Posted July 15, 2003
Attorney pleads 5th on Paulus, Biskupic
Appleton lawyer won’t say whether he paid former prosecutors
By Ed Lowe
An Appleton lawyer linked to a federal probe into bribery allegations involving a former area prosecutor has declined to testify about whether he made payoffs.
Court transcripts obtained Monday by The Post-Crescent show Richard Bollenbeck invoked his Fifth Amendment constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination when testifying via telephone for a deposition held in Winnebago County Circuit Court on July 2.
In doing so, he declined to say if he ever paid former Winnebago County Dist. Atty. Joe Paulus or former Outagamie County Dist. Atty. Vince Biskupic to affect the outcome of cases.
Both former prosecutors are subjects of ongoing probes involving alleged misuse of their elective positions. Paulus is under investigation by the FBI for allegedly providing special treatment to defendants represented by attorneys he favored, including Bollenbeck.
Biskupic, who left his post after an unsuccessful campaign for Wisconsin attorney general in 2002, is under investigation by the state Ethics Board for allegedly using his office to benefit organizations with which he was affiliated.
Biskupic was Paulus’ deputy in Winnebago County before he was appointed Outagamie DA in 1994.
The deposition of Bollenbeck was part of a motion for post-conviction relief filed on behalf of one of his former clients, Melinda Otto. She alleges Bollenbeck promised her a lenient sentence based on his ties to Paulus and Winnebago County Circuit Judge Tom Gritton, who presided over her case.
“I actually had a real good idea that (Bollenbeck) would be pleading the Fifth just because there’s allegations of possible criminal conduct” on his part, said Tracey Wood, Otto’s Madison attorney. “I think most people (facing criminal charges) would hire an attorney and refuse to answer questions.”
Bollenbeck did not return repeated phone calls to his office Monday. His attorney, Stephen Kravit of Milwaukee, was unavailable as well.
Under questioning by Winnebago County Assistant Dist. Atty. Mike Balskus, formerly of Biskupic’s Outagamie County staff, Bollenbeck offered no information for the deposition beyond the spelling of his last name, according to a transcript.
Balskus has maintained that Biskupic offered special treatment to defendants and would-be defendants represented by defense attorneys he favored, including Bollenbeck.
“Bollenbeck has received special treatment by Mr. Biskupic on many cases,” Balskus told The P-C in May.
A P-C review of a crime-prevention fund under Biskupic’s management while he served as district attorney found it bolstered by cash contributions from unnamed drug informants as well as business owners. Several contributors avoided charges after making payments in “pre-charging” deals arranged by Biskupic.
In filing the motion for Otto, Wood contended that Bollenbeck improperly guaranteed the woman would avoid prison on two counts of causing injury by drunken driving, charged in 2001. Otto’s affidavit alleges Bollenbeck “knew all the players” in the case and guaranteed she would avoid prison in return for a $5,000 retainer.
Otto is seeking a reduced sentence. She was sentenced to three years in prison, followed by 17 years of extended supervision.
“Mr. Bollenbeck hired (Kravit) once he learned the nature of the deposition,” Wood said. “He knew I would be asking questions related to his dealings with Mr. Paulus on other cases. Mr. Balskus was asking about (dealings with) Mr. Biskupic, for the most part.”
According to the transcript of the deposition, Balskus asked Bollenbeck, “At any time have you paid Dist. Atty. Joe Paulus any money for any favorable recommendation, dismissal, or amendment to the many charges?”
Bollenbeck replied: “I have been advised under advice of counsel to assert my Fifth Amendment rights … and refuse to answer any questions other than to identify myself to the court.”
When Balskus questioned Bollenbeck about whether he paid Biskupic for the same considerations, his sworn response didn’t vary.
Biskupic and Balskus were unavailable for comment Monday. Paulus has refused media interviews since entering private practice this year.
Ed Lowe can be reached at 920-993-1000, ext. 293, or by e-mail at elowe@ postcrescent.com
||Truth in Justice