ethics violations, contrary to Wisconsin Statutes § 19.58. (Search Warrant, p. 2)
Hiller and Boerke Co. Lobby Walker Administration for Extension of the Reuss Lease
On December 2, 2009, Andrew Jensen, on behalf of the Reuss Plaza, sent a proposal to purchasing administrator and Director of Transportation and Public Works, Jack Takerian, offering to renew Milwaukee County’s Reuss lease for 5 years, beginning on January 1, 2010. (Exhibit 20, p. 30) Negotiations over the lease ensued.
Milwaukee County Ordinance Chapter 32.47(2) states that “During the pre-award or pre-acceptance period of a negotiated procurement, only the procurement director or his or her designee, and other specifically authorized shall transmit technical or other information and conduct discussions with prospective vendors. Information shall not be furnished to a prospective vendor if, alone or together with other information, it may afford the prospective vendor an advantage over others. However, general information that is not prejudicial to others may be furnished upon request.”
On April 26, 2010, Hiller sent a memo to Walker via county aide Tim Russell’s personal email lobbying for an extension of the lease. (Exhibit 19, p. 45)
On May 10, 2010, Archer warned Walker via email that “re-upping the lease would result in a huge political firestorm and may result in some open records requests and meeting notes that would make me nervous.” (Exhibit 19, p. 49)
Meanwhile, on May 14, 2010, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Dan Bice reported that Darlene Wink, an aide to Walker in the county executive’s office, had been posting political comments on the newspaper’s online site and others during the day while on the county payroll. Hours after his inquiries Wink resigned. Her work station is searched by the Milwaukee District Attorney’s office. Over time it is revealed that in April 2009, Tom Nardelli, Scott Walker’s chief of staff, reported to prosecutors that $11,000 had gone missing in 2008 from “Operation Freedom” an annual charitable event for veterans and their families operating out of the county executive’s office. (State vs. Kavanaugh, Complaint, p. 12) This investigation would later morph into a John Doe investigation, a procedure similar to a grand jury but operating under the authority of a single judge, with prosecutors alleging that Walker’s office was not cooperating. It is later revealed in indictments that Walker’s top staff regularly used laptops, personal email and a secret Wi-Fi system for their communications in an apparent effort to avoid the open records law during the time period when Walker was county executive yet running for governor. (State vs. Rhindfleish, Complaint, p. 3) The vast majority of the emails referenced below come from these private accounts.
After the story regarding Wink aired on the news on the morning of May 14, Walker emailed top advisor Tim Russell, who held multiple positions on the Walker staff including deputy chief of staff and director of housing, at 8:46 a.m. telling him simply, “We cannot afford another story like this one. No one can give them any reason to do another story. That means no laptops, no websites, no time away during the work day, etc.”
Also on May 14, 2010, Darlene Wink’s work station in the County Executive’s office was searched by the Milwaukee District Attorney’s office. (State vs. Wink, Complaint, p. 4)
On June 11, 2010, Walker directed his chief of staff, Thomas Nardelli, to request an extension of the lease of space occupied by the Milwaukee Department on Aging at Reuss Plaza. (Search warrant, p. 17) The extension was in the interest of the county because it would allow the county time to evaluate proposals related to the Department on Aging’s building needs and plan for any potential relocation. (Exhibit 20, p. 33)
On June 11, 2010, Nardelli told Director of Transportation and Public Works, Jack Takerian, that Walker had asked Takerian to “formally contact Boerke and request a 6 month extension” of the lease. (Exhibit 20, p. 33)
On June 14, 2010, Takerian e-mailed the Boerke Co.’s Andrew Jensen to request the six-month extension for the county’s lease in the Reuss Plaza. (Exhibit 20, p. 34)
On June 14, 2010, Andrew Jensen forwarded the request for the lease extension to John Hiller. In a subsequent e-mail that day, Hiller instructed Jensen not to call Takerian until Hiller and Jensen had spoken. (Exhibit 20, p. 35)
On June 23, 2010, County Executive Scott Walker used his Blackberry and a personal e-mail account to instruct Hiller that he needed “…a letter to Jack (Takerian) saying no to an extension.” (Exhibit 20, p. 37) According to prosecutors, “the request from County executive Scott Walker requesting the rejection of Milwaukee County’s request for an extension made by Walker’s own Department of Transportation and Public Works, was against the interests of Milwaukee County according to witnesses.” (Search Warrant, p. 17)
Later when interviewed by investigators, Takerian said the denial of the short-term extension request essentially “put a gun to the head” of the county. It was incongruous with Walker’s prior request for an extension and would benefit the RAIT/Boerke team who were seeking a lease renewal. (Exhibit 20, p. 14)
On June 23, 2010, Hiller forwarded Walker’s email to Jensen and requested that Jensen write a draft letter denying the extension; “don’t cc me” wrote Hiller.
