MILWAUKEE — A former aide to Gov. Scott Walker pleaded guilty Thursday to felony misconduct in public office for doing campaign work out of Walker's office while he was serving as Milwaukee County executive.
Kelly Rindfleisch first tried to enter a plea of no contest to the charge, but Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David Hansher said he would not accept that.
"It's been the consistent policy of the court that it's either guilty or not guilty," Hansher said in court. "When a person pleads guilty, they're accepting responsibility."
Rindfleisch quickly changed her plea to guilty.
Prosecutors are recommending probation and jail time, but no prison time or fines. She will be sentenced on Nov. 19.
The conviction "sends the message that campaign fundraising in a government building on government time is a Class I felony and will be vigorously prosecuted under any circumstances, whether a Democrat or a Republican is involved," Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf said.
Rindfleisch, 43, served as Walker's deputy chief of staff in Milwaukee County in 2010 and spent much of her time at her taxpayer-funded job doing campaign work for Brett Davis, a Republican state representative who was then running for lieutenant governor, as well as Walker, her criminal complaint said. Rindfleisch, whose desk was about 25 feet away from Walker's office, frequently used a secret wireless Internet system to communicate with Davis, Walker campaign staffers and other campaign workers, according to the complaint.
Walker had been subpoenaed to appear as a witness in Rindfleisch's case, first by prosecutors, then by the defense. Her plea agreement spares him from taking the witness stand and testifying in open court.
"This case was never about Gov. Scott Walker," Landgraf said. "It was always about Kelly Rindfleisch."
During the hearing, Hansher asked Rindfleisch whether she understood that as soon as she pleaded guilty and he entered a judgment of conviction she would not be allowed to vote until she completes her sentence.
During the hearing, Rindfleisch's attorney, Franklyn Gimbel, asked Hansher to stay the conviction until Nov. 7 so that she could vote in the Nov. 6 election. Hansher declined.
"If I do it for you, I'd have to do that for other people who come before me in the next month," he said. "And I'm not going to do that." Landgraf said Rindfleisch has been "cooperative throughout the proceedings," but did not comment on why the plea agreement did not require her continued cooperation, or whether that was part of her plea.
He said she may be called as a witness in the trial of another former top Walker aide, Tim Russell, who is accused of embezzling more than $20,000 from veterans and their families. Russell's trial is scheduled to begin in early December.
Another former Walker aide, Darlene Wink, has pleaded guilty to a charge related to the John Doe investigation into Walker's former aides and associates. The investigation has already led to charges for six people. Former Walker appointee Kevin Kavanaugh has been on trial in Milwaukee this week.
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