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18-month sentence in travel scandal

Thompson gets prison time for steering state contract

By GINA BARTON
gbarton@journalsentinel.com
Posted: Sept. 22, 2006

In a case that has played a role in a combative campaign season, former state Department of Administration supervisor Georgia Thompson was sentenced Friday to 18 months in prison for steering a state travel contract to a company whose top executives made $20,000 in campaign donations to Gov. Jim Doyle.

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During Thompson's sentencing hearing in federal court in Milwaukee, the judge and attorneys for both sides acknowledged the case's political overtones and lamented a recent surge in public corruption cases across the state. In the hours after the hearing, Democratic and Republican party operatives blasted each other in dueling news releases.

Thompson, 56, was convicted by a federal jury in June of misapplying government funds and of defrauding the state of its right to honest services. Thompson, of Waunakee, was on a team of evaluators that reviewed proposals for a three-year, $750,000 "travel partner" contract to handle travel arrangements for state employees. It ultimately was awarded to Adelman Travel. The jury found that Adelman would not have won if Thompson had not manipulated the process.

The indictment said Thompson steered the contract to Adelman to cause political advantage for her supervisors and to bolster her job security. It did not allege that the contract was awarded in exchange for donations of $10,000 each from Adelman's chief executive and a board member. Doyle has since canceled the contract.

"People are deserving of good and honest government," U.S. District Judge Rudolph T. Randa said at the hearing. "There has been too much of this recently; people tend to lose confidence."

Randa said he would decide in about two weeks whether to grant Thompson's request to remain free pending her appeal. If he denies the request, Thompson will be required to report to federal prison on Nov. 27.

In addition to the prison term, Thompson must pay a $4,000 fine and serve three years of supervised release.

Her attorneys argued for probation while Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Campbell urged Randa to send Thompson to prison for 21 months.

Letters from Thompson's friends, relatives and co-workers characterized her as a good listener and a dedicated public servant. Two members of the travel committee that awarded the contracts wrote letters supporting Thompson. A former supervisor, Jane Pawasarat, noted that Thompson had taken the time to write thank-you notes to those who have supported her throughout the prosecution.

Thompson declined to speak at her sentencing hearing. In a written statement, she described growing up one of 10 children in Madison. Her father was a painter for the University of Wisconsin and her mother was a janitor for the Department of Administration.

"I take pride in doing the right thing," she wrote. "I take pride in being a good friend. I believe in defending everyone's voice and their right to have a voice. I've always tackled my work with great energy and high expectations."

Her attorney, Stephen P. Hurley, argued that Thompson has been punished enough.

"She resigned from her position, was publicly humiliated by the Governor and has been forced to sell her home to make ends meet (including paying her legal bills). As an intensely private person, her 15 minutes of fame (and it has been much more than that) have borne a large toll on her," Hurley wrote in an earlier court filing.

Because the case has been used in political campaigns, the public already knows that the offense was serious, Hurley said in court. He argued that a sentence of probation would not detract from that.

Campbell disagreed.

"The very reason that this case has gotten attention is the very reason why a just sentence, a deterring sentence, is needed in this case," he argued. "A lenient sentence - a sentence of probation - will send the message that the federal courts in Wisconsin don't take corruption like this seriously."

There was no indication Friday that the sentencing marked the end of Thompson's time in the political spotlight.

Mark Green, the Republican candidate for governor, called her sentencing a "sad day" and insisted that, if he is elected governor Nov. 7, he will take steps to make sure no similar events occur.

As governor, Green said, his administration would make sure no companies are solicited for campaign donations, or make any, while they are in the process of bidding for a state contract. He also said he is "open" to the idea of not raising campaign money while a budget for state government, which spends $26 billion every two years, is being considered.

Green said his campaign ads and his speeches would make no new references to Thompson over the next six weeks.

But other pro-Green groups, including the Republican Party of Wisconsin, have run TV ads that tie Doyle to Thompson.

"Jim Doyle has rigged contracts for cash, he's rigged votes to make political attacks and by failing to protect our electoral process, this election is ripe for fraud once again," party executive director Rick Wiley said in a statement.

Democratic Party Chair Joe Wineke shot back: "For months, Republicans have been trying to use the Georgia Thompson case for their own political advantage and to smear Governor Doyle. . . . These dishonest, hypocritical attacks are just another pathetic attempt by Republicans to distract voters from the fact that Congressman Mark Green has violated Wisconsin law, and is asking a judge to rule that he can keep more than a million dollars in illegal special interest cash."

Doyle was not available for comment Friday, aides said.

Department of Administration Secretary Stephen Bablitch pointed out that Thompson was hired during a Republican administration and said she acted alone.

Dan Bach, the top aide to Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, said this week that a joint state and federal investigation into the travel contract continues. Investigators also are looking into the role played by former state Administration Secretary Marc Marotta in a bid to build student housing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

An inquiry into the state Public Service Commission's approval of the sale of the Kewaunee nuclear power plant also continues, Bach said Thursday.

Marotta left his job as administration secretary in the fall; he now heads Doyle's re-election campaign.

Steven Walters and Patrick Marley of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.







From the Sept. 23, 2006 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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