This better not be a sweetheart deal. Public corruption involving millions of taxpayer dollars needs to be severely punished.
OSHKOSH – The public will have to wait until Wednesday to learn more about the plea agreement two former University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh executives made in a criminal misconduct case stemming from their involvement with the university’s private foundation.
Former Chancellor Richard Wells and former Vice Chancellor Tom Sonnleitner, who have been free on $10,000 signature bonds since their first court hearing in June 2018, reached a deal with prosecutors, Assistant Attorney General Richard Chiapete said this week in a letter to the court.
Winnebago County Circuit Judge John Jorgensen on Friday granted a request from Sonnleitner’s defense attorney, former federal prosecutor Steven Biskupic, to seal the agreement until the end of Wednesday’s plea and sentencing hearing.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice charged Wells and Sonnleitner in April 2018 with five counts each of misconduct in office in excess of their authority as a party to a crime after negotiations stalled in the lawsuit, which the UW System filed more than a year before. The Justice Department also represents the UW System in the civil case.
The criminal complaint, which largely mirrors the lawsuit, claims Wells and Sonnleitner improperly funneled $11 million in taxpayer money into five foundation building projects: the Best Western Premier Waterfront Hotel; the Culver Family Welcome Center; two biodigesters, which turn waste into electricity; and the Oshkosh Sports Complex, which includes Titan Stadium.
The complaint also outlines how Wells and Sonnleitner wrote a series of “comfort letters” to various lenders, assuring the banks the university would help out if the foundation was unable to make loan payments. The DOJ says money can’t go from the university to the foundation under state law. Attorneys for both men argued the letters did not constitute legally binding commitments.