Jeramey Jannene

Chantia Lewis Goes To Court

In her first court appearance alderwoman pleads not guilty to misdemeanor. Four felony charges yet to come.

By - Sep 29th, 2021 03:06 pm
Ald. Chantia Lewis confers with attorney Michael Maistelman before intake court hearing. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Ald. Chantia Lewis confers with attorney Michael Maistelman before intake court hearing. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Alderwoman Chantia Lewis made her first appearance in court Wednesday noon. She faces four felony charges, including misconduct in public office, embezzlement and falsifying campaign finance reports, and one misdemeanor, theft by fraud. A complaint filed by the District Attorney’s office says she defrauded the City of Milwaukee and campaign donors of $21,666.70.

Lewis was joined by attorneys Michael Maistelman and Michael Chernin.

When asked for comment on the way into the room, Lewis was silent. “We are not going to try this case in the media. We will have no further comment,” said Maistelman. Neither spoke on the way out.

She pled not guilty to the misdemeanor. A preliminary hearing, set for Oct. 18, will determine probable cause for the felony charges.

The largest charge carries a $25,000 fine and up to 10 years in jail.

Assistant district attorney Matthew Westphal appeared as the prosecutor for Milwaukee County. The case has been assigned to Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Danielle Shelton. Lewis appeared Wednesday before court commissioner David Sweet.

In advance of the hearing, she was briefly booked into jail Saturday.

Lewis is free on a $1,000 signature bond. A condition of the bond is a no-contact order with the individuals from whom she is accused of depositing campaign contributions directly into her personal account. They include Martha Love, a prominent local Democrat, and Inderjeet Dhillon, gas station owner.

During the hearing, Chernin volunteered that Lewis is vaccinated against COVID-19 and would accept that as a condition of her bond. But Sweet said he wasn’t intending to make it one. Nevertheless both Chernin and Maistelman confirmed they are also vaccinated. “Thank you for the information,” said Sweet.

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 had branded the far northwest side 9th District she represents the “New Ninth” as she sought to reinvigorate the commercial area around the former Northridge Mall.

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 costs of tuition at Agape Love Bible College, an automobile loan, a personal credit card bill, car repair and Las Vegas hotel expenses

In a statement issued by a prior legal team, Lewis described the issues as “accounting errors.”

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.

The alderwoman has been removed from all Common Council committee assignments by president Cavalier Johnson. But Lewis did appear and vote at last Tuesday’s full council meeting.

In an interview following the meeting, Johnson said that she is innocent until proven guilty and it is important that she continues to represent the interests of her constituents.

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

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Categories: Politics, Weekly

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