A Little Thing Called “Intent”

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Last week the federal trial of former Milwaukee Alderman Michael McGee (also known as Michael Jackson, depending upon which agency is looking for him) began. He’s up on felony charges of extortion, bribery, and failing to file financial transaction forms that could get him 30 years in prison, and it doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot of question about whether or not he had a habit of shaking down business owners in his district.

For 10 months, Adel Kheirieh (known as Jack Adel) helped law enforcement record conversations in which McGee is doing the dirt. The defense’s only real chance is to tarnish the credibility of Adel, but even if they can do that, the tapes seem to be undeniable proof that McGee was forcing business owners to pay bribes and give him free merchandise totaling tens of thousands of dollars.

The things McGee extorted out of business owners in his district included money, prepaid cell phones, food, and beverages.

Adel was charged twice with felonies related to food stamp fraud in 1994, but those charges were dropped because he helped authorities catch others engaging in food stamp fraud.

Another store owner, Bira Singh (known as Bobby Singh), testified in the trial as well. On various occasions, he says he gave McGee $500 in cash, with more demanded by McGee for a liquor license and approval of electrical work at the store. It appears that in total, he gave McGee about $2,000, and that another party to the liquor license issue gave McGee $2,000.

The bribes by McGee are significant when it comes to liquor licenses, because of an unwritten rule of “aldermanic privilege.” Essentially, if the alderman of a district opposes a particular liquor license, then the committee which approves the licenses will deny it. Therefore, it’s clear that McGee had a definite advantage over business owners in his district who were applying for liquor licenses.

Other witnesses, including a government agent, testified about bribes paid. One was captured on video. There is a recording in which McGee brags about a 90-day liquor license suspension that he requested and got without any questions from colleagues.

About the best that the defense could do was challenge the credibility of Jack Adel and claim that he was trying to bring down McGee to get his aldermanic seat. His response:

“There was no way for me to win Alderman McGee’s seat,” Kheirieh, a resident of Franklin, declared. “I know it. You know it. And everybody in the district knows it.”

But maybe the best proof comes right from “the Alderman’s” own mouth: He called himself “Thug Mike” on one of the tapes. He also bragged about the power he’d have after being put on the Licenses Committee. He said: “They all got to give. If they don’t, it’s done straight up.” He also talked about forming something he called “kick ass committee.”

One of the most difficult parts of many criminal cases is proving “intent.” It’s hard to prove what someone’s state of mind was when they committed the act. Intent is the difference between “it was an accident” and “I meant to do that.”

I think that Michael McGee’s words have gone a long way toward proving his state of mind and his intent when he was taking this money from the business owners. There’s no mistaking someone bragging about being a “thug” or bragging about the power you have over those who need liquor licenses.

It seems that all the defense could have is a claim that he was set up. But that’s all wiped away by his words on these tapes. He was willfully taking money and goods from these business owners, capitalizing on the vulnerability they had to him as the person with the say-so over their licensing.

Intent to commit crimes? Definitely.

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