MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee Ald. Chantia Lewis appeared in court Wednesday afternoon, facing charges for misusing campaign finances.
Lewis, flanked by her new attorneys Michael Maistelman and Michael Chernin, did not respond to reporters' questioning. Maistelman, speaking for Lewis, said, "We're not trying this through the media. We have no further comment."
The hearing went by quickly with the court running through the five charges Lewis faces:
- Misconduct in public office
- Theft, Embezzlement over $10,000
- Theft by Fraud
- Campaign Finance, Intentionally filing false reports and statements
- Campaign Finance, Accepting unlawful disbursements
All but the Theft by Fraud charges are felonies. On Wednesday, Lewis' attorneys filed a plea of not guilty for the misdemeanor theft charge. Her attorneys tell TMJ4 News a plea was only entered on the misdemeanor because felony charges require a preliminary hearing where a judge or court commissioner determines whether the State has shown probable cause, at which point, a plea will be entered. Lewis' preliminary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 18.
Lewis was officially charged on Sept. 7. The criminal complaint alleges Lewis was double-dipping money from her city and campaign accounts to fund several business and personal trips to places like Washington D.C. and Las Vegas.
Investigators also allege Lewis used campaign donations to pay for personal expenses like credit card bills, car repairs and rent.
In total, she's accused of taking $21,666.70, but her former attorneys, who were replaced with Maistelman and Chernin a week after charges were filed, claimed there were a series of accounting errors to blame. The most serious charge of embezzlement carries a maximum $25,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison.
Court Commissioner David Sweet said in court, if Lewis is found guilty for charges four or five, tied to campaign finance, "the court would enter a supplemental judgment, declaring forfeiture to [Lewis'] right to office." In essence, it would end her political career.
Lewis filed a $1,000 personal recognizance bond and under the conditions of her bail, she must not have contact with any of the people who donated money to her campaign.