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Context of 'September 22, 2006: Former Wisconsin Supervisor Sentenced to Jail in Corruption Case'

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Georgia Thompson is hired to oversee Wisconsin’s state travel spending. She soon builds a reputation as a quiet, pleasant, hard-working individual who is devoted to her job. She is not a political appointee, but rather a civil service hire with 27 years of experience in the travel industry. She is hired by the administration of Governor Scott McCallum (R-WI). [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 1/27/2006]

Entity Tags: Georgia Lee Thompson, Scott McCallum

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Steven Biskupic.Steven Biskupic. [Source: Urban Milwaukee (.com)]US Attorney Steven M. Biskupic of Wisconsin investigates allegations that a travel firm used its influence with Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI) to improperly land a government contract (see October 19, 2005). Doyle denies any involvement with the affair and refuses to reopen bidding on the contract, saying the contract with Adelman Travel was awarded properly. Doyle also refuses to return $20,000 in donations from Adelman CEO Craig Adelman and board member Mitchell Fromstein, a decision Jay Heck of the liberal organization Common Cause says is a mistake: “You should always return money that’s in question because the longer you hang onto it, the worse it’s going to be.” Heck says transparency proposals by Doyle’s Republican opponents, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker (R-WI) and US Representative Mark Green (R-WI), would be of no real use. Furthermore, Heck notes, both Walker and Green have taken money from special interests along with Doyle. “All of them are taking money that at some point will compromise public policy because they have to raise so much of it and it almost all comes from special interests and it all comes with strings attached,” he says. Green accepted almost $54,000 in donations from health care insurers and pharmaceutical interests before voting for a controversial, industry-supported Medicare prescription drug benefit in 2003. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 10/21/2005]

Entity Tags: Jay Heck, Adelman Travel, James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Mitchell Fromstein, Scott Kevin Walker, Mark Andrew Green, Craig Adelman, Steven M. Biskupic

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Omega World Travel agency claims that it was improperly denied a $750,000 contract by the Wisconsin state government in favor of another firm with ties to Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI). The other firm, Adelman Travel, is owned by Craig Adelman, a major contributor to Doyle’s political campaign. Adelman and a member of the firm’s board of directors, Mitchell Fromstein, both donated $10,000—the maximum allowed under the law—to Doyle’s re-election campaign. Omega contends that the bidding process was rigged to favor Adelman Travel. State purchasing division supervisor Georgia Thompson (see 2001) says Omega and Adelman Travel were essentially tied as frontrunners during the bidding phase. Doyle denies any involvement in the selection of Adelman Travel as the state’s supplier of travel services. Doyle’s opponent for the 2006 gubernatorial race, Representative Mark Green (R-WI), says the affair has “cast a cloud on state government.” [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 10/19/2005] Omega declined to formally contest the contract award. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 10/21/2005] Department of Administration Secretary Stephen Bablitch will say there is no evidence that Adelman Travel was awarded the contract improperly, and will note that the firm lost out on three of the four contracts it bid for. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 1/24/2006]

Entity Tags: James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Adelman Travel, Georgia Lee Thompson, Stephen Bablitch, Mark Andrew Green, Mitchell Fromstein, Omega World Travel, Craig Adelman

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Georgia Thompson.Georgia Thompson. [Source: Truth in Justice (.org)]Georgia Thompson, the supervisor of Wisconsin’s state government travel spending (see 2001), is indicted by a federal grand jury. She is charged with manipulating the bid process on a state travel contract, intending to “cause political advantage for her supervisors” (see October 19, 2005 and October 2005). The indictment also says her actions “were intended to help her job security.” If convicted, Thompson could receive up to 20 years in prison. The grand jury probed a contract Thompson and the state’s purchasing division awarded to Adelman Travel, whose executives have made $20,000 in campaign contributions to Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI). Doyle was not interviewed by the jury and denies any involvement in the contract award process. The jury was convened by US Attorney Steven Biskupic. Investigators say Thompson was not fully cooperative with their probe, and some witnesses have told the jury that Thompson pushed for Adelman to receive the contract over another bidder, Omega World Travel. The travel bidding affair has become something of a political football, with Wisconsin Republicans using it to accuse Doyle of corruption. Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker (R-WI), expected to challenge Doyle for the governor’s office in 2006, says that Doyle’s administration “condoned unethical and illegal behavior.… Today’s indictment provides further confirmation that the Doyle administration is damaged and must be removed from the Capitol. Jim Doyle’s political connections to this aide are, without question, mentioned as a defining piece of the evidence used to bring forth this indictment.” Another Republican challenger, Representative Mark Green (R-WI), says electing him would help restore the public’s confidence in elected officials: “The Doyle administration’s ethical lapses have cast a cloud over state government that grows darker and darker each day.” Department of Administration Secretary Stephen Bablitch says there is no evidence that Adelman Travel was awarded the contract improperly. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 1/21/2006; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 1/24/2006; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 1/27/2006]

