MILWAUKEE — One of Gov. Scott Walker's former associates was found guilty Friday of stealing more than $51,000 that had been donated to help veterans and their families.
Prosecutors alleged that Kevin Kavanaugh, of Cudahy, skimmed the money from bank deposits and phony withdrawals from accounts for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, a veterans service organization. Kavanaugh was treasurer of the group.
Kavanaugh, 62, did not testify at his trial and said nothing following the verdict by the Milwaukee County jury, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Sentencing on the felony theft conviction is set for Dec. 7.
Kavanaugh, who had no prior criminal record, faces up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
The biggest source of money Kavanaugh was accused of tapping were donations made for Operation Freedom, an annual picnic and veterans event at the zoo that Walker hosted while he was Milwaukee County executive. In 2006, Walker's county office arranged to have the Operation Freedom donations and expenses run through the Purple Heart chapter after being advised by county lawyers to have a separate nonprofit handle the books rather than continue to have Walker aides do so.
Kavanaugh, who also worked as a counselor at the Veterans Administration Hospital, had been named by Walker to the county Veterans Service Commission.
Prosecutors alleged that Kavanaugh went to elaborate lengths to conceal his transactions and had witnesses testify that they never received money purportedly donated to them, as listed in his Purple Heart records.
"Why did he falsify the check stubs" to say money was going to children of veterans killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, asked Assistant District Attorney Hanna Kolberg in her closing statement. "Why did he refuse to open his books when asked" by a Purple Heart auditor, Walker's chief of staff at the county and others, she said. "Why did he purposely commingle" the Purple Heart money with his money?
"Because the defendant is a thief," Kolberg said.
Defense attorney Christopher Hartley argued that Kavanaugh was simply a terrible bookkeeper.
"Where is the proof?" he asked, adding that Kavanaugh "is not on trial for being a very bad bookkeeper."
Kavanaugh was charged as part of a secret investigation Milwaukee prosecutors launched into Walker's office. The governor has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
It was the second conviction this week from cases that grew from that investigation. Former Walker aide Kelly Rindfleisch pleaded guilty Thursday to felony misconduct in office for doing campaign work while at her taxpayer-paid county job as Walker's deputy chief of staff.