Former Wisconsin Parole Commission chair faces felony public corruption charges

Criminal complaint says John Tate II used his public position for private interests

John Tate II
Mark Hertzberg

The former chairman of the Wisconsin Parole Commission is facing felony charges for allegedly using his position as an alderman for private interests.

John Tate II was appointed to the commission by Gov. Tony Evers in 2019. But Evers asked him to resign last year after the commission’s decision to parole Douglas Balsewicz, who was convicted in 1997 of murdering his wife Johnanna Balsewicz, stabbing her more than 40 times.

The criminal charges do not involve his time on the parole board. Instead, they focus on Tate’s acceptance of a job with the city of Racine that was created under his leadership of the Racine Common Council.

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According to a criminal complaint, Tate, who served as the president of the Racine Common Council, is alleged to have illegally negotiated terms of his employment as Racine’s Violence Interruption Coordinator while serving as an alderman. He approved the creation of that position while president of the common council in July 2022. He and the council also voted to approve nearly $800,000 in federal pandemic relief funds, some of which were used to pay for the position. Tate later interviewed for that job in October.

On Oct. 11, Tate accepted a job offer to serve as Madison’s first independent police monitor. Two days later, city of Racine officials emailed a job offer to Tate for the Violence Interruption Coordinator position, according to the complaint.

“Alderman Tate responded to Racine’s offer by requesting more salary and more vacation time,” the complaint said. “After some discussion among two City officials, Public Health Administrator Dottie Kay Bowersox and City Administrator Paul Vornholt, they agreed to the requests made by Alderman Tate and amended the offer made to him.”

That offer included a slightly higher salary of $101,698.25, after the job’s salary was originally posted at $101,004.80.

According to a press release from the city of Racine, Tate had been tasked with “leading a public health approach to the development, implementation, and management of comprehensive, city-wide strategies to reduce youth violence and facilitate positive youth development throughout the City of Racine.”

Tate originally said he would resign from the common council in November, but he later changed his mind and decided to finish his term as alderman and start the position in April.

He attended his last meeting as an alderman on Monday, and was charged with the felony on Tuesday.

“Throughout the time that the WI ARPA grant money was granted to the City of Racine and the position was proposed and approved, John Tate II was a member of the Common Council and was acting as President,” the complaint said. “By applying for and negotiating the terms of his employment, he acted on behalf of his own pecuniary interest.”

Tate faces up to 3 years and 6 months imprisonment and fines of up to $10,000 for the charges, according to online court records. He’ll appear in court for his initial appearance on May 11.

He’s charged with “Private interest in public contract while working in a public capacity.” Wisconsin law says that any public officer or public employee who does any of the following is guilty of a Class I felony:

  • “In the officer’s or employee’s private capacity, negotiates or bids for or enters into a contract in which the officer or employee has a private pecuniary interest, direct or indirect, if at the same time the officer or employee is authorized or required by law to participate in the officer’s or employee’s capacity as such officer or employee in the making of that contract or to perform in regard to that contract some official function requiring the exercise of discretion on the officer’s or employee’s part.
  • In the officer’s or employee’s capacity as such officer or employee, participates in the making of a contract in which the officer or employee has a private pecuniary interest, direct or indirect, or performs in regard to that contract some function requiring the exercise of discretion on the officer’s or employee’s part.”

A spokesperson for Racine Mayor Cory Mason responded to a reporter’s request for comment by writing, “The City of Racine has a policy of not commenting on on-going court proceedings.”

Tate’s attorney Patrick Cafferty sent a statement to WPR regarding the charges, which said, “John Tate II intends to vigorously defend against the allegations filed against him in the criminal complaint. It is our position that Mr. Tate’s actions do not constitute a violation of the law. We will defend Mr. Tate using all available legal options and will do so within the confines of the court system. This case will be litigated within a court of law rather than the court of public opinion. Mr. Tate will appear in court shortly and aggressively confront the allegations.”

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