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US Senate candidate from Wisconsin charged with campaign-finance violations

The five charges against Milwaukee Alderwoman Chantia Lewis, who is running to replace Republican U.S. Senator Ron Johnson in 2022, carry a potential of tens of thousands in fines and more than 10 years in prison combined.

MILWAUKEE (CN) — A Milwaukee alderwoman who is running for a U.S. Senate seat next year was charged on Tuesday with felony campaign finance violations and other financial misconduct stemming from 2016 to 2020.

A 43-page criminal complaint filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court Tuesday alleges Alderwoman Chantia Lewis, a Democrat, filed false campaign finance reports with inaccurate information on her campaign account balances, contributions and disbursements, deposited campaign contributions to her personal bank accounts, structured a campaign contribution as to avoid contribution limit requirements and used campaign funds for personal expenses.

The complaint claims Lewis, 41, misused more than $13,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses and around $3,200 in campaign funds during travel for city of Milwaukee business, and deposited about $2,700 in campaign checks into her personal bank accounts. It also claims she arranged to be fraudulently reimbursed by the city of Milwaukee for more than $2,000 in travel funds.

In all, Assistant Milwaukee County District Attorney Matthew Westphal’s filing alleges Lewis “defrauded the city of Milwaukee and her campaign, collectively, of at least $21,666.70.”

Lewis is charged with two felonies for campaign finance violations, felonies for misconduct in public office and embezzlement, and a theft by fraud misdemeanor. The embezzlement charge carries the highest penalty, which includes up to a $25,000 fine and a maximum of 10 years in prison, or both.

Jason Luczak, the alderwoman’s attorney with Milwaukee-based firm Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown, denied the charges against Lewis in an email statement Tuesday evening, chalking the charges of financial shenanigans up to accounting errors.

“Ald. Lewis is innocent of criminal wrongdoing,” Luczak said. “Since finding out about the audit on her campaign account, Ald. Lewis has fully cooperated with the DA’s office, and asked that this matter be handled with her correcting the accounting errors and imposition of a civil penalty. We are disappointed that Ald. Lewis has been charged with crimes and we look forward to fighting this case in court.”

Luczak said he and Lewis plan to file a motion to dismiss the criminal lawsuit ahead of her initial intake appearance, which court records say is scheduled for Sept. 29 before Court Commissioner David Sweet.

Specifically, the criminal complaint against Lewis alleges she fraudulently sought reimbursement from the city of Milwaukee for expenses incurred traveling to conferences and conventions in Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Houston, Miami and other places, but paid for that travel from her campaign account and deposited reimbursement funds into her personal bank account.

Lewis is also charged with using campaign funds for family trips to Georgia and Wisconsin Dells, a trip to a worship conference at the Deeper Fellowship Church in Orlando, tuition costs at Agape Love Bible College in Milwaukee, payments to a Milwaukee car repair shop and rent for her Milwaukee apartment, as well as illegal ATM withdrawals and payments for credit card bills.

First elected in 2016 and reelected in 2020, Lewis serves on the Milwaukee Common Council, the legislative policy-making body for the city of Milwaukee. She represents the city’s 9th aldermanic district, covering much of the city’s farthest northwestern region.

Milwaukee Common Council President Cavalier Johnson said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that he was immediately relieving Lewis of her committee assignments, though he made no presumption as to her guilt or innocence.

“Make no mistake that our judicial system presumes that every individual is considered innocent until proven guilty in court,” Johnson said. “However, until this matter is resolved, I am moving without hesitation to protect the institution of the Milwaukee Common Council, as well as the city of Milwaukee.”

Lewis could not be reached on her office phone or via email after business hours on Tuesday.

The alderwoman is one of more than 10 Democrats and Independents currently in the 2022 race for Johnson’s seat in the U.S. Senate, including Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, Wisconsin State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski and Alex Lasry, the son of a co-owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks who is also one of the team’s executives.

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