MILWAUKEE — A Milwaukee Alderwoman running for Wisconsin's US Senate Seat is accused of pocketing tens of thousands of dollars in campaign finances through reimbursements made by the city and using campaign finances for personal uses.
Alderwoman Chantia Lewis, who announced she is running for US Senate as a Democrat on July 21, faces five charges, including:
- Embezzlement over $10,000
- Theft by fraud under $2,500
- Misconduct in public office
- Two campaign finances charges
- Intentionally filing a false report or statement
- Intentionally accept unlawful disbursement
As a result of the charges, Common Council President Cavalier Johnson announced Lewis would be removed from all of her committee assignments"
"In light of the five felony charges brought against Alderwoman Chantia Lewis by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, I am, effective immediately, relieving her of all committee assignment duties. 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."
- Common Council President, Cavalier Johnson
The heaviest charge of embezzlement, a Class G felony, carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines.
A criminal complaint filed by the District Attorney’s Office says from April of 2016 to June of 2020, Lewis allegedly took at least $21,666.70 from her campaign finances and city reimbursements.
The criminal complaint alleges Lewis double-dipped money from her city and campaign accounts to fund business trips.
The criminal complaint says, "She misappropriated funds belonging to her campaign by depositing campaign contributions into her personal bank accounts, as well as using campaign funds to pay for personal expenses. Lewis further falsely represented to the City of Milwaukee that she was owed reimbursement for expenses incurred on City-travel, when in fact she paid for those expenses out of her campaign account. All of these behaviors were in excess of her authority and were done without consent."
Lewis is being represented by Jason Luczak in the criminal matter and her personal lawyer, Emil Ovbiagele. They maintain her innocence, referring to the issues presented by the District Attorney's office as "accounting errors."
"We fully cooperated with the audit," Luczak said. "We have been in touch with the DA's office to work with them to get a resolution to this matter that would not lead to criminal charges. We totally disagree with the position and conclusions the DA's Office has come to as it relates to Ald. Lewis' intent. There is strong evidence that she had no criminal intent which is necessary whenever you charge a crime like this."
The complaint alleges Lewis took 13 different trips, including personal and business stops in Pittsburgh, Houston, Washington D.C., the Wisconsin Dells and three different trips to Las Vegas while falsely requesting reimbursements totaling $3,291.11 from her campaign and $2,249.75 from the City of Milwaukee. In total, she allegedly "doubled-dipped" $5,540.86 in these travel expenses.
Further, the complaint alleges Lewis deposited campaign donation checks into her personal account and was pulling money for personal expenses, like rent, car repairs and credit card bills, totaling $16,125.84.
"At the heart of this case is an issue involving accounting errors, accounting problems, campaign accounting problems," Ovbiagele said. "I think that's going to become quite clear as this case proceeds and works through the court system."
"But over two dozen accounting errors, is that something people should expect from a campaign?" The I-Team's Shaun Gallagher asked.
"You have to understand that the nature of the amount doesn't necessarily mean much," Ovbiagele said. "You have to have the proper context for it."
In addition to the travel reimbursements and campaign donations, the complaint alleges 22 different ATM cash withdrawals that are unaccounted for, totaling $5,590.50.
The complaint ends by alleging, "All these actions were in violation of that position of trust. As a result of Lewis actions, she obtained a total benefit in excess of $20,000."
Alderwoman Lewis was first elected to the 9th District, representing the city's Northwest side, in 2016 and reelected in 2020. In addition to serving on seven committees, Lewis is also the vice chair of the Council's Public Safety and Health Committee. Her biography incorrectly states she is the vice president of the Finance and Personnel Committee.
She announced her run for Wisconsin’s US Senate Seat in July.
Lewis was not available for an interview but released the following statement, saying in part, "We will make the necessary corrections. But make no mistake, I am 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. I am confident, that once this is over, I will be absolved."
This isn’t Lewis’ first accusation over misuse of finances. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in Jan. 2020, Ald. Lewis accepted gift cards and CashApp donations from friends and family for her birthday. The CashApp account user name is $D9th. Lewis represents Milwaukee's 9th District. Lewis has also filed for bankruptcy twice, in 2005 and 2008 respectively.