West Bend - William Gardner, president and chief executive officer of Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co. and a major donor to Gov. Scott Walker, was sentenced Thursday to two years of probation for violating state campaign finance laws.
Washington County Circuit Judge James Pouros also sentenced Gardner to 100 hours of community service at Tenor High School, a charter school in Milwaukee.
Gardner hopes he can persuade a few high school students there to learn a skilled trade and pursue a career in railroading, defense attorney Dean Strang said.
Gardner was convicted May 5 of two felony violations of state campaign finance laws after he pleaded guilty to the crimes.
Gardner admitted that he exceeded campaign contribution limits in support of Walker and laundered additional campaign contributions through employees and associates, essentially giving company or personal funds to others so they could make political donations at his direction.
As part of a plea deal, Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf asked Pouros to sentence Gardner to two years of probation with no incarceration. Landgraf served as a special prosecutor in the case. Gardner is a resident of Hartford and charges were filed in Washington County.
Probation is an appropriate sentence in this criminal case because Gardner cooperated fully with investigators and accepted responsibility for his wrongful actions, Landgraf said.
There was "no indication of any pay for play" offer of access to Walker and no evidence that Walker campaign staff members were complicit in the illegal contribution scheme, Landgraf said.
An investigation into the campaign finance violations started after Gardner's ex-girlfriend told authorities about the illegal contributions.
A presentence report prepared by the state Department of Corrections recommended 50 hours of community service be imposed at sentencing; Pouros decided to double the hours.
Before his sentencing, Gardner apologized for his actions.
"I repeatedly did the wrong thing," he said. "There is no excuse for what I did."
Strang told Pouros that Gardner made no attempt to destroy evidence. Gardner also took the step of donating all illegal campaign contributions returned by Walker's campaign and others to the American Cancer Society, Strang said.
Each of the two felony counts carries a maximum penalty of a total of 31/2 years of imprisonment and extended supervision and a $10,000 fine.
Pouros imposed concurrent sentences of 15 months of imprisonment followed by 15 months of extended supervision on each count and then stayed those penalties in favor of probation. The judge noted Gardner had no prior criminal record.
Gardner is the majority owner of Wisconsin & Southern. The Milwaukee-based railroad paid a civil forfeiture of $166,900 to the state Government Accountability Board as part of a separate settlement.
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