By Dustin Hurst | Wisconsin Reporter
EAU CLAIRE — It was the custom-tailored line delivered by Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett that made for intriguing headlines: “My police department arrests felons. Scott Walker hires them.”
Delivered at Thursday night’s final debate before the state’s June 5 recall election between Walker, Wisconsin’s Republican governor, and Barrett, many liberal pundits saw the line as a knock-out punch for the mayor.
But facts always come back swinging.
While some of Walker’s staffers have indeed been charged with felonies, Barrett isn’t free from suspicious staffers under his watch. In at least two instances, Barrett’s associates have been involved in nefarious activities.
In 2008, Barrett appointed Boris Gokhman to Business Improvement District No. 41, a small unit of government dedicated to making incremental improvements to promote local businesses.
Barrett’s Ethics Board certified Gokhman’s oath of office and appointment on July 29, 2008.
Walk back to 2004 to find Gokhman pleading guilty to health care fraud, a felony. Federal prosecutors brought the case after an investigation revealed Gokhman falsified Medicaid reimbursement time sheets.
As part of the plea agreement, Gokhman served probation and paid a small monetary penalty.
Possibly on a positive note, the embattled Gokhman didn’t do much on the improvement district’s board during his tenure. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on Oct. 22, 2010, that Gokhman resigned earlier that same month after other board members passed a resolution asking him to quit.
Gokhman reportedly attended few, if any of the board’s meetings, spurring the resignation call.
Interestingly enough, when Barrett opposed Walker in Wisconsin’s 2010 gubernatorial election, fighting Medicaid fraud was one of the Democratic mayor’s main talking points. He boasted he could save taxpayers $35.9 million by cracking down on Medicaid scams and cons.
Politifact noticed that felonious associates have even closer ties to Barrett’s administration, despite the mayor’s claim that “no one on my staff has ever been charged with a crime.”
After Thursday night’s debate, Politifact, an online political fact-checking titan franchise of the Tampa Bay Times in St. Petersburg, Fla., found that a former Barrett secretary, Joseph N. Cantu, was charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor in May 2010. Reports say Cantu was suffocating his girlfriend, resulting in charges.
Cantu pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors: a single disorderly count and two battery charges.
After uncovering the Cantu story, Politifact rated Barrett’s claim as “False.”