Skip to comments.Cameron indicted in misuse of funds
Posted on 10/09/2002 10:53:53 AM PDT by Darkshadow
Milwaukee Ald. Rosa Cameron illegally obtained federal block grant funds and used them to help finance her campaign, according to a federal indictment unsealed Tuesday.
The four-count indictment also accuses Cameron and two of her daughters of lying to get more than $100,000 for the Williamsburg Heights Community Association after she was elected.
Cameron, 55, who has been in office for two years, is charged with one count of engaging in a scheme to conceal information relating to federal grant money, which carries a possible five-year-prison term; and three counts of misapplication of federal grant funds, each of which carries a maximum 10-year prison term.
She will not be removed from the Common Council unless she is convicted of a felony, said City Attorney Grant Langley.
Cameron's daughters, Roberta Allen, 30, and LaZanda Moore, 33, also were charged with concealing information. If convicted, each faces a maximum prison term of five years.
Someone who answered the phone at Cameron's house hung up on a reporter.
Her attorney, Michael J. Steinle, said Tuesday evening he still was reviewing the indictment.
"In the interim, I assure you that Ms. Cameron will respond to any government requests to appear. Until such time as these things occur, we are not in a position to comment any further," he said.
Neither Allen nor Moore could be reached for comment.
Federal officials began investigating Cameron's activities after the Journal Sentinel reported them in March.
"These charges against Alderwoman Cameron involve public corruption, pure and simple," said U.S. Attorney Steven M. Biskupic. "Alderwoman Cameron is charged with misusing federal money to secure her election; and then, after being elected, using her position to ensure that family members continued to obtain the benefits of federal grant money."
In total, Cameron, three of her daughters and her ex-husband used more than $120,000 worth of the block grant funds for themselves, according to the indictment. Of that, more than $28,000 was taken from Williamsburg Heights and funneled into the account that funded Cameron's 2000 campaign for Common Council, the indictment charges.
As an alderwoman, Cameron was appointed to the city committee that oversees block grants. She voted to award $50,000 to Williamsburg Heights and sat by while an additional $113,000 was allocated to the organization.
After potential conflicts of interest surfaced, Cameron was removed from the committee, which met Tuesday to allocate this year's $22 million in block grant funds. Reaction to her indictment ranged from sympathy to outrage.
"Hopefully, she can navigate the process with good health and in good spirits," Ald. Willie Hines said. "Ultimately, I hope that city money was not abused."
Ald. Michael Murphy, another member of the block grant committee, said he was "disappointed and shocked to see the severity and range of the indictment" and hopes "justice will be served."
Ald. Mike D'Amato said if the allegations are true, "it's an unforgivable breach of the public trust to divert money from people who need it the most to promote your own campaign."
Neither Cameron's ex-husband, Hilton Ray Rollins, nor a third daughter, Robin Bennett, was criminally charged, although the indictment alleges that both received thousands of dollars from Williamsburg Heights.
"Those charged made intentional false statements or intentionally misused federal funds," said Biskupic, implying that Rollins and Bennett had not.
Some of the money that officials allege was given to Rollins was payment for work he did on a duplex originally purchased by Williamsburg Heights from the city for $200. The house was then resold at the same price to Cameron, who promised to use it as a foster home. Instead, occupants have said, she used it as a rental property.
Williamsburg Heights, which was founded by Cameron in 1993, was designed to fight crime and improve the neighborhood. Cameron ran the organization until she was elected to the Common Council in 2000, then turned it over to her daughters - a fact she is suspected of trying to hide from city officials.
Rollins, Cameron's ex-husband, told federal officials Williamsburg should be referred to as "Rosaburg" because Cameron has used the organization's assets "as if they were hers personally," according to an affidavit for a search warrant of Williamsburg's offices last month. Rollins told officials Cameron used the money for a trip to New York, among other things.
Even after her election to the Common Council in 2000, Cameron continued to run Williamsburg Heights from behind the scenes, Rollins told officials.
"Rollins said that Cameron's daughter Roberta, at Cameron's suggestion, specifically changed her name from Roberta Cameron to Roberta Allen when she started at Williamsburg Heights in order to conceal the conflict," according to the affidavit. "Rosa Cameron told Rollins that if she was elected, she did not want to have Williamsburg Heights cut off from government funds and, in fact, wanted to get additional funds to Williamsburg Heights."
When interviewed by the city attorney's office, Cameron initially denied that Allen was her daughter, according to the affidavit. Then she said she wasn't aware Allen was working for Williamsburg Heights. Once Allen's identity was confirmed, a second daughter, LaZanda Moore, took over.
Assistant City Attorney Ellen Tangen told federal officials that again, Cameron lied about the relationship.
"Cameron told Tangen that many people called her 'Mama' and 'Auntie Rosa,' but that Moore was not her 'blood daughter,' " according to the affidavit.
Although Common Council President Marvin Pratt first asked the city attorney to investigate both ethical and legal questions about Cameron in March, he said he was surprised by the extent of the federal charges, which he called "unfortunate."
Pratt said he believes the indictment will shake public confidence in elected officials.
"I'm sure people will make that judgment," he said.
Some constituents already have done so, including Ramonda Irby, who led a failed recall effort against Cameron earlier this year.
"I'm thrilled," she said Tuesday. She called the indictment "a good thing" because it lets people know that there's weight to the accusations.
"The federal government doesn't go that far for nothing," she said.
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