Wisconsin State Journal: Former top Walker aide Russell had previously been fired for ‘gross misconduct’

-By Mary Spicuzza

January 31, 2012- A former top aide to Gov. Scott Walker accused of embezzling money meant for veterans was previously fired from a state job for "gross misconduct," including misuse of public funds, newly released records show.

Tim Russell, who served as deputy chief of staff and county housing director during Walker's tenure as Milwaukee County executive, was fired nearly two decades ago from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA), according to his personnel file, which was released through an open records request.

Earlier this month, Russell was accused of embezzling money meant for veterans and spending some of the cash on things like trips to Hawaii and the Caribbean. He was charged with three counts of embezzlement, two of them felonies.

Walker campaign spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said "the governor was not aware" of Russell's firing from WHEDA.

Russell was fired from his WHEDA job in May 1993 after the quasi-public authority investigated his charging of personal hotel expenses from the Inn on the Park in Madison to WHEDA, and found he had improperly billed 23 overnight stays totaling $1,123.

The authority said Russell had "misused and abused" its travel and expense budget, provided "false or misleading information" and failed to reimburse WHEDA for personal expenses.

"We have considered carefully the disciplinary options available and have come to the conclusion that we have no other alternative than to terminate your employment, effective immediately," Russell's termination letter from May 10, 1993, reads. "Our decision is based upon our evaluation of the seriousness of your misconduct."

A longtime Walker aide, Russell's name has come up repeatedly in criminal complaints linked to the nearly two-year John Doe investigation into Walker's former and current staffers.

Russell is accused of embezzling more than $20,000 from money meant for veterans, and taking several thousand more from two Milwaukee County Board candidates' campaign committees, the complaint against him said. Complaints filed last week against former Walker aides Kelly Rindfleisch and Darlene Wink allege that Russell set up a secret Internet and email system the women used to surreptitiously do campaign work from Walker's office while being paid by the county.

Russell's attorney, Mike Maistelman, declined to comment.

Gwen Torkelson, WHEDA's director of administrative services, said in Russell's termination letter that the agency would pursue all legal remedies if he didn't reimburse the $1,123 in "improperly billed expenses."

Paperwork shows Russell agreed for the money to be deducted from his final paycheck.

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