D.C. working on Paulus probeNew federal prosecutors in charge of investigation
Dec. 23, 2003
By Alex Hummel and Jim Collar
Federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C., are now in control of the year-and-a-half-old investigation of bribery allegations in the Winnebago County District Attorney’s office under former district attorney Joseph Paulus.
A spokesman for the Milwaukee branch of the U.S. Attorney’s office on Monday confirmed that the office has passed the case to investigators in Washington.
“We have recused ourselves from that case, and it’s being looked at by Washington, D.C.,” the office’s Public Affairs Liaison Francia Wendelborn said. “We’ve asked them to take a look at it.”
It’s one of few confirmations in the tight-lipped probe that began in April 2002 with a vague, public denouncement of “corruption” by then assistant district attorney and district attorney hopeful Edmund Jelinski.
Jelinski eventually said at least one defendant who acquired a defense attorney friendly with Paulus paid, or believed she was paying, $5,000 for more lenient charges.
Sources told The Northwestern the “case,” as Wendelborn described it, is merely the investigative information passed along to the U.S. Department of Justice. That doesn’t suggest formal charges have been filed related to the probe.
Wisconsin’s Eastern District U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic removed himself from involvement in the case because he is the brother of Vince Biskupic, former Outagamie County district attorney and Paulus’ friend and former employee. Steven Biskupic and Paulus both sought the federally-appointed prosecutor’s post Biskupic won in 2002.
Paulus on Monday said the FBI hasn’t contacted him a single time in the 20 months since the allegations he characterized as a politically-hatched smear campaign first emerged.
“That’s news to me,” Paulus said, when told of the U.S. Attorney’s office comment. “I haven’t heard from any investigator. I’m not aware of any investigation, but if there is one, I hope someone does look at it to get rid of this nonsense.”
Also on Monday, current Winnebago County District Attorney William Lennon said the Federal Bureau of Investigation has taken “dozens” of prosecutor case files from his office during the last six months.
Lennon said investigators have asked for files from his office three or four times. He described the FBI contact as “sporadic.”
“Since I’ve taken office, this office has had different contacts with the FBI on three or four occasions,” Lennon said Monday. “I can indicate they (investigators) are looking at files and investigating the content with them in relation to the allegations.”
Other county officials have also acknowledged contact with federal investigators.
Whether the federal investigation leads to charges or a clearing of allegations remains to be seen.
One man interviewed by authorities, Leroy Ruedinger, of Oshkosh, told The Northwestern last year he was under the impression he could avoid jail time on a 1996 drunken driving charge by making a payment to a prosecutor-controlled Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education programs fund.
Ruedinger, 56, made a $500 check out to DARE but was asked by his then-defense attorney, Milton “Mitch” Schierland, to make it out to Schierland.
Ruedinger said Monday he visited an FBI agent in Madison last year. That was followed by an agent’s visit to his Oshkosh home. He said he has subsequently received a letter clearing Schierland of wrongdoing in his case.
“They found nothing with Schierland,” Ruedinger said, adding he’d still like to know where his $500 went.
The case that sparked the allegations involves an Oshkosh woman, Connie L. Christensen, 33, who had a 1999 drunken driving charge – her third -- reduced to “reckless driving” and endangering safety.
Christensen said she paid Schierland $5,000 under the impression the payment would secure the charge reduction.
Schierland, Paulus’ friend, went on to serve as an assistant district attorney under Paulus. He, like Paulus, is now a private attorney in the Oshkosh area.
He declined to comment when contacted by a reporter Monday afternoon.
Lennon, who won his job last fall by defeating two challengers and Paulus, then a 13-year incumbent, declined comment when asked by a reporter whether any of his staff who worked under Paulus were subpoenaed or further questioned by investigators.
“That I can’t answer,” Lennon said. “I’ve been asked not to answer that.”
The FBI last year confirmed it was investigating the allegations Jelinski made but has since declined any further comment.
Lennon said he has tried to glean what he can from investigators, particularly an answer to when, if ever, their work will wrap up.
“The same questions that you have voiced, I have voiced to them,” Lennon said. “For reasons that are legitimate and professional, they have declined to answer.”
“I’m confident, as district attorney, there will be some public statement or proceeding one way or another,” Lennon said.
||Truth in Justice