Entity Tags: Mark Andrew Green, Adelman Travel, James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Scott Kevin Walker, Omega World Travel, Steven M. Biskupic, Georgia Lee Thompson, Stephen Bablitch

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Georgia Thompson, a Wisconsin state purchasing executive, is convicted of two felony charges of manipulating the bid process on a state travel contract, intending to “cause political advantage for her supervisors” (see October 19, 2005, October 2005, and January 24, 2006). The indictment said her actions “were intended to help her job security,” though it did not allege the existence of a so-called “pay to play” scheme that traded campaign donations for contracts. Thompson was charged with improperly steering a travel contract with the state, worth $750,000, to a travel firm whose executives made political donations to Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI). She pled not guilty to the charges, and was not asked by prosecutors to take a deal in return for testifying about alleged improprieties by Doyle and other administration officials. Her lawyer, Stephen Hurley, said at the time: “They can squeeze all they want. There’s nothing to squeeze out.” Hurley called the charges against her “the most bizarre application of the statute I’ve ever seen.” US Attorney Steven Biskupic, a Bush administration appointee, is using the Thompson case to find evidence of criminal corruption within the Doyle administration. Thompson faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Wisconsin Republicans have dubbed the affair “Travelgate,” and are using it to drub Doyle in campaign ads. Doyle is expected to face stiff competition from Republican challengers in the November 2006 election. During the trial, prosecutors did not allege that Thompson colluded with anyone in the Doyle administration to rig the contract process. Instead, they said Thompson carried out the improprieties on her own in order to curry favor with her superiors. Biskupic called her actions “politically motivated bid-rigging,” and said she inflated her scores for Adelman Travel in the bid assessment process “for private gain for herself and others” rather than using the criteria established by state law. Hurley called Biskupic’s logic “bizarre,” and noted that Thompson did not profit in any way from her alleged bid-rigging. In fact, Hurley said, her actions saved the state $27,000. Hurley said during the trial that she had no way of knowing about the campaign contributions, and her job did not depend on which company received the contract. Evidence presented during the trial showed that Adelman Travel was involved in setting the parameters for the contract awarding criteria months before being invited to take part in the bidding, though Thompson was not involved in those dealings. Thompson testified that she is not politically active and knew nothing of the politics behind the contract. She said she was not pressured to award Adelman Travel the contract. She said that she had a negative reaction to Adelman’s competitor for the contract, Omega World Travel, because unlike Adelman Travel, it was not a local firm, and she found Omega’s representatives “pushy, abrasive, and East Coast” in their manner. Through tears, she testified: “As a consumer, you can say, ‘Gee, I need a new refrigerator,’ look in the Sunday paper, see that there are refrigerators for sale, and say, ‘Okay, this is the one I want. This looks like the right price.’ You go in to buy it, and you don’t like the salesperson, so you don’t buy it. In state government, you can’t do that.” If you do, she said, the contract could be called into question. In his closing arguments, Biskupic called Thompson a liar, noting that her testimony in court was different in some aspects to statements she had given reporters. Doyle says after the conviction is issued: “It is clear that Georgia Thompson acted on her own and that no other state employee was involved.… As I have stated before, I have zero tolerance for ethical lapses in government. When public servants abuse the public’s trust, they forfeit their rights to continue in the state’s employ.” Doyle says that Thompson will likely be fired after a review is conducted. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 2/3/2006; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 6/3/2006; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 6/6/2006; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 6/9/2006; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 6/13/2006] She will resign her position shortly after her conviction. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Adelman Travel, James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Omega World Travel, Steven M. Biskupic, Stephen Hurley, Georgia Lee Thompson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Wisconsin Department of Administration supervisor Georgia Thompson (see 2001 and June 13, 2006) is sentenced to 18 months in prison for allegedly steering a state travel contract to a firm whose executives contributed $20,000 to the campaign of Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI—see October 19, 2005, October 2005, and January 24, 2006). She was convicted of misapplying government funds and of defrauding the state of its right to honest services. Aside from her prison term, Thompson is sentenced to pay $4,000 in fines and serve three years of supervised release. The jury concluded that the firm, Adelman Travel, would not have been awarded a $750,000 contract had Thompson not manipulated the selection process. “People are deserving of good and honest government,” says District Judge Rudolph T. Randa. “There has been too much of this recently; people tend to lose confidence.” Thompson is appealing the conviction. The judge and attorneys for both sides have acknowledged the political nature of the case. Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Rick Wiley has already used Thompson in attack ads targeting Doyle for the upcoming election, with one ad saying, “Jim Doyle has rigged contracts for cash, he’s rigged votes to make political attacks, and by failing to protect our electoral process, this election is ripe for fraud once again.” Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Joe Wineke says of the ads, “For months, Republicans have been trying to use the Georgia Thompson case for their own political advantage and to smear Governor Doyle.” [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 9/22/2006]

