Tuesday, January 24, 2006

DOYLE UNDER INVESTIGATION FOR A NEW TRAVELGATE


Inquiry launched into state travel contract
U.S., state, DA to look into donations to Doyle

By STEVEN WALTERS and GINA BARTON
swalters@journalsentinel.com
Posted: Oct. 20, 2005

Federal, state and Dane County authorities have launched a joint investigation into a travel contract given to the company of a major contributor to Gov. Jim Doyle, officials said Thursday.

The investigation will be conducted by both the FBI and the state's Division of Criminal Investigation, which is supervised by Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager. Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard also will play a role in the process.

"By working together, we want to avoid any accusations of bias," said U.S. Attorney Steven M. Biskupic in Milwaukee.

Biskupic was appointed to the U.S. attorney's post by President Bush, a Republican. Lautenschlager, Blanchard and Doyle are Democrats.

Both Doyle and Lautenschlager are up for re-election next year.

"Any investigation with political overtones needs to have public credibility," Biskupic said. "The public needs to trust that it will be done in a non-partisan, fair fashion."

Biskupic said he didn't know when the investigation would be complete. In a statement, Doyle said that he was not personally involved in the decision to give the contract to Adelman Travel of Glendale and predicted that the probe will find "nothing inappropriate was done."

"The contract was awarded to the lowest bidder, saving taxpayers $30,000," Doyle said. "The normal process was followed. It was conducted by civil servants who were not appointed by my administration and who were simply doing their jobs as best they could."

The governor said that he has directed all state employees involved in the bidding process to cooperate with authorities "so the matter can be settled as quickly as possible."

Asked if he expected to speak to investigators personally, Doyle said after a public appearance Thursday night: "I have no idea. That's their call."

In March, Adelman Travel was awarded a three-year contract with the state worth up to $250,000 a year. Before and after bids were solicited and the contract awarded, the firm's owner, Craig B. Adelman, gave the $10,000 maximum allowed to Doyle's re-election campaign.

A competing company, Omega World Travel of Fairfax, Va., led the bidding at one point in the process. But state officials said both bids were so close that they asked for head-to-head final prices - and Adelman won that competition.

Also, a member of Adelman Travel's board, Mitchell Fromstein, gave Doyle's campaign the maximum $10,000 allowed at about the time the contract became effective, campaign finance records show.

Thomas Holbrook, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee political scientist, said it's too early to tell how the investigation will play out in next year's race for governor. Doyle is trying to be the first Democrat elected to a second term as governor since 1974.

"Any sort of hint or scandal or investigation by officials at this point is not what the governor wants," Holbrook said. "It will embolden his opponents. It could have an impact on his own fund-raising abilities."

Or, Holbrook noted, "This could be something nobody even hears about a year from now."

Marc Marotta, secretary of Department of Administration when the Adelman contract was signed and now chairman of Doyle's re-election campaign, said there was nothing improper about the contract.

"They can investigate all they want," Marotta said.

Marotta said Craig Adelman met with him about a year before the request for bids went out. At that meeting, Marotta said, Adelman argued that the state could save money by consolidating the number of travel agencies booking trips for state workers - an idea first discussed in 2000, when Republican Tommy G. Thompson was governor.

Based on their meeting, Marotta said, he assumed Adelman's company would bid on the travel contract.

Once the request for bids went out, neither Adelman nor anyone with his company discussed it with him again, Marotta said.

Biskupic said various authorities had been considering the matter over the past few days, independent of a request Thursday by state Republican Party Chairman Rick Graber for Lautenschlager's office to investigate the matter.

The joint investigation is "entirely appropriate," Graber said later in the day. "I think people in this state deserve answers."

Deputy Attorney General Dan Bach said state laws limit the attorney general's role in cases like these, so the office will have its investigators work with Biskupic and Blanchard.

"It's just like we did in the caucus case," Bach said, referring to the 2001-'02 probe of Capitol corruption that resulted in criminal charges against five legislators - two Senate Democrats and three Assembly Republicans. Those cases are being prosecuted by Milwaukee and Dane County prosecutors.

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, one of two Republican candidates for governor, said the controversy is an example of how Doyle has "failed the integrity test."

Walker said state government should adopt a ban like one he signed into law in Milwaukee County that says no one seeking a contract with the county can contribute funds to an official who has "final authority" over the contract while it is being negotiated.

The other Republican candidate, U.S. Rep. Mark Green of Green Bay, said that the state should have a rule that would prohibit any employee, director or owner of a company that has bid on a state contract from donating to a governor's political committee from the time the bid process starts until 60 days after the contract is awarded.

It is far too soon to tell whether the investigation will result in criminal charges. But Biskupic is not one to shy away from prosecuting government and political figures.

Since he took over as U.S. attorney in Milwaukee about 3 1/2 years ago, he has won felony convictions against former state senator Gary George, once a powerful Democrat who served 23 years in the Legislature; Mark Sostarich, former chairman of the state Democratic Party; and three Milwaukee aldermen. A fourth Milwaukee alderman was indicted in July on a federal misdemeanor charge and has pleaded not guilty.

Also, a fraud case involving tainted donations to several high-profile Republican candidates and officeholders is making its way through the federal courts. In that case, former Elkhorn Mayor Paul Ormson has pleaded guilty to a felony and is awaiting sentencing. Christopher R. Koceja, former chairman of the Walworth County Republican Party, has pleaded not guilty to a federal misdemeanor in the same case.

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