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13th person granted immunity in John Doe investigation

13th person granted immunity in John Doe investigation

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MILWAUKEE — A former spokeswoman for Gov. Scott Walker was granted immunity Thursday in connection with a Milwaukee County investigation that has led to criminal charges against six people close to Walker.

Fran McLaughlin, who served as Walker's spokeswoman from 2007 to 2010 when he was the Milwaukee County executive, asked for and received immunity, according to online court records. She is the 13th person whom prosecutors have agreed not to charge in exchange for their testimony in their so-called John Doe investigation, in which hearings and court documents are private and only immunity grants are made public.

The investigation centers on several aides and associates to Walker before he was elected governor in 2010. The allegations range from campaigning on county time to embezzling money from a veterans program. Walker has repeatedly said he's cooperating with the investigation.

McLaughlin, now the spokeswoman for Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, didn't immediately return a message left Thursday by The Associated Press. Her defense attorney, Michael A.I. Whitcomb, said court rules prevent him from discussing the case.

Walker hasn't been charged with wrongdoing, but he set up a legal defense fund. Such a move is only allowed if officeholders or their agents are targets of an investigation for election or campaign violations.

Walker has transferred a total of $160,000 to the fund from his campaign account. The governor has told reporters he's simply relying on his defense team to deal with administrative issues he doesn't have time to handle.

In a John Doe investigation, witnesses can be compelled to testify under oath about potential criminal matters. The case is conducted in secrecy, and the only part of the investigation that is public is the granting of immunity.

Walker faces a recall election Tuesday, and his Democratic challenger has been trying to use the investigation as a campaign issue. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has been calling on Walker to release emails related to the probe, saying voters deserve to have access to that information before the election.

Walker has refused to release the documents, saying they're part of the investigation. However, Barrett says that if Walker truly isn't a target, there's no legal imperative preventing him from releasing them.

The ongoing case has already led to charges against six people who worked for or were associated with Walker's county executive office.

Two former Walker associates were charged with embezzling more than $60,000 from veterans and their families. A sixth is charged with child enticement, evidence of which allegedly was discovered while investigating one of the others.

One former aide pleaded guilty to working on Walker's gubernatorial campaign on county time, and his former deputy chief of staff is charged with felony misconduct in office. A donor was sentenced to two years' probation after being convicted of exceeding state campaign-donation limits.

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