Entity Tags: Georgia Lee Thompson, Adelman Travel, James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Joe Wineke, Rudolph T. Randa, Rick Wiley

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A federal court of appeals overturns the conviction of former Wisconsin government official Georgia Thompson, who was convicted of two felony counts of manipulating a state bidding process to favor a Wisconsin travel agency whose executives had made campaign donations to Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI—see June 13, 2006). The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacates the conviction and orders Thompson released from jail (see September 22, 2006) immediately. US Attorney Steven Biskupic, who prosecuted Thompson, says he will most likely not appeal the decision. The three-judge panel finds Thompson was wrongfully convicted after oral arguments were presented by both Biskupic’s office and Thompson’s attorney, not waiting for written submissions. Judge Diane T. Wood called the evidence submitted by Biskupic “beyond thin,” telling prosecutors: “I have to say, in comparison to some of the cases this court has seen, that’s a pretty thin set of facts to show some sort of tight political relationship. Am I missing something?” Judge William Bauer wondered why others were not prosecuted, asking why, if prosecutors felt Doyle and others were complicit in the alleged crimes, only Thompson was left to “carr[y] the sack.” Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook noted Adelman Travel had the lowest bid and assailed math used to score competing bids. “Because they flunked high school math doesn’t mean a felony was committed,” he said. Doyle, a former state attorney general, says the court did an “extraordinary thing” by entering an order finding Thompson innocent and ordering her immediate release. Decisions like this usually take weeks or months to be rendered. Doyle says Thompson did nothing wrong, calls her “an innocent woman who was used as a political football,” and says she deserves her job back and to be awarded back pay. “She was doing her job, and then she got caught up in all of this,” he says. Doyle defeated gubernatorial challenger Mark Green (R-WI) in the November 2006 elections; Green attempted to make the Thompson “Travelgate” affair a centerpiece of his campaign, and repeatedly accused Doyle and his administration of corruption. Thompson’s attorney, Stephen Hurley, argued in oral presentations that Thompson did not personally profit from the contract going to Adelman Travel, contending that her actions did not constitute “dishonest gain,” a criteria many courts have applied to corruption cases. Hurley says that as a result of her conviction, she lost “her job, her life savings, her home, and her liberty; and it cost Georgia her good name.… At sentencing, the government urged a longer period of incarceration because Georgia did not accept responsibility. Today, the government ought to accept responsibility for the consequences of its acts.” Wisconsin Republican Party director Mark Jefferson says Thompson’s exoneration means nothing, and the Doyle administration should still be investigated regarding the contract process. [Associated Press, 4/5/2007; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/5/2007] Wisconsin lawyer Chris Van Wagner later says of the appeals court’s decision: “That is more than a legal ruling; it’s a slap in the face. This, no question about it, is a major affront to the government in many ways. Most significantly, it said you should have never brought this case.… Two or three cases out of 100 are vacated. This case wasn’t just vacated and sent back for a retrial, but rather the judges ordered an acquittal.” [Christopher T. Van Wagner, 4/2007] Law professor Michael O’Hear agrees that the decision is unusual. “If this was a finding of insufficient evidence, what they’re saying is it’s unjust that Georgia Thompson has been in prison the last few months,” he says. [Wisconsin State Journal, 4/6/2007]

Entity Tags: Frank Easterbrook, Diane T. Wood, Adelman Travel, William Bauer, Steven M. Biskupic, Stephen Hurley, Michael O’Hear, James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Georgia Lee Thompson, Mark Jefferson, Chris Van Wagner, Mark Andrew Green