On June 25, 2010, Jensen sent a letter rejecting the extension while continuing to lobby for the renewal option, stating “we look forward to continuing the discussions with you to move forward on the renewal process.” (Exhibit 20, p. 41)
On June 25, John Hiller believes the lease extension is in the bag. He wrote to RAIT’s Greg Wolfson “The renewal will happen…There is a meeting scheduled on monday where scott walker was going to instruct the dpw and aging departments to renew the lease.” (Exhibit 20, p. 38)
But these plans went awry.
Also on June 25, the Milwaukee county auditor Jerry Heer sent a memo to the County Board Chairman Lee Holloway, ccing Cindy Archer, and a long list of other public officials. Of the Reuss Plaza, Heer writes “In reviewing the contract, it is clear that extending the current lease is not in the County’s best interest. It is unlikely a negotiated extension rate would result in a better rate than soliciting competition from other vendors. raising questions about the extension.” (Exhibit 20, p. 46) This memo is forwarded to Walker and Jim Villa on June 27. Villa was previously Walker’s chief of staff, but at the time the president of the Commercial Association of Realtors of Wisconsin and involved in fundraising for Walker’s gubernatorial campaign.
On June 28, 2010, Hiller ghostwrote a memo on behalf of Stephanie Stein, Director of the Department on Aging, rebutting problems raised in the Heer memo and stating “time is of the essence, we don’t believe there is time to go through the RFP process and have a decision in place in time for the move.” The memo was sent to Walker aide Tim Russell for implementation. (Exhibit 19, p. 63)
On June 29, 2010, David Boerke contributed $5,000 to Walker’s campaign for governor.
The emails shed no light on what happened next, but Walker did not grant a lease extension and an RFP process was commenced. It appears that the Heer memo put a stop to Hiller’s efforts to secure the extension.
Hiller and Boerke Co. Lobby Behind the Scenes for During RFP
On July 2, four months before Walker is elected governor, the county issued a formal Request for Proposal No. 6562 (Exhibit 19, p. 21) in connection with an effort to provide office space for the Department on Aging. The anticipated final county approval date was October 15, 2010. Eleven companies submitted bids.
