Charges were filed this week against a former Wascott town official more than two years after an investigation concluded.
Douglas County District Attorney Dan Blank filed charges Tuesday afternoon against former Wascott Clerk-Treasurer Valda Bremanis. Bremanis faces two counts of misconduct in public office for acts exceeding her authority and falsifying account records and statements. She also faces a charge of theft in a public office setting.
The charges were filed after Douglas County Circuit Court Judge Kelly Thimm ordered Blank to appear at a hearing to explain why he failed to follow state law in the charging decision.
In a letter dated Nov. 28 and filed with the Clerk of Courts Office, Thimm states on Aug. 27 he directed the district attorney to act on or refuse charges within 90 days, as required by state law in John Doe proceedings.
Under Wisconsin law, “If the district attorney refuses to issue charges, the district attorney shall forward to the judge … all law enforcement investigative reports on the matter that are in the custody of the district attorney, his or her records and case files on the matter, and a written explanation why he or she refused to issue charges.”
As of Nov. 28, charges had not been filed, and the judge wrote, “you have not informed me that you are refusing to issue charges.”
“Quite frankly, the situation is becoming increasingly embarrassing,” Thimm stated in the letter notifying Blank of the hearing. “You have had all of the investigative reports for over two years and have neglected to act on those reports during that period of time.”
The hearing with Blank was canceled after charges were filed against Bremanis.
Blank acknowledged the case moved slowly, but said things were happening behind the scenes, such as restitution being collected by the county and working with Bremanis to resolve issues.
At the same time, he said, there have been issues in his office, such as staff turnover.
Since Thimm initially notified Blank of his need to make a charging decision in August, another assistant district attorney resigned from the office; five have been hired over the last three years to fill two full-time and one part-time position. One remains vacant.
Restitution was released to the town in September by Attorney Rick Gondik in response to a request by Thimm.
Gondik said the release of the money, which was held for the town by the Clerk of Courts Office, was not an admission of guilt or liability on his client’s part.
The charges stem from concerns expressed by Wascott residents in 2008, when they contacted the state Attorney General’s Office.
The town board was notified in March 2009 — less than a month after Bremanis resigned — by a special agent with the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation that the state was launching an investigation after a preliminary look revealed problems residents reported were more than minor errors.
In the Feb. 15, 2009, letter of resignation, Bremanis wrote: “I am so sorry for what I did and especially that I hurt those who believed and trusted me. All I can say is that I had a very bad lapse in judgment.”
According to the criminal complaint filed Tuesday, Bremanis admitted to the special agent that she forged documents by writing town checks payable to credit card companies she did personal business with. She acknowledged falsifying check registers, copies of checks returned by the town’s bank and other town documents, in an attempt to show they were used for legitimate town business.
In addition, she admitted forging minutes of the town’s executive committee, a meeting the board denied ever took place, to pay her husband — former town assessor Andy Bremanis — a $20,000 bonus for his work on computerized records in the town re-valuation performed by Associated Appraisal Consultants. Town records listed two $10,000 payments.
About 40 residents in Wascott signed a letter seeking Thimm’s intervention in the matter in August, according to Janice Newsome, a former town chairwoman who wrote the letter and whose concerns launched the investigation in 2008.
It was the second time town residents petitioned for justice. A petition signed by more than 100 of the town’s 763 resident sought action by the District Attorney’s Office in March 2011. Then, the four-inch case file waited in a chair beside Blank’s desk as the district attorney dealt with staffing shortages. In May 2011, Blank said he understood the financial aspects of the investigation, but other aspects of the case still needed to be interpreted.