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Former Wisconsin procurement officer Georgia Thompson, wrongly convicted of corruption in 2006 (see 2001 and June 13, 2006) and freed by an appeals court in 2007 (see April 5, 2007) amid speculation that her prosecution was politically motivated (see April 7-10, 2007, April 16, 2007, and April 24, 2007), was pressured by federal prosecutors to turn on high-ranking Democrats in Wisconsin state government, according to officials involved in the case. In return, prosecutors promised leniency or dropping the charges in their entirety. Her lawyer, Stephen Hurley, says prosecutors wanted her to testify against Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI), the then-Department of Administration Secretary Marc Marotta, and other elected officials. The pressure came from US Attorney Steven Biskupic and others in his office, according to Hurley and co-counsel Marcus Berghahn. “I began to get the impression that the indictment was being used to squeeze her,” says Hurley, saying that these attempts continued even after Thompson’s sentencing (see September 22, 2006), with offers to seek a reduced sentence if Thompson produced evidence that Doyle or others in his administration had broken the law. Hurley, who has been a criminal defense attorney for over 30 years, says: “It was the only time in my career that, after the person was sentenced, the prosecutor has called to renew the discussion. I’ve never had that happen before.” Reporter Bill Lueders writes, “These offers, though not necessarily indicative of improper conduct, suggest that Biskupic and his staff prosecuted Thompson as part of a larger agenda, with potential political overtones.” Biskupic has denied any political motivations behind the prosecution (see April 14, 2007) and refuses to discuss any plea offers with Lueders. Former Dane County assistant district attorney John Burr, a past president of the Association of State Prosecutors, says of Biskupic’s plea offers: “You can’t tell me it was not politically motivated. The powers that be over there thought they were going to go all the way to the governor.” Biskupic’s office, says Burr, prosecuted Thompson to get to Doyle and others. And, “[w]hen they didn’t find anything, they were stuck with it. It blew up in their faces.” Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Green (R-WI) used the Thompson prosecution as the centerpiece of his campaign against Doyle in the 2006 elections, accusing Doyle of running a corrupt administration. Doyle defeated Green in the election. Many have speculated that the case can be tied to the 2006 US Attorney purge (see March 10, 2006, December 7, 2006, and December 20, 2006), with Biskupic pursuing the Thompson case to curry favor with the Bush administration and keep himself from being fired. Biskupic was considered for firing in 2005 (see March 2, 2005), but was later removed from the list of those being considered for firing. Biskupic insisted throughout the prosecution that the case was entirely about Thompson, and not about Doyle or other elected officials, but in his closing arguments, he cited Doyle, Marotta, and others as “players” in the affair, saying: “She’s the link. She’s the one who made this happen. What a terrible coincidence for her that she is in the middle of all this.” One juror later said that “nobody in the jury room had any doubt whatsoever” that Doyle and others were involved, though there is no evidence to support such a conclusion. Former US Attorney Frank Tuerkheimer says there is nothing untoward or unusual about Biskupic trying to “flip” Thompson to get information about higher-ups. “In principle, there is nothing wrong with it,” he says. “There’s no question in my mind that Biskupic was after Thompson to get higher-ups.” The problem was, Tuerkheimer adds, that “Biskupic had a theory of criminality that was ridiculous”—that Thompson was acting at others’ behest. “It just bothers you ‘cause the woman got screwed.” Tuerkheimer notes that Biskupic had Thompson jailed pending her appeal, which was unusual for such a case. She had no criminal history, was not a flight risk, and had a legitimate case for appeal. Most people in her position would have been allowed to stay out of jail pending the appeal. Why did Biskupic insist on having her jailed? Tuerkheimer replies, “It appeared to me that they were trying to pressure her to talk.” [Madison Isthmus, 5/18/2007] Doyle says he is alarmed by the reports that Biskupic and others tried to pressure Thompson into testifying against members of his administration. “The story is pretty alarming, particularly given that she had testified under oath that nobody had ever asked her to do anything inappropriately,” Doyle says. “Even after… testifying under oath they were still trying to get her to give information that just wasn’t true.” Doyle refuses to say directly that the prosecution was politically motivated, but asks rhetorically, “Does anybody really think that Georgia Thompson, if it hadn’t been an election year, that this would have ever happened to her?” Biskupic’s chief assistant Michelle Jacobs denies that the prosecution had any political components to it, saying: “We would never, and have never, encouraged a defendant to lie to us. To suggest that it is somehow untoward or unusual to approach a post-trial defendant, even a defendant who has testified, about cooperating with us, it’s just not unusual.” [Associated Press, 5/18/2007]

Entity Tags: James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Bush administration (43), Bill Lueders, Georgia Lee Thompson, Steven M. Biskupic, Mark Andrew Green, Michelle Jacobs, Marc Marotta, John Burr, Frank Tuerkheimer, Stephen Hurley, Marcus Berghahn

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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