Milwaukee Alderwoman Chantia Lewis facing criminal charges; relieved from committee duties

NOW: Milwaukee Alderwoman Chantia Lewis facing criminal charges; relieved from committee duties

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee Alderwoman Chantia Lewis has been charged with theft and campaign finance violations, according to court records. 

The Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office filed the charges in a 43-page complaint Tuesday, Sept. 7. 

The charges include: 

  • Misconduct/Office-Act/Excess Authority 
  • Theft-Business Setting >$10,000
  • Theft-False Representation
  • Campaign Finance - False Reports & Statements - intentional - Over $100
  • Campaign Finance - Accept Unlawful Disbursement - intentional - Over $100

The complaint says Lewis was fraudulently reimbursed $2,249.75 by the city for travel expenses. It also says $2,275 of campaign checks were deposited into her personal account, and $13,400.84 of her campaign money was misused on personal expenses.  

Milwaukee Common Council President Cavalier Johnson released a statement saying Lewis has been relieved of all her committee assignment duties, effective immediately. 

"Make no mistake that our judicial system presumes that every individual is considered innocent until proven guilty in court. 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," Johnson said in the statement. 

Lewis has been summoned to appear before a judge on Sept. 29. 

Lewis announced back in July she is running for US Senate, becoming the ninth Democrat to enter the race for the seat currently held by Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.

Political experts say the charges filed against Lewis could impact her run for the US Senate, and even her current role in city government.

UW-Milwaukee Professor-Emeritus Mordecai Lee says, "We're not saying anything about anybody's guilt, but these look like they're pretty consistent patterns of activities."

Lee went on to say, "I think presumably, her race for US Senate really has to be deferred, and her future in city government is going to have to be deferred until this is resolved one way or the other."

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett also weighed in on what he called serious charges. "Anytime you're talking about public trust, I take that very, very seriously, and I'm very concerned about that."

In the meantime, Professor Lee says campaign finance abuse will likely continue. "I'm afraid we're stuck with this rickety, jerry-rigged kind of system. Probably the first lesson is to hire more auditors and hire more regulators."

Of the five charges Lewis is facing, four are felonies and one is a misdemeanor. All carry possible prison sentences and fines of at least $10,000. The most serious charge is punishable by a $25,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison.

On Tuesday, Lewis said she is innocent of any criminal wrongdoing. 

"As a first-time candidate in 2016, and like many first-time grassroot candidates, I self-funded much of my campaign. My campaign was run by my family and a team of amazing supporters. We did our very best to run a positive and compliant campaign," Lewis said in a statement. "I am confident that once this is over, I will be absolved. As this matter works its way through the courts, my focus remains the same -- to serve and champion the causes of every working-class person in the City of Milwaukee.”

Lewis also said upon notifications of "accounting errors", she has worked with and cooperated fully with the investigation. 

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