Milwaukee Ethics Board votes to create committee to investigate FPC chair's alleged code violations

MILWAUKEE -- An ethics probe has been launched into the chairman of the board that will decide Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales' fate amid calls for the chief's firing. The City of Milwaukee Ethics Board Monday, July 20 voted unanimously to create an investigative committee to look into Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission Chairman Steven DeVougas' alleged code of ethics violations.

The FPC chairman was the subject of an internal investigation stemming from his representation of a local developer who was the subject of a criminal investigation at the time. The Milwaukee Police Association says DeVougas acted as the defense attorney for the man accused of sexual assault, which was investigated by Milwaukee police, hence the conflict, because the FPC oversees the department.

The developer was never charged with a crime, but the investigator found DeVougas’ behavior violated the city’s ethics code. The FPC noted DeVougas did not participate in an interview with the investigator.

With the city now looking into the investigator's findings, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said previously he would be doing so, but has not taken any further action regarding DeVougas' status with the FPC.

The case centers around whether DeVougas used his position and violated any ethical policy. As it turns out, there is no code of ethics for the FPC. Also part of the investigation are some alleged inconsistencies on DeVougas' economic interest statements.

Steven DeVougas

This began as an investigation into a leaked video involving DeVougas. The video, sent to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last year, showed DeVougas, a lawyer, alongside Kalan Haywood Sr., a real estate developer, who was a suspect in a sexual assault case.

Again, Haywood was never charged, but Mel Johnson was hired by the FPC to investigate any wrongdoing.

Mel Johnson

"First of all, I contended Mr. DeVougas was untruthful in saying he was there as corporate counsel for a real estate company and not representing Mr. Haywood. Second, I thought it was ironic and disingenuous for him to be the only witness to refuse to be interviewed when it was an investigation authorized by the commission that he's the chairman of," Johnson said.

Johnson said DeVougas was employed for Haywood's development company. He still maintained his position overseeing all disciplinary issues for the Milwaukee Police Department when he appeared with Haywood. Johnson said that constitutes an aggravated conflict of interest.

"He's got kind of a mixed interest; partly the interests of the department, partly the interest of the client he's appearing as an attorney for," said Johnson.

All of this was going on when Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales was up for reappointment. The investigator determined the two were not connected. The investigator also looked into the source of the leaked video.

"Is it possible there is a cover-up? Certainly, but we did not unearth any evidence showing there was a cover-up, and if there was one, we did not unearth any evidence which would demonstrate who was responsible," Johnson said.

Johnson mentioned a letter from the Milwaukee city attorney, stating that DeVougas was not in violation of any FPC rules. As it turns out, there are no FPC rules regarding conflict of interest. However, such rules do exist at the city level. It's something the FPC said it is looking to change.