Officers from three law enforcement agencies executed search warrants Thursday at Rhinelander City Hall as part of an ongoing investigation involving alleged misconduct in public office and tampering with public records. According to Oneida County chief deputy Dan Hess, officers from Oneida, Vilas and Marathon counties executed two warrants beginning at 9:25 a.m.
The search ended at approximately 3:25 p.m., Hess said.
It involved both paper and digital records, Hess noted, adding that Wisconsin Department of Justice-Digital Forensic Support assisted.
No arrests were made during or following the search. However, when asked if the investigation is focused on an elected official or an appointed official, Hess told the River News the probe is "more focused on an appointed official."
He stressed that investigators have a lot of material to review and they don't know where, or to whom, the evidence may lead or if there is a criminal case to be made.
"As with this type of a case that requires going through digital forensic support on digital evidence as well as paper evidence, there's a lot of work to be done yet," he said.
"We have to go through all the evidence that's collected, whether it's electronic or paper, and then we'll figure out the direction we're going after that."
While Hess did not identify a target of the investigation, search warrant returns filed in Oneida County Circuit Court Friday include references to city administrator Daniel Guild as a "person of interest."
"NOW COMES the State of Wisconsin, by and through District Attorney Michael Schiek, and moves the court for an order directing Peggy Schauer and/or Tara Tessmann, the Information Technology staff for the City of Rhinelander, to provide the password and/or other necessary information to permit law enforcement officers to access the server/backup server of the City of Rhinelander located in the basement area of the Rhinelander City Hall, in conjunction with two search warrants that are being served by the Oneida County Sheriffs Office on the City of Rhinelander namely the person of interest the City Administrator, Daniel Guild," one of the warrants reads.
The warrant returns also include this paragraph: "Guild, the person of interest in reference to the search warrant, is reported to have committed various acts that could be determined to misconduct in public office and tampering with public document. As outlined in the search warrant, Guild has engaged in various acts including failure to release public records in response to requests by the media and law enforcement as well as altering email content to present it as the original."
The search warrant returns also indicate officers were seeking to locate personnel records related to former public works director Tim Kingman, who was fired in June.
In August, Guild sent an email to the River News, in response to an open records request for Kingman's personnel file, advising that the file had been "inappropriately removed" from city files.
River News and Lakeland Times Publisher Gregg Walker released the following statement Friday.
"The Northwoods River News and The Lakeland Times commend the Oneida County Sheriff's Office for continuing to do its due diligence in investigating our open records complaint, and for appreciating the value of our open government laws, not to mention understanding the need for accountability when those laws are broken. Tampering with public records is always a serious offense against the citizens of our state, and is by its very definition an intent to defraud. Any allegation of such tampering must be investigated thoroughly, and any proven infraction must be prosecuted if good government is to prevail. We will continue to do our due diligence in fulfilling our role as a watchdog for open and good government."
According to the records filed Friday, the warrants were authorized by Oneida County Circuit Judge Patrick F. O'Melia.
"On November 19, 2019, the Honorable Patrick F. O'Melia found probable cause to support a search warrant finding probable cause to believe evidence of the crime of Tampering with Public Records and Misconduct in Public Office could be located on the above described server or backup server," the records state.
Misconduct in public office and tampering with public records are both felonies. If convicted of both crimes, a person can be sentenced to up to 9 1/2 years in prison. Misconduct in public office is Class I felony carrying a maximum sentence of 3 1/2 years in prison. Tampering with public records is a Class H felony carrying a maximum sentence of 6 years in prison.
In a phone interview with the River News Thursday afternoon, City Council president George Kirby stated he was aware that search warrants were being executed at City Hall and was awaiting more information. When asked if an emergency City Council meeting might be called, Kirby stated he wasn't sure if a quorum would be available as some members may already be preparing for the opening of gun deer season on Saturday.
The River News reached out to Guild, Mayor Chris Frederickson and the entire council for comment on the execution of the search warrants.
As of press time, only alderpersons Lee Emmer and Dawn Rog have responded. Emmer stated he is awaiting more information and Rog stated she is hoping the mayor will call a special meeting.
Guild and Frederickson have not responded to our request for comment.
The council is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Monday to hold a public hearing on its 2020 budget.
As of press time, that meeting is still scheduled. Information related to the proposed 2020 budget is available at www.rhinelandercityhall.org.
River News reporter Jamie Taylor contributed to this report. Heather Schaefer may be reached at heather@rivernews online.com.
Posted: Sunday, November 24, 2019
Article comment by:
There have been missing information in personal files all the way back to 2017 when Keith Kost was interim administrator and no one ever questioned or started an investigation then. This was an issue way before Guild was even hired. I'm not saying Guild is innocent but there has been ongoing issues with open records and file tampering dating back to 2017 and probably before.
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