Milwaukee Alderwoman Lewis embezzlement, misconduct charges filed

Milwaukee Alderwoman Chantia Lewis on Tuesday, Sept. 7 was charged with multiple misconduct-related counts – including embezzlement, theft and unlawful campaign finance disbursement. The activities in question allegedly took place between April 2016 and July 2020.

In a statement released Tuesday, Lewis indicated that she was recently advised of the "potential campaign reporting errors" and has "worked with and cooperated fully" with the district attorney's investigation – adding "I am innocent of any criminal wrongdoing."

A criminal complaint lists the following charges:

  • Misconduct in public office
  • Theft (embezzlement, exceeding $10,000)
  • Theft by fraud (not exceeding $2,500)
  • Campaign finance – intentionally file false report or statement
  • Campaign finance – intentionally accept unlawful disbursement

In a statement, Common Council President Cavalier Johnson announced that Lewis has been relieved of her committee duties, effective immediately:

"In light of the five felony charges brought against Alderwoman Chantia Lewis by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, I am, effective immediately, relieving her of all committee assignment duties.

"Make no mistake that our judicial system presumes that every individual is considered innocent until proven guilty in court. However, until this matter is resolved, I am moving without hesitation to protect the institution of the Milwaukee Common Council, as well as the City of Milwaukee.

According to the criminal complaint, Lewis, in her official capacity, filed false campaign finance reports that provided "inaccurate information regarding her campaign account balances and her contributions and disbursements." Lewis' attorneys strongly deny the allegation.

"These are better categorized as accounting errors, which we offered to correct," Attorney Jason Luczak said.

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The complaint further alleges that Lewis "misappropriated" funds for her campaign to pay for personal expenses and "falsely represented" to the city that she was owed travel expense reimbursement for expenses paid by her campaign. 

Lewis failed to accurately report different campaign contributions and disbursements, the complaint states, and structured a contribution to avoid limit requirements.

Chantia Lewis

Lewis defrauded the city of Milwaukee and her campaign of at least $21,666.70, the complaint states. Prosecutors said the money was used for "trips, car care, credit cards and other expenses."

In November 2016, a family trip to Georgia was financed by Lewis' campaign account, according to investigators – adding "there is no reason that a local public official who deals solely with city of Milwaukee issues would need to campaign in Georgia, approximately 800 miles away."

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Prosecutors said personal trips and expenses alone total $13,400.

"I think anytime you are talking about a violation of the public trust – you must take that very, very seriously. And I do," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said.

Lewis was first elected to serve Milwaukee's 9th district in 2016 and was re-elected in 2020. This past July, Lewis announced her candidacy for U.S. Senate, running as a Democrat against incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.

Milwaukee City Hall

Milwaukee City Hall

A poll by "Milwaukee Works" in August had her sitting at 3% among the crowded Democratic field.

"As someone who is innocent, she has no intent to either drop out of the race or resign her position," said Lewis' Attorney Emil Ovbiagele.

At City Hall Tuesday, FOX6 approached Aldermen Bob Bauman and Jose Perez for comment. Both declined. Bauman said he only just heard the news and had not had a chance to read the report.

Full statement from Lewis

"As a public servant, faith leader, and 9/11 veteran who has served my country with pride, I have served, and will continue to serve, in elected office with transparency, integrity, and honor.

"After 4 years as an elected official, we were recently advised, for the first time, by the DA’s office about some potential campaign reporting errors. Upon notification of these accounting errors, we have worked with and cooperated fully with the DA’s investigation.

"We will make the necessary corrections. But make no mistake, I am innocent of any criminal wrongdoing.

"As a first-time candidate in 2016, and like many first-time grassroot candidates, I self-funded much of my campaign. My campaign was run by my family and a team of amazing supporters. We did our very best to run a positive and compliant campaign.

"I am confident that once this is over, I will be absolved. As this matter works its way through the courts, my focus remains the same - to serve and champion the causes of every working-class person in the City of Milwaukee."

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