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US Senate candidate Chantia Lewis charged with 5 criminal counts, including embezzlement
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US Senate candidate Chantia Lewis charged with 5 criminal counts, including embezzlement

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U.S. Senate candidate and Milwaukee Ald. Chantia Lewis was charged Tuesday with five criminal counts alleging she filed false campaign finance reports and defrauded the city of Milwaukee and her campaign of more than $21,000.

The criminal charges the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office filed Tuesday include four felonies and one misdemeanor: one felony count of misconduct in public office; one felony count of embezzlement exceeding $10,000; one misdemeanor count of theft by fraud up to $2,500; one felony count of intentionally filing a false campaign finance report; and one felony count of intentionally accepting an unlawful disbursement in violation of campaign finance laws.

Lewis, 41, is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 29. Three of the charges carry a maximum sentence of 3½ years in combined prison and extended supervision. Another carries a maximum sentence of nine months, and the embezzlement charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and five years of extended supervision.

Milfred and Hands assess the crowded field of 11 Democrats hoping to win the party's nomination to take on U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, in next year's election. Wisconsin's Senate seat is one of three toss-up Senate races across the country. That means voters here could decide who controls the U.S. Senate. Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is the front-runner in the Democratic primary, though he's hardly invincible, our political podcasters agree. They play audio clips from the top Democrats touting their bids, while assessing the broader political ramifications.

Lewis has served as a Milwaukee alderperson since 2016 and announced a run for U.S. Senate in July, joining an already crowded race.

Prosecutors allege that Lewis filed false campaign finance reports related to her campaigns for city council where she provided inaccurate information about her account balances, contributions and expenditures. They also allege she misused funds belonging to her campaign by depositing campaign contributions to her personal bank accounts, as well as using campaign funds to pay for personal expenses.

Prosecutors say Lewis misled the city that she was owed reimbursement for expenses she incurred on city-sponsored travel when she actually paid for those expenses out of her campaign account.

For example, the complaint said she used nearly $400 in expenses during a family trip to Georgia in 2016, including payments at a trampoline park and fast-food restaurants. She also spent $310 in campaign money to attend a worship conference in Orlando, Florida, that had nothing to do with city business and $4,884 in campaign money for payments toward her apartment rent, the complaint said.

Lewis is also alleged to have structured a campaign finance contribution to avoid contribution limits, and spent campaign funds for personal use.

Lewis’ attorney, Jason Luczak, said the charges originated from an audit conducted by the District Attorney’s Office and that Lewis fully cooperated. He said Lewis disagrees with the conclusion prosecutors came to, and described the charges as an accounting error that should be handled in a civil manner. Luczak said Lewis had no criminal intent, and that she maintains her innocence.

Lewis, a pastor and Air Force veteran, said in her U.S. Senate campaign video she was running to protect democracy, help working families and help people access the American dream.

Lewis is one of 11 Democratic candidates in the Senate race for the seat currently held by Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson. He has not said yet whether he will seek a third term. Other Democrats running for Senate include Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes; state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski; Milwaukee Bucks vice president Alex Lasry; and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Chantia Lewis is one of 11 Democratic candidates in the race for the seat held by Republican Ron Johnson.

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