The process of disseminating information relevant to RFPs is regulated by county ordinance. During an RFP, all bidders are supposed to communicate solely with a designated county representative. “The purpose of designating a single point of contact is to assure the fair distribution of all relevant information to all participating vendors,” wrote prosecutors. Dispersing information to aid one bidder and not another is prohibited under both state and county statutes and is subject to fines and penalties. Improper contact is the ground for immediate disqualification of a bid. The designated county representative for the RFP No. 6562 was Mr. Brian Dranzik, the Director of Operations for the Department of Transportation and Public Works. (Exhibit 20, p. 16)
On July 6, Hiller emailed the Walker staff with a warning. Hiller wrote Cindy Archer, Jim Villa, Tom Nardelli, Tim Russell, and cc’s Scott Walker “I want to be sure that the communications that the Federal Plaza representatives have had with the county on the renewal are kept confidential and aren’t available to bidders that may now be bidding against us.” (Exhibit 12, p. 21)
On July 27, 2010, rather than contacting the county’s designated point of contact for the RFP, Hiller e-mailed Kelly Rindfleisch, Walker’s Deputy Chief of Staff, asking her to obtain valuable information pertinent to the open RFP process. Specifically, Hiller asked Rindfleisch who would be on the evaluation committee, whether there was a scoring system, and whether the committee would hold a “best and final offer” procedure. (Exhibit 20, p. 54)
Meanwhile, the Milwaukee DA continued to investigate allegations of misconduct by Darlene Wink. On August 9, 2010, Darlene Wink’s computers were seized from her home. Later that month, Walker’s Chief of Staff Nardelli wrote a letter to the Milwaukee DA inquiring about the purpose of the John Doe: “Why is this a secret John Doe?” Nardelli wrote, “Why are you going this route? What is the motive?” He accused Chisholm of “a backdoor effort to look at a computer of someone who wasn’t even assigned to this office during the period in question.” (Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
On August 12, 2010, after the proposal deadline had passed, but prior to a final decision on the RFP, Hiller directly contacted Walker about the RFP in an e-mail, despite the fact that the RFP contact remained Brian Dranzik. Hiller’s e-mail to Walker proposed three plans related to the RFP. He urged Walker to get rid of the “best and final” offer process, and amend or accept the Reuss bid because it “won on all the merits.” He claimed his recommendations were necessary because Department on Aging employee Greg Reiman may have “open[ed] the County up to a serious lawsuit” by having some contact with a different developer about the RFP. Ironically, Hiller warns that Reiman had “tainted the process” by communicating with a different bidder. (Exhibit 20, pp. 67-68)
On August 16, 2010, Hiller advised Jensen in an email he was “waiting for some follow up from Scott” on his recommendations. (Exhibit 20, p. 69)
Meanwhile, on August 17, 2010, Nardelli wrote a memo detailing his meeting with Milwaukee DA Chisholm about the John Doe probe. “He (Chisholm) said there are times when a matter takes you into a different direction than initially planned and that can add time to any review,” Nardelli wrote “I indicated that I was suspicious of motives given the time it’s taken to resolve.” (Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
On August 18, 2010, Hiller emailed Walker to follow up on his earlier e-mail to Walker from August 12. Hiller expressed frustration as the deadline for the RFP was approaching, writing “Scott- I haven’t heard if there has been any movement on this.” He suggested that Reuss may take legal action and again recommended that they “scrap the RFP and start over.” Hiller said he could have a third party call Corporation Counsel to lobby them to drop the RFP, recommending an attorney named David Holbrooks, “because there is no connection to me and he is actually very good on these things.” (Exhibit 20, p. 70)
Later that day, Hiller sent another email responding to a message left by Walker and encouraging Walker to accept the Boerke Co.’s bid, saying “I still disagree with the [County] analysis on the economics.” He noted that he had already talked to Cindy Archer and might meet with her as well. (Exhibit 20, p. 74)
On August 19, 2010, Archer sent an email to Hiller requesting two spreadsheets and providing her private email address. (Exhibit 20, p. 80)
On August 20, 2010, Cindy Archer sent an e-mail to John Hiller and top Walker advisor Jim Villa. Archer wrote that she was “working on getting some info together” for them and would try to have something over the weekend. Archer also noted that “the timeframe is short due to when final and best offers are due” and promised she would try to get them something “ASAP.” (Exhibit 20, p. 81)
Meanwhile on August 20, 2010, top Walker aide Tim Russell had his computer seized at his county office.
Hiller replied to Archer’s e-mail the same day stating his belief that Jerry Heer, the county auditor, was unaware of Hiller’s involvement with the Reuss deal. “I am very sensitive to the situation and work hard not to leave fingerprints.” (Exhibit 20, p. 82)
Later that day, Archer counters Hiller’s e-mail informing him that Heer “has used your name specifically. He did so long before the procurement process started.” (Exhibit 20, p. 82)
On Saturday, August 21, 2010, Cindy Archer sent an email entitled “City Campus analysis” to Walker, Jim Villa, and Tim Russell analyzing the costs of moving the Department on Aging’s offices to the City Campus Building versus remaining in the Reuss Plaza. The analysis presented City Campus as a much cheaper option. (Exhibit 20, p. 84) Villa immediately forwarded the email to Hiller, warning “Do NOT respond to them or discuss. I’m sharing with you confidentially.” Villa appears cognizant that any contact between Hiller and the county at this time is improper. (Exhibit 20, p. 84)
That weekend, Archer exchanged a long series of emails with spreadsheets with Walker, Hiller and top Walker confidants Russell and Villa. “Best and final” offers were due on August 25, making this crunch time for a successful Reuss proposal.
