Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Ald. Chantia Lewis Charged With Defrauding City, Campaign of $21,000

City official and US Senate candidate faces four felony charges, up to 10 years in jail.

By - Sep 7th, 2021 01:00 pm
Chantia Lewis speaks at a 2019 press conference on tiny homes for veterans. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Chantia Lewis speaks at a 2019 press conference on tiny homes for veterans. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Alderwoman and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Chantia Lewis has been charged with defrauding the City of Milwaukee and campaign donors of $21,666.70 by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm. In a statement, Lewis said she is innocent.

Lewis is charged with four felony offenses, including misconduct in public office, embezzlement and falsifying campaign finance reports, and one misdemeanor, theft by fraud.

The embezzlement charge carries a penalty of up to 10 years and a $25,000 fine.

“She misappropriated funds belonging to her campaign by depositing campaign contributions into her personal bank accounts, as well as using campaign funds to pay for personal expenses. Lewis further falsely represented to the City of Milwaukee that she was owed reimbursement for expenses incurred on City-travel, when in fact she paid for those expenses out of her campaign account,” says the complaint.

Lewis calls the issues “accounting errors.”

“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,” said the alderwoman in a statement. “We will make the necessary corrections. But make no mistake, I am innocent of any criminal wrongdoing.”

The investigation, according to the complaint, started with a May 2020 review of multiple council members travel expenses and campaign finance disclosures.

“A review of the documents for all of the alderpersons showed material inconsistencies in Lewis’s filings as well as in her reimbursement for city approved travel. In particular, they showed that Lewis had received reimbursement from the City of Milwaukee for travel, which travel she then paid for out of her campaign account, Chantia 4 Progress, keeping the reimbursement for herself,” says the complaint.

Lewis, 41, was first elected to the Milwaukee Common Council in 2016 and re-elected in 2020. An Air Force veteran, Alverno College graduate and ordained minister, Lewis has branded the far northwest side 9th District she represents the “New Ninth” as she seeks to reinvigorate the commercial area around the former Northridge Mall.

The first time she is accused by the complaint of double charging for travel expenses was in November 2016. The last was in August 2019. Lewis took trips to Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Houston, Washington DC, Little Rock, Minneapolis and Florida.

She also used her campaign funds, according to the complaint, to pay for family trips to Marietta, GA and Wisconsin Dells. While in the Dells she made three withdrawals from her campaign account at an ATM in an outlet mall. Lewis is married with three children.

The complaint also says Lewis improperly used campaign funds to cover tuition costs at Agape Love Bible College, an automobile loan, a personal credit card bill, car repair and Las Vegas hotel expenses

Lewis is accused of depositing campaign contributions directly to her personal account, including from Martha Love, a prominent local Democrat, and Inderjeet Dhillon, gas station owner. Dhillon was involved in a 2011 attempted bribery of then-Alderman Jim Witkowiak.

The alderwoman is also charged with falsely reporting a donation nearly twice the legal limit by developer Kalan Haywood. The complaint says she reported it as being from three different people, despite cashing a single check from Haywood. On multiple occasions Lewis voted for city financing proposals that benefitted Haywood, including the creation of a $4 million TIF district to support the IKON Hotel.

In 2018, a proposal by Lewis to raise the salaries of Milwaukee elected officials by 13% was held after news reports of the idea circulated.

In January 2020, Lewis engendered controversy when she solicited personal birthday gifts on social media with a donation to the CashApp account of $D9th, her campaign fund for 9th District Alderwoman.

Lewis filed for bankruptcy in 2005 and 2008.

The alderwoman filed to run for U.S. Senate in July, the ninth candidate to formally enter the Democratic primary.

Her first court appearance is scheduled for September 29.

After this article was first published Common Council President Cavalier Johnson removed Lewis from all of her committee assignments. Lewis served as vice chair of the Public Safety & Health Committee and was a member of the Community & Economic Development Committee and Licenses Committee.

A copy of the criminal complaint is available on Urban Milwaukee.

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Categories: City Hall, Politics, Weekly

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