Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Entrapping "Thug Mike"?

Yesterday, a federal jury took just 6 hours to deliver guilty verdicts on 9 felony counts of bribery, extortion, attempted extortion and failing to file a financial form on a wire transfer of $15,000 against former Milwaukee alderman Michael McGee, Jr. [See McGee Guilty - JS Online] The entire uproar consisted of complaints by local Arab businessmen that McGee was shaking them down for money and gifts in direct connection with their liquor licences. In essence, no money, no license.

At first blush, the evidence seemed overwhelming: hours upon hours of recorded wiretaps where McGee referred to himself as "Thug Mike" and repeatedly appeared to be telling these government witnesses that he was God to them in their ability to stay in business. In his own words, McGee claimed to be the "gatekeeper." A closer examination, however, exposes at least a plausible entrapment defense. That seemed to be where the defense was trying to head but ultimately they portrayed the informants as incredible plotters just looking to remove a sitting alderman. There was plenty of evidence to support that view including the fact that the star witness, Adel “Jack” Kheirieh, actually ran for McGee's seat following his arrest even though Kheireh lived in Franklin.

Personally, I think that 2 things are going on: First, McGee had a huge target on his back from day 1 - just being the son of former alderman Mike McGee was enough to draw fire. The FBI and the US Attorney's office have spent a great deal of time and resources focusing on City Hall in the past few years (and state officials, too). They have racked up some convictions (Pawlinski, Cameron, Henningson) but have had some colossal embarrassments (Thompson, Donovan). Given that very mixed record, one has to question the tactics and judgement of law enforcement in gathering evidence and bringing cases that are highly questionable.

Second, and related, the fact that no other business owners than this tight group of Arab businessmen (who cling together under pretty much any environment as they all deal with each other just to survive) testified about McGee's conduct seems instructive. Were they the only businesses in the district with liquor licences? Hardly. However, if McGee was as thoroughly corrupt as he was represented, wouldn't all the black, white and Asian license holders be lining up to testify? The 6th district has 86 licences listed here and the government included testimony from a very small group of closely aligned business owners that went to great lengths to enhance the target on McGee's back. Where were the rest? Undisturbed by McGee, apparently.

I saw only a small portion of the trial but it seems that the verdict is at least questionable given the intense focus by law enforcement and the context of the 6th district business environment. As to propriety of the Aldermadic Privelege, that will have to wait for another blog post, such as the one about overzealous prosecutors and TJ Perlick-Molinari, the hero of that day.

White Collar Crimes

John A. Birdsall, Birdsall Law Offices, S.C.

135 W. Wells St., Ste 214, Milwaukee, WI 53203

414.831.5465 -

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