On August 22, Archer suggested to Villa that Hiller could lower his proposed rent rate and propose buying the City Campus building. The county was soliciting proposals to develop or purchase the aging City Campus building as part of the RFP.
On August 22, she wrote to Russell and Scott Walker suggesting that Hiller should offer to buy City Campus for $1. “The three vendors have been told to come back with a final and best offer by Wednesday. They have been told that we will not consider any option that does not include buying City Campus. The rubber is meeting the road on this issue. If you can help Hiller, now is the time.”
On Sunday, August 22, Archer forwarded her analysis to Hiller (although Villa had already shared it with him). She apologized for not completing it earlier, stating “This was a project I thought my budget director had a handle on and I let him deal with the CEX [Walker] directly on it. It was not until I stepped in last week that I realized the detail was not what I would have expected.” (Exhibit 20, p. 103-106)
Hiller diligently forwards her analysis to her boss, Scott Walker, “my concern is what I have been telling you for months, no one really knows what the costs/numbers are.” Hiller replied to Archer with criticisms and questions about her analysis. He complained “this is the fourth set of numbers I have seen on this.” She then forwarded Hiller’s email to Walker and other staffers, writing “I don’t know who has been feeding him numbers on this, but he is clearly frustrated.”
Walker replied, “I don’t blame him.” (Exhibit 20, pp. 114-116)
Later, when interviewed by an investigator, Archer described feeling substantial pressure from Hiller regarding her analysis. Archer stated that Hiller had yelled at her over the phone because he did not agree with her conclusions, which did not favor a Reuss bid. Archer noted, “I know that it would have made everyone happy if my analysis would have concluded that we should extend the [Reuss] lease.” (Cindy Archer Search Warrant audio part 2, at 10:25)
When asked why she had shared her analysis with Hiller during the formal RFP process, Archer said “my sense was that there must have been conversations between Hiller and the exec [Walker] because I would tell Scott the analysis and give it to him, and the exec [Walker] asked me to send a copy of it to Hiller and I did.” (Cindy Archer Search Warrant Audio Part 1, at 51:05)
On August 23, 2010, Hiller again e-mailed Archer, Walker, and Villa offering an alternative way of calculating costs and urging them to house the county offices at the Reuss Plaza rather than City Campus. Hiller claimed that the “Net overall savings at [Reuss] Fed Plaza is $1 million per year.” (Exhibit 20, p. 117)
That same day, Archer sent Hiller an updated spreadsheet comparing the costs to the county for the City Campus building and the Reuss Plaza, after making some minor adjustments. (Exhibit 20, pp. 120-122)
While Hiller was the recipient of a lot of information from Archer which could be used to shave costs perfect his best and final offer during the formal RFP process, the emails do not indicate that this contact was memorialized and they do not show that any other bidder was provided similar information. “As such, the behavior violated one of the fundamental tenets of public sector procurement,” wrote auditor Jerry Heer in a later analysis.
On August 25, 2010, Andrew Jensen of the Boerke Co. sent an email to Hiller, David Boerke, David Pudlowski of the Boerke Co., and RAIT’s Greg Wolfson, setting up a conference call “after [Wolfson’s] meeting with Scott.” Wolfson was an executive at RAIT, based in Philadelphia.
Later that day, the Boerke Co. formally responded to RFP 6562 and submitted a proposal to house the county employees at the Reuss Plaza. The letter was signed by Andrew Jensen and David Pudloski on behalf of the Boerke Co. (Exhibit 20, pp. 124-125)
The emails do not indicate this but on August 26, the committee overseeing the bidding meets and decides to recommend county office space as the most economical option.
On August 27, 2010, Milwaukee County District Attorney received a letter from Jerome Heer, the county auditor expressing concerns about improper contacts between the administration and certain real estate brokers, including contacts between Gregory Reiman and Scott Revolinski of RFP Commercial.
