Former Milwaukee County Register of Deeds charged, allegedly executed scheme to defraud county

MILWAUKEE -- John La Fave, 70, was charged with one count of wire fraud on June 25, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Wisconsin announced. La Fave entered an agreement to plead guilty.

According to the attorney's office, La Fave -- who was the Milwaukee County register of deeds at the time of the offense -- devised and executed a scheme to defraud Milwaukee County and to obtain money by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses and representations.

The Milwaukee County Register of Deeds Office maintains vital records for the county such as real estate documents, birth records and death records.

The scheme concerned La Fave’s dealings with an “Individual A,” who worked for “Business A” -- a company that provided redacting and document indexing services for the county. As part of the scheme, La Fave directed "Individual A" to create fraudulent invoices. Those invoices made it appear that "Business A" had done work for the Milwaukee County Register of Deeds Office. However, as La Fave knew, "Business A" had not actually performed that work.

As alleged, "Business A" would hold the money “on account” for La Fave. La Fave would then direct that money to be paid to other, third-party vendors who actually performed the work for the county. Most of those third-party vendors, authorities said, were not authorized to be paid through the Milwaukee County accounts payable process, and some were employees of the Milwaukee County Register of Deeds Office.

In April 2019, La Fave was the subject of a federal probe. That probe alleged that the false invoices were billed to the county over several years, totaling more than $2 million, according to court filings. La Fave was county's register of deeds from 2003 until 2019, when he resigned amid the probe.

If convicted, La Fave faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, a maximum fine of $250,000 and up to three years of supervised release.

La Fave is presumed innocent until proven guilty.