Wisconsin Senate Candidate Accused of Stealing $21K From Campaign Funds, City of Milwaukee

A Milwaukee City Council member and Democratic Senate candidate faces four felony charges and one misdemeanor charge for allegedly spending more than $21,000 from campaign funds and improper travel reimbursements and lying about it, the Associated Press reported.

Lewis, a pastor, first won election to the council in 2016. She announced in July that she would be running for Republican Ron Johnson's seat in the Senate, which 10 other Democrats are vying for, the AP reported.

The over $21,000 was used for car payments, family trips, a worship conference and other personal expenses, the AP said. The Milwaukee County district attorney's office filed the charges Tuesday, and Lewis is scheduled to appear in court on September 29.

Lewis' attorney, Jason Luczak, said she will try to have the charges dismissed. Account records not referenced in the complaint against Lewis would establish that there was no criminal intent on her part and that she did intend to steal money or commit a crime, he said, according to the AP.

"The criminal complaint basically only gives half the picture of the finances," Luczak said. "Obviously, it's a one-sided document that's prepared by the district attorney's office."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

U.S. Senator Ron Johnson
Chantia Lewis, one of the Democratic candidates in Wisconsin vying for Senator Ron Johnson's seat, was charged Tuesday with a series of campaign finance violations. Above, Johnson speaks during a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on migration at the Southern border on April 9, 2019. Alex Edelman/Getty Images

According to the complaint against Lewis, she filed false campaign finance reports related to her campaigns for City Council. She deposited campaign funds into her personal bank accounts and used campaign money to pay for personal expenses, the complaint said.

Lewis, 41, also falsely represented to the city of Milwaukee that she was owed travel reimbursement for expenses incurred while doing city business, when she had paid for those expenses out of her campaign account, the complaint said.

She violated state campaign finance laws by filing false reports, structuring a campaign contribution to avoid contribution limits and illegally used campaign funds for personal use, the complaint said. She defrauded the city of Milwaukee and her campaign of at least $21,666, the complaint says.

The felony charges were for misconduct in office between 2016 and 2020, intentionally filing a false campaign report, embezzlement of more than $10,000 and intentionally making an unlawful distribution from her campaign finance account.

Three of the felony charges are punishable by up to a $10,000 fine and 3½ years in prison, while the embezzlement charge is punishable with a fine up to $25,000 and 10 years in prison.

She also faces a misdemeanor fraud charge punishable by up to nine months in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Lewis, in her Senate campaign launch video, touted her service in the U.S. Air Force, her current work as a pastor and her 2016 election to the Milwaukee City Council.

"All my life I've been told what I can't do," she said, walking through the streets of Milwaukee.

Other Democrats running for Senate are Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Milwaukee Bucks vice president Alex Lasry and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson.

Milwaukee City Hall
Milwaukee City Hall on September 14, 2018. Raymond Boyd/Getty Images