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A former Dane County sheriff’s deputy who served as treasurer of the deputy sheriffs’ union pleaded guilty Thursday to three felonies for stealing from the union.

Joel M. Wagner, 54, of Sun Prairie, pleaded guilty to one count each of felony theft, unauthorized use of the Dane County Deputy Sheriff’s Association’s identifying information and theft by false representation. The felony theft conviction carries up to 3½ years of combined prison and extended supervision, while the other two convictions each carry up to six years.

Under a plea agreement, Assistant District Attorney Paul Humphrey and Wagner’s lawyer, Chris Van Wagner, will recommend that Circuit Judge Jill Karofsky sentence Wagner to five years of probation. Van Wagner said an offer extended by Humphrey also includes a recommendation for five months in jail.

Five other charges against Wagner were dismissed under the plea agreement, but Karofsky can consider them when she sentences Wagner on Oct. 16 and can set an amount that Wagner must pay in restitution based on those dismissed charges.

Wagner retired from the Dane County Sheriff’s Office in early 2017, but questions about his handling of union finances arose in 2016.

A criminal complaint states that the union’s president, Deputy John Cahill, along with Deputy Greg Leatherberry, who was Wagner’s successor as treasurer, repeatedly asked Wagner for the union’s financial data, but were rebuffed. Wagner produced them once he was ordered to do so by his supervisor, the complaint states.

Investigators found that Wagner had reimbursed himself for mileage for monthly road trips that he didn’t take, skimmed money that was collected for union events and made purchases for himself using a union credit card, the complaint states. The union estimated at the time Wagner was charged that he had stolen about $10,000.

In a letter to Karofsky, Cahill wrote that when he was first hired, he saw Wagner, who worked as a training deputy, as someone who ran a “tight ship” and did things with military precision. But he became disillusioned later as he came to realize what Wagner had done as union treasurer.

“How can someone who took an oath to protect his community and swear to uphold the laws of the county and state simultaneously steal from his coworkers?” Cahill wrote. “Wagner needs to be punished for everything that he has done and I think the best punishment for him would be incarceration and reimbursement to the union.”

Deputy David Hafeman, a member of the union’s board of directors, wrote that Wagner should go to prison.

“If Joel Wagner were an ordinary citizen, then probation and restitution would be an appropriate outcome for the crimes he committed,” Hafeman wrote. “But Mr. Wagner committed these crimes as a deputy sheriff.”

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