Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Ald. Chantia Lewis Pleads Guilty, Removed From Office

Alderwoman faces August sentencing hearing following felony plea.

By - Jul 18th, 2022 09:51 am
Alderwoman Chantia Lewis appears at a status conference before Judge Milton Childs. Image from Milwaukee County Circuit Court livestream.

Alderwoman Chantia Lewis appears at an earlier status conference before Judge Milton Childs. Image from Milwaukee County Circuit Court livestream.

The New Ninth needs a new alderwoman.

Alderwoman Chantia Lewis was removed from office Monday after accepting two felony charges for misconduct in public office and unlawfully using campaign funds. She pleaded guilty to the charge of misconduct in public office and no contest to the campaign funds charge, the latter plea designed to avoid potential civil lawsuits.

She now faces an Aug. 25 sentencing hearing. The Milwaukee County District Attorney is recommending full restitution, a year in the House of Correction and three years of probation. Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Milton Childs will ultimately decide whether to impose the maximum penalties of 3.5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each felony.

The felony conviction, under Wisconsin State Law, immediately results in Lewis’ removal from office.

Lewis, 42, 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 branded the far northwest-side 9th District she represented the “New Ninth” as she sought to reinvigorate the commercial area around the former Northridge Mall.

She was once seen as a potential rising-star Democratic politician. Lewis filed to run for U.S. Senate in July 2021, the ninth candidate to formally enter the Democratic primary.

Lewis was charged in September 2021 with four felonies and one misdemeanor related to her use of campaign funds for personal expenses, submitting false reimbursement requests to the city, failing to report contributions and seeking to circumvent maximum contribution limits. The plea agreement includes dropping two felony charges (embezzlement, filing false campaign reports) and the misdemeanor charge (theft by fraud of less than $2,500).

She appeared virtually Monday morning with the permission of the court. She exhibited COVID-19 symptoms over the weekend, said her attorney Michael Chernin. She appeared to have nasal congestion when appearing virtually. Chernin appeared in person

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.

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. She filed for bankruptcy in 2005 and 2008.

Her first time submitting falsified travel reimbursement forms to the city occurred in November 2016, the same year she was elected. She used campaign funds to pay for a trip, then requested reimbursement from the city and deposited the money into her personal bank account.

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.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Westphal is prosecuting the case. Lewis is represented by Chernin and Michael Maistelman.

After the hearing, Chernin discussed the case with the media, but declined to discuss his client’s strategy for the sentencing hearing. Westphal declined to speak to reporters.

A special election will be called to fill her seat. Based on filing deadlines, it will occur after the upcoming November election.

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

The plea agreement required Lewis to affirm multiple statements to Childs, which included whether she was satisfied with her legal representation. She sighed, then said yes. Chernin, after the hearing, said that was a result of Lewis hoping to keep her council seat and be charged only with several misdemeanors.

Lewis was an active participant in the July 12 Common Council meeting. Following the initial charges, the alderwoman was removed from all Common Council committee assignments by then-council president Cavalier Johnson. New council president Jose G. Perez has maintained Lewis’ committee restriction, but Lewis has regularly participated in full council meetings and other district events.

“I believe in accountability for people who violate the law, and today’s guilty plea by Alderwoman Chantia Lewis is an important step forward in holding her accountable for her financial misdeeds,” said Johnson in a statement issued at approximately 11:30 a.m. “City officials hold a public trust, and every one of us has an obligation to the people of Milwaukee to operate with the highest level of integrity.  I expect that of every member of my administration and of all my colleagues in elective office.”

Categories: Politics, Weekly

One thought on “City Hall: Ald. Chantia Lewis Pleads Guilty, Removed From Office”

  1. nickzales says:

    What is up with Atty. Chernin’s background? Does he think he is on a fishing trip?

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us