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Milwaukee County Launching Own Investigation Into Former Register Of Deeds

John La Fave Retired Amid FBI Investigation

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Milwaukee County Courthouse
The Milwaukee County Courthouse, home to the Milwaukee County Register of Deeds. Kenneth C. Zirkel (CC BY-SA)

With a federal investigation underway, Milwaukee County will launch its own investigation into the alleged fraud activities involving the former elected register of deeds.

John La Fave announced his retirement last month from the position he held since 2003.

In February, La Fave’s office was raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported the raid. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the FBI has subpoenaed Iowa-based Fidlar Technologies for records related to La Fave and his agency.

The agency’s connection with Fidlar — who has almost $300,000 in contracts with Milwaukee County for 2019 — is in question, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

This week, the Milwaukee County Board’s Finance and Audit Committee voted to launch its own audit and legal analysis of the department. The full board will vote Tuesday on launching the investigation.

“We all know something happened, but we don’t know everything,” said County Board Chairman Theodore Lipscomb Sr. “There will be an opportunity for more to come out. I think that the audit is a necessity for public confidence to be restored. And for the new register of deeds to have the information of how that department has been functioning to be able to start with a clear slate.”

On May 10, Gov. Tony Evers appointed long-time litigator Israel Ramón to fill out the remainder of La Fave’s term. The next scheduled election for the position will occur in November 2020.

Ramón is a partner and shareholder in the law firm Ramón & Medrano S.C. and a supplemental court commissioner for Milwaukee County Circuit Court.

The register of deeds is responsible for records including birth and death certificates and real estate transactions.

Lipscomb said the investigation will determine if tax dollars were illegally diverted under La Fave’s tenure. The investigation will also answer questions of whether there may be an ongoing problem in the Milwaukee County Register of Deeds Office that should be addressed, Lipscomb said.

The Milwaukee County Comptroller’s Office has been working with the FBI on the investigation.

Jennifer Folliard, the county’s director of audits, said information about the case is limited so it makes sense for the county to launch its own investigation.

“I certainly understand the position (the county) is in of wanting to know what is going on and whether there are risks there,” Folliard said. “And if there are any recommendations we can make, we will try to pursue that.”

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