Two former University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh administrators are facing felony criminal charges in connection with suspicious financial deals tied to campus building projects.
Former Chancellor Richard Wells and former Vice Chancellor Tom Sonnleitner were charged in Winnebago County Circuit Court on Thursday.
Wells and Sonnleitner are each charged with five counts of misconduct in office in excess of their authority as parties to a crime, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Each charge carries a potential $10,000 fine and three and a half years in prison.
A lawyer for Wells wrote that his client is "saddened that the Attorney General's office has chosen to issue criminal charges." The attorney said the dealings were "intended to benefit the university."
The two are accused of taking taxpayer money and putting it toward five development deals: two bio-digesters that turn farm waste into energy; a hotel, which has proven financially solvent; an alumni welcome center; and a sports complex.
The nonprofit University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Foundation is in the middle of Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and Wells and Sonnleitner are also being sued in civil court by the University of Wisconsin System. UW System regents accused the two of theft in the civil lawsuit last year.
Sign up for daily news!
Stay informed with WPR's email newsletter.
The lawsuit alleged the pair concealed millions of dollars in improper financial transfers to the foundation to help the organization execute the development projects. The lawsuit also alleged the pair told various banks that if the foundation wasn't able to make bond payments, that the university would help.
The UW-Oshkosh Foundation is in the red because of the five projects. It has $14.5 million in debt, a budget hole that the UW System has refused to fill.
An attorney for Wells declined to comment and Sonnleitner's attorney didn't reply to emails.
The UW Board of Regents issued a statement in support of the charges:
"Last year, the Board of Regents and UW System asked the Wisconsin Department of Justice to pursue civil and criminal charges against two former campus leaders who broke the sacred trust they carried as public UW officials. The Board took this unprecedented action because Dr. Wells and Mr. Sonnleitner failed to follow rules and statutes that govern university operations, and we are working diligently to rebuild confidence in our institutions and to improve the transparency of foundation transactions. We support these charges by DOJ, and will continue to seek justice in this case while serving students with integrity and transparency."
Wells and Sonnleitner are scheduled to make their initial court appearance on the Winnebago County charges on June 11.
Editor's Note: This story was last updated at 2:05 p.m. Thursday, April 26, 2018.