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home : news : news May 1, 2016

8/2/2011 11:24:00 AM
Complaint accuses Holperin of trying to influence federal judge
GOP cites Holperin's letter of leniency for campaign donor

Heather Holmes
General Manager

A complaint to the Vilas County Sheriff's Department and the Government Accountability Board has accused state Sen. Jim Holperin (D-Conover) of illegally trying to influence a federal judge on behalf of a repeated campaign donor.

In a July 14 letter, John Hogan, [not attorney John Hogan of Rhinelander], the executive director of the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, asked Vilas County sheriff Frank Tomlanovich to investigate Holperin's actions in a federal proceeding against Gene Wendt, the owner of the now defunct Crown Point Classics.

Hogan sent a similar letter to the GAB.

Wendt has been the subject of multiple federal proceedings, including one criminal charge. In that case, he reached a plea agreement in which he waived indictment and agreed to plead guilty to one count of tax evasion for failure to pay employee payroll taxes.

The felony carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Wendt has yet to be sentenced, but, in a signed plea, the United States attorney agreed to recommend a sentence "at the bottom of the applicable advisory guideline range."

The proposed plea agreement - signed by Wendt on May 26 - was sent by U.S. attorney John W. Vaudreuil on May 11. Three days before, on May 8, Holperin sent a letter to U.S. District judge William M. Conley of the Western District of Wisconsin asking the judge to consider Wendt's "caring and decent" character.

Conley is the judge in the criminal case.

In Hogan's view, Holperin's letter represents a request for leniency, and, the GOP official says, it violates state law.

"In this letter, Senator Holperin seeks to influence Judge Conley in favor of a lenient ruling in a court action pending against Gene Wendt," Hogan wrote in his letter to Tomlanovich. "Public court records show that Mr. Wendt has had numerous court actions filed against him related to alleged fraudulent dealings conducted through his business, Crown Point Classics, Inc."

Hogan pointed out that Wendt was a repeated contributor to Holperin's campaign, and he said state law does not allow public officials to "use or attempt to use the public position held by the public official to influence or gain unlawful benefits, advantages or privileges personally or for others."

"This is yet another example of Jim Holperin thinking he is above the law because he holds elected office," Hogan said. "Attempting to influence a judge and using his political weight to get a campaign donor out of legal trouble is not only shameful, it is blatantly illegal."

Hogan asked the sheriff to investigate the matter and to consider filing a criminal complaint against Holperin.

Under the influence, or not?

In his May 8 letter to the judge, Holperin signed his name as "Jim Holperin, State Senator 12th District."

He did not, however, use official stationery, and he called his missive a "character" reference. He did say he hoped Wendt's sentence would not cause him to lose his job.

"I first met Gene Wendt in the early 1980s when he co-owned Solid Gold Classics, a classic car restoration business in my home town of Eagle River," Holperin wrote to Conley. "Gene was a quiet, unassuming businessman, clearly focused exclusively on acquiring, restoring and selling old cars."

Holperin said Wendt was always willing to help him out in his campaign events.

"When my own Model A Ford was temperamental, Gene always had a car to lend for 4th of July parades (and he often drove)," Holperin wrote.

But "Gene's" love for and obsession with old cars obviously did not serve him well in very recent years, Holperin continued. Holperin said Wendt's "misordered priorities" had cost him "every single car he owned and painstakingly restored, along with his business, his profession and his hobby."

"For others in similar circumstances, one might also add 'his reputation,' but those who know Gene or have had business dealings with him realize that, while he made a serious and costly one time mistake, he remains a respected and honorable craftsman who spent his whole life working very hard to build his businesses and to fulfill every legal, community and family obligation required of him."

Holperin said he would not think less of Wendt because he "stumbled."

Wendt's stumbling includes a civil judgment against him won by Eric Scott of Hazelhurst. In that suit, Wendt had agreed to restore Scott's Jeep for $35,000 but did not put that figure in writing as required by state law.

