'Stupid mistake:' Former Cudahy mayor accused of filing fake ethics complaint after April election

MILWAUKEE COUNTY -- John Hohenfeldt, the former mayor of Cudahy, is accused of filing a false ethics complaint with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission using a notary public stamp obtained without permission from one of the clerks for the City of Cudahy.

John Hohenfeldt, 58, of Cudahy, faces one misdemeanor count of attempting to falsely act as a public official. The alleged incident happened on April 9.

According to a criminal complaint, after a new mayor was elected to succeed Hohenfeldt in April 2019, the Wisconsin Ethics Commission forwarded a complaint form to several elected officials in Cudahy, seeking a response, and a copy was given to the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office. The complaint form was from "John Smith," and was said to have been sworn before a notary public, with the notary's official stamp on it.

The notary public was interviewed, and indicated as a clerk for the City of Cudahy, she worked closely with Hohenfeldt for several years at City Hall. She said when she was shown the complaint form, she realized her notary stamp had been used, and her signature had been forged without her permission. She said she believed "John Smith's" handwriting resembled Hohenfeldt's. The criminal complaint said the notary reported the misuse of her stamp to the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. She was cleared of wrongdoing, and received an email from Hohenfeldt's attorney withdrawing the ethics complaint and confessing to misusing her stamp.

Another Cudahy clerk was interviewed, and told investigators on Hohenfeldt's last day as mayor, she spoke with him and told him she had to investigate allegations regarding the misuse of the notary's stamp and the forging of her signature. He said he was aware of the situation and had an attorney who had advised him to tell the truth, and when asked whether the allegations were true, Hohenfeldt said, "Yes, they are." He indicated the notary had no knowledge of the misuse of her stamp. He said the stamp was used "because it was on her desk," and he indicated this was not pre-planned, according to the criminal complaint.

The criminal complaint referenced letters submitted to the Wisconsin Ethics Commission by Hohenfeldt and his attorney regarding the alleged actions taken by Hohenfeldt, reading, in part:

"Just after the April 2 election, I prepared an e-mail using a fake name, John Smith, and sent a complaint by email with a fake email address to the Wisconsin Elections Commission and the Wisconsin Ethics Commission about the signs of three candidates and about the fact that the current city clerk/treasurer was doing nothing to enforce these simple rules. The Wisconsin Elections Commission responded to the fake e-mail with a request that an official complaint form to Wisconsin Ethics Commission be signed and notarized. I wrote out the complaint form and signed it under the fake name. Then I made a decision that violated everything I stand for. I used the notary stamp of a city employee, and sent the signed and falsely notarized document, along with pictures I took of the signs, using the fake name John Smith and a fake email address."

In June, Hohenfeldt was interviewed by investigators, and "acknowledged he wrote the letter that detailed his misuse of the notary's stamp." He confirmed that surveillance video showed him at the notary's desk after the April election, and said he made a "stupid mistake that stemmed from his anger and hurt at others named in the ethics complaint."

Hohenfeldt was set to make his initial appearance in court on July 19.