Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's spokesman and two others have been granted immunity in an investigation involving the Republican governor's current and former aides.
Retired Waukesha County Judge Neal Nettesheim said Friday that he granted immunity to Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie, Wisconsin and Southern Railroad lobbyist Ken Lucht and Milwaukee County Republican Party official Roseann Dieck.
Nettesheim said in an interview from his home that the three were granted immunity at different times, more than 60 days ago, during the course of a secret John Doe investigation. That investigation is a proceeding in which witnesses can be compelled to testify under oath about potential criminal matters.
Nettesheim, who is overseeing a secret investigation into people who worked for Walker when he served as Milwaukee County executive, did not have the precise dates of when immunity was granted. He said the only part of a John Doe investigation that is public is the granting of immunity. The proceeding allows witnesses to be subpoenaed, while forbidding them from talking publicly about the case.
Werwie had no comment when reached by the Associated Press. Dieck and Lucht did not immediately return messages.
Werwie joined Walker's campaign as spokesman after the September primary and remained with him when he took office in January. Dieck is a longtime Republican activist who is listed as the chairwoman of the southwest branch of the Milwaukee County Republican Party.
Lucht is a lobbyist for Wisconsin and Southern Railroad, the company owned by William Gardner, a major Walker supporter who pleaded guilty in April to violating state campaign laws and was sentenced to two years of probation for making $44,800 in excess and improper contributions to Walker's campaign for governor. Individuals are limited to a maximum $10,000, and corporate donations are illegal.
A criminal complaint stemming from the John Doe was filed in Washington County Circuit Court. According to that complaint Gardner, of Hartford, directed his employees and a friend to donate money to Walker's campaign in 2009 and 2010, then reimbursed them with personal and corporate funds. He reimbursed himself with corporate funds.
According to the criminal complaint, Lucht testified in the John Doe that he received $5,000 from Wisconsin and Southern to contribute to Walker's campaign but kept the money because he did not think it was "right" to contribute it. Several months later he reimbursed the company "after William Gardner publicly disclosed his conduct in violation of the campaign finance laws," the complaint said.
The complaint includes an April 15, 2010, email from Gardner to Walker thanking the gubernatorial candidate for meeting with him at a Noodles restaurant and asking him for "support in upgrading this old warn (sic) out rail system that I currently operate on for the State of WI."
In the email, Gardner said his company looked forward to creating good jobs and economic development "with all the necessary tools provided by State Government, including adequate funding for capital upgrades to the state-owned freight railroad system."
A month before that complaint was filed, Walker announced $25.5 million to improve freight rail in Wisconsin, of which Wisconsin and Southern received $14 million in grants, $1.6 million in loans and $2.2 million for the state's purchase of 3.6 miles of railroad track and corridor in Milwaukee County owned by Wisconsin and Southern.
The grants and loans were not specifically mentioned in the criminal complaint.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported the granting of immunity on Friday. The newspaper, citing unidentified people familiar with the case, previously reported that investigators are looking into whether Walker's aides conducted political activity on the taxpayer dime.
The newspaper also reported that people familiar with the investigation said the investigation focuses on the activities of Cynthia Archer, a top Walker aide, and Tom Nardelli, Walker's former county chief of staff. Both worked three years in Walker's county executive office and both followed him to Madison after the November election.
Last week, FBI agents raided Archer's Madison home. She worked for Walker's administration as a top aide before going on sick leave in August. Nardelli quit his state job in July.
University of Wisconsin law professor Ben Kempinen said it's unclear how close Werwie, Lucht and Dieck may have been to any alleged crimes under investigation in the John Doe.
"Normally, the two kinds of people they're going to call for a Doe are, one, somebody they think is implicated and may testify under immunity, or somebody that they're not really certain is implicated but might have information," said Kempinen, who runs the law school's Prosecution Project. "It's kind of like, ‘If you didn't do anything wrong, why do you need immunity?' It may not be like that, but it sure looks like that."
-- Reporter Dee J. Hall contributed to this report.