By Lynda L. Jones
Former County Supervisor Johnny Thomas was acquitted on bribery charges last week by a jury. The decision was made following an hour deliberation. The entire process has left many asking why this entire ‘sting’ operation, arrest and trial were even necessary.
One of the jurors Rebekah Turner, said she felt that Thomas was set up and that she hoped he would run for office again because she’d vote for him. She also stated that she thought that the entire case should have never come to trial, and that this was a waste of taxpayer money.
Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm stated that he followed standard procedure on this case, and would not do anything different.
Now, in the aftermath of this case, questions are coming from the public at large, and particularly in the African American community. The first question begins with Thomas’ accuser, Patrick Farley who serves as the Department of Administrative chief for Milwaukee County. How does a ‘sting’ operation go into effect on directives from the DA’s office and with the cooperation of the County Executive completely based on one man’s concerns?
It was learned at the trial that Farley, who had only served a few months in this particular position had “concerns” on what he viewed as a delay in getting the Public Financial Management financial advisory contract on the agenda in Thomas’s committee. And instead of taking some basic steps of communicating with his own office on possible reasons for what he saw as a delay or speaking with Thomas himself, he decided to approach the DA’s office with his “concerns”.
Then we have the DA’s office putting a ‘sting’ operation in effect, despite the fact that Thomas had no other complaints against him. There were no other “concerns” reported that would have led anyone to believe that Thomas was corrupt in his position.
It is scary to know that one person could have the power to go to the DA’s office with “concerns”, and a full sting operation is put into effect without any investigation. Yet, we also find out at trial that Farley simply failed to do his job. He failed to work and push for the PFM item during the monthly agenda meetings. He also failed to check to see if his own subordinate, Pam Bryant had provided the committee with the information on bonding that Thomas and vice chair Lynne De Bruin had requested. Farley stated at trial that he thought that the request were not ‘legitimate’.
The DA’s office failed to investigate by even asking basic questions of other county supervisors or the County Board Chair at the time Lee Holloway if proper procedures were being followed in this matter of ‘concern’.
Thomas spoke with The Courier in depth exclusively following his acquittal, and he says he is left with many of these same questions.
The community and Thomas himself want to know, what was the motivation behind this case that wasn’t even close to being a solid case. Why would the DA’s office and the County Executive proceed with this ‘sting’ operation that now officially has been deemed by a jury as a ‘set-up’.
Thomas was at the end of his first term as a Milwaukee County Supervisor. His strong suit that he brought to the position was his background in accounting and finance. He came to the job with putting his best effort into it. Early into the position he sponsored legislation that will in years to come save the county a million plus dollars. Some of his last pieces of legislation allows for a financial review of the county’s finances at the end of each term so that a clear fiscal picture is available.
Thomas was known for his due diligence in the manner in which he ran his office. “I wanted as much information that I could get in order to make prudent and responsible decisions regarding any contracts that required the county spending out a lot of money, especially millions of dollars”.
It is clear that Thomas didn’t take his job lightly. His finance background and achievements earned him to be positioned and poised to make history by becoming the first African American to be elected City Comptroller. He had earned even the endorsement of Milwaukee’s own Mayor along with countless others. The job was his…or so many thought.
He didn’t have a drug or alcohol problem, he was a Gulf War veteran, educated, family man and good at his job. But, this 43 year-old African American man was set-up and forced out of an existing job and a future job that was in arm’s reach.
And although, many of the whys are still not answered, we do know some things for sure now as a result of the ‘sting’ operation. The DA’s office loss the case and failed to conduct any type of investigation prior to putting a sting operation into effect. Farley failed to perform due diligence at his job. The County Executive pushed for the board to extend Farley’s job despite many board members reservations. And all of this has cost the taxpayers of Milwaukee County money that could have been spent somewhere else. And Thomas was not elected city comptroller.
‘The railroading of Johnny Thomas’, an editorial that ran in The Courier on March 31, 2012 deserves another read. This editorial addresses the same questions that people are still asking. Was Johnny’s real crime that he was positioned to be the first Black City Comptroller? This editorial even became a center of focus when questions submitted by the prosecution, led by Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley, focused on whether the potential jurors had heard Thomas’ defenders in the city’s major African American media outlets, WMCS 1290- AM and the The Milwaukee Courier. The questions specifically named Curtiss Harris, who has made supportive comments about Thomas on WMCS and in the pages of The Courier and the Shepherd Express.
Funny that the prosecution’s questions did not specifically name any other media outlets or pundits, just Harris, WMCS and The Courier—even though the Thomas case has been reported in White-dominated media in the city.
Thomas, who has not granted any other interviews at this point wanted to go on record by stating his appreciation for all of the support that he did receive as he endured this nightmare. The arrest and set-up of an African American man who was trying to pursue another higher position in a field that he excelled in.
“I received hugs, and words of encouragement from people that I didn’t even know in the community. People would stop me in the street, at the gas station or wherever I was to offier me words of support. And there were many ‘dark’ days during this ordeal. I want to thank people for standing by me”. Thomas said.
Thomas also urged people to be ademant with their elected officials, and the way they perform their jobs.
One of Thomas’ strong advocates during this ordeal was Curtiss Harris, a longtime respected businessman in Milwaukee who submitted the editorial piece that was published in The Courier (see link http://milwaukeecourieronline.com/index.php/2012/03/31/the-railroading-of-johnnythomas/ ). The entire piece deserves a second, third and fourth read.
Thomas says that at the time that this ordeal began that he didn’t even know Harris that well. Harris contacted him and asked him for his side and the story, and following that conversation Harris became an advocate.
Thankfully, Thomas is free to pursue a future in politics if he chooses, for now he says that he is not ruling it out, but it is not part of his immediate plan. His immediate plan is to find a career that will support his family.