Reality Check: Group makes questionable claims against Schimel

Reality Check: Group makes questionable claims against Schimel
Brad Schimel

A third-party group did some deep digging in case files to run an attack ad against Republican attorney general candidate Brad Schimel.

The TV spot features pictures of children and the back of a shadowy figure before it launches into claims that Schimel mishandled sex crimes against children.

If you jump to the end of the ad, you’ll see it’s paid for by the Committee for Justice and Fairness, which is the state arm of a Washington, D.C.,-based super PAC. Look at their campaign finance filings and you’ll see they’ve gotten big donations from AFSCME, the union that represents Wisconsin state employees, and $1.3 million from the Democratic Attorneys General Association.

“Brad Schimel has a history of letting child predators go free,” the ad says.

News 3 finds this is misleading. From purely a legal standpoint, a judge decides whether an offender gets jail time or is allowed to go free. District attorneys decide what charges are filed and how they’re prosecuted. That’s what the ad deals with next.

“He repeatedly cut deals in child pornography cases, dismissed charges, let sex offenders avoid prison,” the ad says.

News 3 finds what’s being said in the ad needs clarification, but words on the screen that say Schimel “did not prosecute” a case is false.

Schimel agreed to plea deals in the six cases that are shown on the screen during the ad. He did not decline prosecution of any of them.

Because of plea deals, the cases didn’t go to trial, and as part of those deals some charges were dismissed in exchange for guilty pleas.

In 2011, Richard Betow of Green Bay was charged with a felony for using a computer to facilitate a child sex crime, a class C felony that could draw a max of 40 years in prison. He pleaded no contest to that charge as part of a plea deal with Schimel’s office and was sentenced by a judge to three years in prison and seven years of extended supervision.

In 2012, Donald McDowell of Oswego, Illinois, was charged with possession of child porn, child enticement and sexual assault of a child for a total of four felonies. As part of a plea deal, McDowell pleaded guilty to the greatest felony charge and the other three charges were dismissed and “read-in” at sentencing. A judge sentenced him to three years in prison with five years of extended supervision.

In 2010, James VanSlyke of Waukesha was charged with two counts of possession of child pornography. He pleaded guilty to one of those charges and the other was dismissed. He was sentenced by a judge to two years in prison and one year extended supervision.

There were two cases where sex offenders were not sent to prison.

In one, Donald Slusar of Oconomowoc, was found by federal agents in 2006 to have child pornography on his computer. Six years later, the case was brought to Schimel’s office and after a plea deal, a judge sentenced him to 90 days in jail and nine years of probation.

In another case, Ned Clesceri of Des Plaines, Illinois, was convicted of sexually assaulting his two nieces when they were children. The then-49-year-old man was accused of the crimes 32 years after the incidents. Schimel prosecuted the case and a judge sentenced Clesceri to eight years of probation.

Schimel said he requested both of those sentences in “very unusual” cases in part because of time delays. In the second case, he said the family requested no prison time. Schimel said he stands by the sentences in both cases.

“Schimel even cut a deal with no jail time for a man who sexually assaulted a child,” the ad says.

News 3 finds this is false.

The case here is another where a plea deal was cut. Nineteen-year-old Nicholas Miller was charged with fourth-degree sexual assault, sex with a child over 16 and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

As part of the deal, Miller pleaded guilty to two charges and was sentenced to six months in jail and three years of probation. He then broke probation and served another year in jail.

The Committee for Justice and Fairness notified stations late Wednesday they would be pulling this version of the ad and replacing it with a new one. The new version uses the same audio claim at the end, but references a new case.

News 3 finds that claim needs clarification. Eighteen-year-old Troy Tindall left school during the day with a 14-year-old in November of 2006 and was found having sex with her. He was sentenced to 90 days in the day-reporting program and five years of probation. But that wasn’t by Schimel’s request. Schimel said he requested “lengthy supervision and significant confinement” in the case, although not a specific number of days or years. A judge decided on the final sentence.

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