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Wis. official gets 2 years in vet charity theft

Dec. 7, 2012 - 03:35PM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 7, 2012 - 03:35PM  |  
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MILWAUKEE A former associate of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was sentenced Friday to two years in prison after he was convicted of embezzling more than $51,000 from donations intended to help veterans and their families.

Kevin D. Kavanaugh, 62, is the fifth person close to Walker to be convicted as a result of a long-running secret probe, and a sixth person is scheduled to face trial next month. Walker himself has not been charged with wrongdoing.

Before sentencing, Kavanaugh told the judge, "I'm truly sorry for disappointing all my fellow veterans." But Judge Michael D. Guolee, whose voice cracked with emotion when he recalled the testimony of soldiers' widows, dismissed the apology as "worthless."

"I don't see any remorse, no tears, no angst, no trying to explain what you did with all that money," Guolee said.

Kavanaugh, whom Walker had named to the Milwaukee County Veterans Service Commission, was the treasurer of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, a veterans' service organization. His job included distributing checks of at least $600 apiece to the widows and children of Wisconsin service members killed in action.

Prosecutors said Kavanaugh skimmed money from bank deposits and also made phony withdrawals, and then altered the books to mask the transactions.

Kavanaugh is a Vietnam veteran who was honorably discharged and received a Purple Heart after he was injured in a grenade blast, defense attorney Christopher Hartley said. Hartley noted that Kavanaugh has also been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and has a problem with alcohol.

But the judge said he needed to send a message to anyone who would steal from a charity, especially stealing from the fellow veterans Kavanaugh was expected to serve.

The investigation into Walker's former aides and associates during his time as the Milwaukee County executive began in May 2010, six months before Walker was elected governor.

Walker said last week he hoped the so-called John Doe investigation was nearing an end. But retired Waukesha County Judge Neal Nettesheim, who is overseeing the investigation, said the probe is still open and that comments to the contrary were "pure conjecture."

Two county workers were convicted of doing campaign work on county time; Kavanaugh and former Walker deputy chief of staff Tim Russell were convicted of theft; and one donor was found guilty of exceeding state campaign donation limits and laundering campaign donations.

The sixth, Brian Pierick, Russell's domestic partner, was charged with child enticement, evidence of which was allegedly uncovered while investigating Russell.

The investigation into Kavanaugh was prompted by Walker's county office itself.

Tom Nardelli, then Walker's chief of staff, told investigators there was an $11,000 discrepancy in one particular fund Kavanaugh was managing, and that Kavanaugh refused to provide accounting for the spending. Nardelli said he reported his concerns to Walker in 2009.

Hartley had argued at trial that his client was simply a bad bookkeeper. The criminal complaint said Kavanaugh's personal financial records showed credit card debts of more than $40,000.

Kavanaugh's sentencing brings to a close four of the six John Doe cases to date. The remaining cases involve:

Darlene Wink, a former Walker aide who pleaded guilty this summer to two misdemeanor charges of working on Walker's gubernatorial campaign on county time. She is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 10.

Pierick's jury trial is scheduled to start Jan. 29.

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