After undertaking the job and doing extensive work, according to previous reports in The Lakeland Times, Wendt then told Scott the job would cost $74,000 and refused to give the car back until he was paid.

Scott paid Wendt but then took the car - in parts. Oneida County judge Mark Mangerson ultimately ruled that Crown Point Classics had violated the law "multiple times." The judge entered a $128,558.34 judgment.

Wendt subsequently filed for bankruptcy, and the judgment has not been satisfied. Dale Biertzer of Park Falls filed a similar lawsuit against Wendt. That case remains open after a service of bankruptcy notice.

Holperin's letter does not indicate which case or cases he was referring to; however, Wendt entered his guilty plea July 19 on the tax evasion charge and is to be sentenced Oct. 4.

According to court documents, Wendt was the "responsible person to collect, truthfully account for, and pay over to the Internal Revenue Service the federal income taxes and Federal Insurance Contributions Act taxes withheld and due and owing to the United States of America from the wages paid to the employees of Crown Point Classics, Inc, and on or about October 31, 2007, in the Western District of Wisconsin, he willfully failed to truthfully account for and pay to the IRS all of the federal income taxes withheld and Medicare and Federal Insurance Contributions Act taxes in the amount of $21,732."

In the plea agreement, the agreed upon tax loss, for criminal purposes, was $223,721.

In his letter to Conley , Holperin said he hoped the judge would consider Wendt's character.

"Obviously, Gene's plea means he must accept whatever additional punishment the court decides is appropriate, but I hope that does not need to mean he loses his current job," Holperin wrote. "It has been my experience that Gene Wendt has always been a caring and decent man of integrity in his dealings with others. I also hope that can count for something now."

According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Wendt made three donations to Holperin's campaigns in 2008.

The Holperin campaign did not post a reply or release a statement responding to the Republican press statements.

Related Stories:
• GAB dismisses GOP complaint against Holperin

Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, August 6, 2011
Article comment by: Samantha Columbus

I find this whole thing hard to swallow. Rather than point the finger at our current senator, it seems to me that people ought to do a little bit of research.

What they would find is this: Kim Simac's son, James Maillette, LOST the election for Sheriff of Vilas Co. So, to give him something "to do", they let him take the title of "Chairperson of the Vilas Co. Republican Party" where he conveniently posts "manifestos" online supporting his mother. Shades of Freud.

Suddenly, now that Simac is running for office, most (but not all) of Maillette's disatisfaction with law enforcement in the Northwoods disappears from the internet (just like Simac's radical views). Why? Well, Maillette believes that HE should be Sheriff, and, that the Sheriff's office should prevent the IRS from collecting from delinquent taxpayers. Simac is just looking for any possible way to create trouble and to get some type of law enforcement job for her radical son. Mark my words, if Simac is elected, *shudder*, she'll be looking for payback in the form of a real, paying job for her son.

Neither Simac not son Maillette is fit for office. The people in Northern Wisconsin finally understand what is going on with this family...and it's ugly.

Posted: Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Article comment by: Kay Saunders

Even for The Lakeland Times this is really grasping at straws. All you have to read is John Hogan, Executive Director of the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, and that pretty much says it all.
It's amazing none of the staff there has had time to write about Kim Simac's tax woes, not paying her bills, swapping spouses, calling our schools Nazi indoctrination camps, not showing up for debates (or running away!) calling public workers mutinous cowards and the list goes on and on.
Much easier material than the digging you had to do on this piece of trash.

Posted: Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Article comment by: Bill Schweisheimer

Since when is a character reference an illegal attempt to influence a judge? It appears that this accusation against Jim Holperin is merely part of a pre-election smear campaign. Consider the source—John Hogan, the executive director of the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate. These are the same people who, with financing from the Koch brothers, are not in the least averse to using every unethical (if not illegal) deception at their disposal to achieve their ends. For them the end justifies the means. What we have here is simply another example of the pot calling the kettle black.

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