clock Apr 26, 2006 6:12 pm US/Central

Men Get Jail Time In Milwaukee Tire-Slashing Case

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(AP) MILWAUKEE A judge admonished a congresswoman's son and three other Democratic campaign workers for interfering with voters' civil rights as he sentenced them to jail Wednesday for puncturing the tires of some Republican vans on Election Day 2004.

Judge Michael B. Brennan exceeded the recommendation of prosecutors in sentencing the four men to jail time ranging from four to six months for misdemeanor property damage.

"Voter suppression has no place in our country," Brennan told the defendants in Milwaukee County Circuit Court. "Your crime took away that right to vote for some citizens."

The Republican Party wanted to use the vans to transport voters to the polls during the presidential election.

The men, including the son of U.S Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, had pleaded no contest in January to misdemeanor property damage in a plea agreement with prosecutors who recommended no jail time.

Brennan told Moore's 26-year-old son, Sowande A. Omokunde, he was impressed by his expression of remorse and gave him the lightest sentence of four months in jail.

The judge cited prior criminal records when sentencing Michael Pratt, the son of former acting Milwaukee Mayor Marvin Pratt, and Lewis Caldwell to six months in jail.

Pratt, 33, was convicted of hazing in Walworth County in 1995 when he was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Caldwell, 29, was convicted of causing injury when driving while intoxicated in 1999.

Lavelle Mohammad, a 36-year-old father of four, was given five months in jail. All four men were granted work-release privileges and were each ordered to pay $1,000 in fines. The defendants also paid $5,320 in total restitution for the damage to the 25 GOP vans.

The defendants were originally charged with felony property damage but accepted plea deals on the lesser charge as jurors deliberated following an eight-day trial in January. The jury found a fifth worker who did not accept the plea deal not guilty.

The four men each faced a maximum nine-month jail term and a fine of $10,000 on the misdemeanor.

The state Republican Party had rented more than 100 vehicles that were parked in a lot next to a Bush-Cheney campaign office to transport voters and poll monitors on Nov. 2, 2004. The vandalism caused some delays in the GOP's Election Day work as party workers rounded up other vehicles. Democrat John Kerry won Wisconsin's 10 electoral votes in a close race.

Brennan told the four that "partisanship is not an excuse for breaking the law."

State Republican Party Executive Director Rick Wiley argued for more than probation during the sentencing hearing.

"This was a crime that warrants more punishment than what the plea agreement spells out," Wiley told the judge. After sentencing, Wiley said the jail sentences should deter people from similar crimes.

Moore, who was in the courtroom for her son's trial, commented only briefly when leaving the courthouse.

"I love my son very much. I'm very proud of him. He's accepted responsibility," she said.

The attorneys for the four defendants chronicled their clients' acts of kindness and volunteer efforts when arguing for leniency.

Rodney Cubbie, Pratt's attorney, talked about his client's social work in the foster care system and his desire to earn a second master's degree in order to teach. Cubbie argued for a fine and community service.

Omokunde told the judge that no one has the right to commit a crime in heat of a political battle.

"Your honor, I crossed the line," he said.

Gretchen Ehlke

(© 2006 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)