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Racine DA details charges against former Pleasant Prairie public works director

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The criminal complaint against John Steinbrink Jr., the former Village of Pleasant Prairie Village Public Works Department director accused of theft and multiple counts of misconduct in public office, was filed Tuesday afternoon, detailing an investigation by the Racine County Sheriff’s Office into misconduct spanning two years.

John Steinbrink Jr. headshot - Pleasant Prairie

Steinbrink Jr.

The complaint was provided to the Kenosha News by the Racine County District Attorney's Office.

Steinbrink Jr. faces one count of theft-false representation and six counts of misconduct in public office-excess authority. The theft charge can come with up to $25,000 in fines and/or up to 10 years in prison. Each misconduct charge can come with up to $10,000 in fines and/or up to three years and six months in prison.

Steinbrink Jr., 53, has been summoned to the Kenosha Intake court for initial appearance before Commissioner Loren Keating Wednesday, August 10 at 1 p.m.

Six incidents are detailed in the criminal complaint, drawing from interviews with village employees.

Steinbrink allegedly purchased a 2000 Ford dump truck that was scheduled to be sold at auction in the late summer of 2021, reportedly ordering village employees to perform repairs after his purchase.

An employee said he was contacted by Steinbrink Jr., who stated “we shouldn’t be selling stuff out like this,” and ordered that work be done on the truck, according to the complaint obtained by the Kenosha News.

The same employee said that a similar incident occurred for a wood chipper that Steinbrink Jr.’s girlfriend reportedly purchased. After purchasing a brand new wood chipper, Steinbrink Jr. reportedly told employees to repair the newer of the two older wood chippers before the auction, which he would handle.

His girlfriend then purchased the wood chipper on February 4, 2022, for approximately $2,000, which the employee estimated was below what it should have cost,. according to the complaint.

In 2020 during road improvements at the intersection of Bain Station Road and 85th Avenue, the same employee alleges Steinbrink Jr. had instructed him to alter an invoice for the project, making it seem as if the full $206,000 budget had been used, so the village would not have to repay the developer. Approximately $90,300 should have been returned.

Another employee said the improved intersection of Bain Station Road is directly across from a farm field owned by someone in the Steinbrink family, and a senior employee said that gates and culverts installed on Steinbrink property were done at the direction of Steinbrink Jr. These projects reportedly occurred early February 2020.

Two employees said that in mid-August, 2020, Steinbrink Jr. had them come to his residence and help pour concrete, directing one of them to park his village vehicle behind a pole barn on the property, according to the complaint.

In mid-January, 2021, the DPW received a call that the Department of Natural Resources would be arriving the following day. When it was discovered by someone at the DPW that compost temperature checks hadn’t been completed for nearly one to two years, Steinbrink Jr. allegedly directed employees to begin forging temperature documents, using dirty hands and different pens and pencils.

In early March, 2020, an employee said he was assigned to work on the abandonment of the Laddish Well. One hundred and fifty feet of well casing had been removed before it became stuck and the work was temporarily stopped. Steinbrink Jr. allegedly contacted a village employee and instructed him to cover up the well, saying “no matter what, get it done.”

The employee admitted to not properly abandoning the well and merely covering the top with concrete.

The complaint stated that interviews with employees painted Steinbrink Jr. as a “angry narcissistic and manipulating person,” who was feared by employees. Those who disagreed or did not do as he instructed would be “out of a job.” One employee described the work environment as “being happier since Steinbrink Jr. had left the department.”

In April, the Village of Pleasant Prairie turned over the misconduct investigation of Steinbrink Jr. to the Racine County Sheriff’s Office to avoid conflict of interest. Steinbrink Jr. had been the public works director since 2010 and employed with the village the last 28 years. He was placed on administrative leave following an alleged undisclosed complaint filed earlier this spring.

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