On August 30, 2010, Hiller sent an email to Walker campaign manager Keith Gilkes and Jim Villa addressing concerns about his contact with county staff during the RFP process. He argued “we are fine on the RFP,” but that there was a possibility for code violations during the period where Walker himself was in a position to extend the lease on his own: “the code talks about negotiations where the official has authority to act,” he wrote, noting “I do not think that we ever sent a formal request but I’m not positive.” (Exhibit 20, p. 127)
In August and September, polling put Walker consistently ahead of his challenger by comfortable margins in the race for the governor.
On September 10, 2010, Jensen forwarded an e-mail to Hiller in which the County rejected the Boerke Co.’s proposal to house the county employees in the Reuss Plaza. In the letter, Jack Takerian stated that the county had “decided to cancel the RFP for office and space leasing.” (Exhibit 20, p. 132)
On October 18, 2010, county officials issued a report stating that the Department on Aging offices would be moved to another county building, Marcia Coggs building, on December 15, 2010.
On November 2, 2010, Scott Walker is elected governor of the State of Wisconsin. Hiller is his transition team director.
In December 2010, during the transition period, Cindy Archer’s Milwaukee County office wa s searched by prosecutors.
On February 11, 2011, Walker introduced Act 10, his bill to end collective bargaining in the state, prompting a 16-day capitol occupation and weeks of mass protest. The turmoil would continue for 16 months as the popular uprising morphs into an unprecedented series of 15 recall elections where Democrats attempt to gain control of the state senate and recall the governor.
On September 13, 2011, search warrants were issued for Cindy Archer, Jim Villa, John Hiller, and others. The Archer warrant was executed the next day September 14, 2010. As Archer lives in downtown Madison, the press and public are aware of the search. Two weeks after the search, Archer signed a proffer letter saying she was “interested in providing a statement to law enforcement officials regarding her knowledge of criminal activity in the Milwaukee area and elsewhere,” and was later questioned multiple times. She was never charged in the investigation. Archer would later tell the media that the search of her home was partisan retaliation due to her involvement in the creation of Act 10.
On November 4, 2011, recall petitions were filed for Walker by a GOP supporter triggering his ability to raise unlimited sums and defend nine seats including his own.
On May 4, 2011, Walker wrote to Republican strategist to Karl Rove “Bottom line: R.J. helps keep in place a team that is wildly successful in Wisconsin. We are running 9 recall elections and it will be like running 9 Congressional markets in every market in the state (and Twin Cities.).” He referenced campaign manager and Wisconsin Club for Growth official R.J. Johnson.
In March 2011, John Hiller’s residence was searched by prosecutors.
On May 13, 2011, John Hiller resigned as Walker’s campaign treasurer.
On December 13, 2011, Andrew Jensen was arrested by John Doe prosecutors for failing to cooperate and later freed without charges.
In January 2012, Tim Russell and county veteran’s official Kevin Kavanaugh were arrested and charged with separately embezzling veterans funds. Walker aides Darlene Wink and Kelly Rindfleisch were charged with conducting campaign work on the public payroll.
On June 5, 2012, Scott Walker won his recall election.
On August 16, 2012, the John Doe II investigation was launched under the auspices of Judge Barbara Kluka focusing on the Walker campaign’s potentially illegal coordination with independent big money groups. Prosecutors were looking at both express advocacy groups and so-called issue advocacy groups. Prosecutors ask Attorney General JB Van Hollen for assistance and Van Hollen sits on their request for six months before declining.
On March 2, 2013, John Doe I was closed after six convictions of Walker staff and top associates for a variety of crimes including embezzlement and conducting campaign business while on the public payroll, but no charges were brought against Scott Walker.
Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm issued a statement on the closure of John Doe I “all charges supported by proof beyond a reasonable doubt have been brought.”
Allegations of Walker offering special treatment to donors followed him into the governor’s mansion–from his privatized jobs agency giving economic development grants to contributors, to prioritizing the interests of secret donors to a group that Walker worked with during the recall elections.
