By GRETCHEN EHLKE
MILWAUKEE - Five Democratic campaign staffers, including one from Racine, talked excitedly about how they carried out a plan to vandalize Republican get-out-the-vote vans early on Election Day, according to witnesses who testified at their preliminary hearing this week.
Milwaukee County Court Commissioner Barry Phillips ordered the five, including the sons of Wisconsin Congresswoman Gwen Moore and former Acting Mayor Marvin Pratt, to each stand trial on a felony charge of criminal damage to property.
Two Democratic presidential campaign workers who were sent to Wisconsin in the final weeks leading up to Nov. 2, Levar Stoney and Opel Simmons, testified they were in the Milwaukee Democratic headquarters when the five defendants left just after 3 a.m. Election Day and returned a short time later.
Simmons said the five were laughing and joking as they talked about what they had collectively done at the Republican office a couple of miles away.
Stoney testified that defendant Michael Pratt, the former acting mayor's son, talked about slashing a couple of tires, and Moore's son, Sowande Omokunde, also talked about the vandalism.
"I remember him saying he missed on his first attempt to slash a tire, yet he went back and was successful on his second attempt," Stoney said.
The five are accused of slashing the tires of 25 vans rented by the state Republican Party to drive voters and monitors to the polls on Election Day. The GOP rented more than 100 vehicles that were parked in a lot next to a George Bush campaign office.
The charge carries a maximum punishment of 3½ years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Also charged were Lewis Caldwell and Lavelle Mohammad, both from Milwaukee, and Justin Howell of Racine.
Both Simmons and Stoney testified the five defendants left the Democratic headquarters dressed in black early on Election Day. Simmons said when he asked where they were going, Pratt replied "you don't want to know."
Simmons said that the five returned about 20 minutes later.
"They seemed to be excited, excitable, kind of gleeful, laughing and kind of joking," he said.
Pratt said "we got 'em and they're not going anywhere now," according to Simmons. Stoney said at least one of the five had a knife, but he could not recall which one.
Defense attorneys suggested Simmons and Stoney were also part of a plan called Operation Elephant Takeover, formulated by Democratic campaign workers to harass Republicans by plastering the GOP office and property with Kerry-Edwards signs and bumper stickers in the hours before the polls opened for Election Day.
Prosecutors contend the five defendants came up with the tire-slashing plan after Operation Elephant Takeover was dropped because a security guard was posted a the Republican office.
The five are each charged with a felony because prosecutors say damage to the vans rented by the Republican Party was more than $5,300, above the $2,500 necessary for a felony.
Howell's attorney, Rodney Cubbie, moved for dismissal of the charges because the vans were rented by individual Republican Party volunteers and not by the whole party.
Phillips denied that motion. The commissioner scheduled arraignment March 4.