In 2014, Scott Walker addressed the bid-rigging issue: “You’ve got the biggest district attorney’s office in the state led by a Democrat who’s been more than able and willing to look into other areas looked at that and realized in the end, in that particular case, I opted to go with county property. None of the bidders that ultimately bid on it got the bid because we felt the best deal for the taxpayers of the county at that time was to go with county property,” Walker told the Wisconsin State Journal.
In 2015, Archer filed a federal lawsuit against prosecutors alleging that Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office has “conducted a continuous campaign of harassment and intimidation against individuals and organizations in retaliation for their association with Scott Walker and their support for his policies, especially public-sector collective-bargaining reforms.” Her attorney in the case, David Rivkin, is also the attorney for Eric O’Keefe of Wisconsin Club for Growth, a group implicated in the John Doe II investigation.
Archer wrote an oped for the Wall Street Journal suggesting that she was targeted by prosecutors due to her involvement in Act 10 and “because of my politics.” The article fails to mention that when she was interviewed and questioned by prosecutors the topic was the Reuss Federal Plaza. Other allegations by Archer regarding the search of her house did not stand up to scrutiny when an audio tape of the search was released as CMD detailed.
Efforts to reach out to John Hiller and Cindy Archer for comment were unsuccessful.
When the dates of the Reuss Plaza events and key dates from John Doe I are overlapped, certain facts can be ascertained for the first time. It becomes apparent that Jerome Heer, the county auditor, put the County Board and Walker’s staff on notice in August that he was aware of improper contacts in the middle of the RFP process. It becomes apparent that Tim Russell’s computers were seized at a critical time when the RFP process was coming to a head, five days before the final offer was due. At that point, the Walker staff had no idea who or what was under investigation, but they likely knew one of their top political operatives, who was also active on the campaign side, was in trouble.
The Milwaukee District Attorney’s office would not provide a comment to CMD regarding why they did not bring any charges based on the conduct described in their search warrants and exhibits regarding the Reuss lease deal. In addition to the challenge of bringing a case against a newly elected governor over a lease deal that was not completed or in the midst of tumultuous protests and recall elections, prosecutors believed that Archer was unlawfully circumventing the open records law (Exhibit 16) and emails relevant to other aspects of the John Doe may have been destroyed. It is notable that early on in this newly released series of emails, there is an April 2010 email from Tim Russell to John Hiller coaching him how to delete email in Hiller’s various accounts. (Exhibit 19, p. 84)
During this same time period, records indicate that the Milwaukee District Attorney’s office was also looking into improper conduct on the campaign side. The search warrant indicates prosecutors sought emails and phone records from campaign manager Keith Gilkes, campaign advisor R.J. Johnson, and other campaign employees. The petitions to commence John Doe II, filed by a bipartisan group of state District Attorneys, shows that information collected in John Doe I led to John Doe II. The petition states “based upon a review of information thus far gathered by prosecutors and investigators as part of a John Doe proceeding” prosecutors believed “that further information concerning possible crimes occurring under Chapter 11 of the Wisconsin Statutes can be revealed utilizing a John Doe proceeding.” Chapter 11 governs campaign financing.
In pursuing these multiple trails in the John Doe I, prosecutors appear to have shifted their focus to the issues that would later constitute the John Doe II investigation. John Doe II was launched to investigate potentially illegal coordination between Scott Walker’s campaign committee and express advocacy and issue advocacy groups, which raised and spend more than $20 million during the recalls. The investigation was shut down while still in its early stages by a conflicted Wisconsin Supreme Court in July 2015.
Although these allegations of double-dealing reach back a number of years, they have a new salience following Walker’s signing into law in October 2015 a bill to outlaw John Doe investigations into political corruption at any level of government, an act the New York Times called “The Revenge of Scott Walker,” and as new bills are being fast-tracked in the legislature to welcome unlimited undisclosed money into Wisconsin campaigns and dismantle the nonpartisan elections and ethics board which had a role in the second John Doe.
Julia Wells and Lisa Graves contributed to this article. Publicly available documents in John Doe I and II can be accessed on our sister site Sourcewatch.org.