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Special Prosecutor Declines To Charge Iron County District Attorney After Criminal Investigation

Iron County DA Investigated For Abusing Subpoena Process

Scales of justice
Jesse Loughborough (CC-BY-NC-ND)

A special prosecutor has declined to charge Iron County’s district attorney with a crime as part of an investigation into his conduct that involves a case he’s prosecuting.

The matter involved the use of a credit card by former Hurley Fire Chief Darrell Petrusha and former Hurley Mayor Joe Pinardi. The card’s account was listed under Pinardi’s name, and the two were authorized users. The card was obtained to track travel expenses as the two were seeking to buy a fire truck for the Hurley Volunteer Fire Department.

Records show Petrusha used the card for personal expenses and he was charged with theft by Iron County District Attorney Matthew Tingstad. Pinardi was later charged with identity theft in obtaining the card, but that charge was eventually dismissed. The city wasn’t aware of the card until it was denied credit due to debt that was owed on the account. Petrusha ultimately paid all the money that was owed. The city never paid for any charges.

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Attorney Steve Lucareli represented Petrusha in the case. He asked a court to declare the two were acting in a personal capacity in obtaining the card and that the city wasn’t the sole account holder, and a judge issued an order that the card wasn’t held by the city.

Following that, Tingstad sent a subpoena to a Milwaukee attorney for the bank that held the disputed card. The Iron County DA asked him to make a sworn statement that the city was associated with the card’s account or drive hours to testify at a hearing.

The problem was that the hearing didn’t exist.

A judge quashed the subpoena. Lucareli requested a criminal investigation of Tingstad for sending the “bogus” subpoena, alleging the district attorney committed felonies in doing so.

“There’s no question in this case that there was a false court date put in. There was a false reason. There was no evidentiary hearing set that date,” said Lucareli.

Tingstad told investigators that he anticipated a hearing could be added to the calendar, but acknowledged that none had been scheduled.

Lucareli tried to get Tingstad disqualified from the case because of the investigation, which was conducted by the Oneida County Sheriff’s Department. Authorities found there was cause to charge Tingstad for simulating legal process. Iron County Judge Anthony Stella ordered the records sealed and asked another judge to handle the matter. Oneida County Judge Michael Bloom was assigned the case and appointed a special prosecutor to review whether charges should be made.

Bloom ordered the case be unsealed on Monday. In his report, special prosecutor Roy Korte, former assistant attorney general, concluded no crime was committed because the subpoena wasn’t completely fake since it involved an actual case and Tingstad had the authority to issue one. He reasoned the “misunderstandings, mistakes or errors in judgment” didn’t fall under the intent of the law.

However, Korte noted Tingstad acted inappropriately when he issued the subpoena in what would appear to be an attempt to help his case. Korte said the conduct abused the subpoena process and warranted sanction, adding that he would be reporting the district attorney to the Office of Lawyer Regulation.

On Tuesday, Tingstad declined to comment since a hearing on the matter is still pending although he implied the allegations against him were a personal attack.

“If a defense attorney is representing a client, and there’s no other ways to get him out of a criminal charge, perhaps he’s attacking the prosecutor,” said Tingstad.

Whenever an investigation occurs, Tingstad said attorneys have a responsibility to raise issues with the Office of Lawyer Regulation that is tasked with investigating allegations of lawyer misconduct. When asked whether he felt his conduct warranted sanction, Tingstad said that was up to the agency to decide.

A judge will hold a hearing to review the matter on Aug. 14.

Tingstad is running for re-election this year, and he’s also facing questions over the status of his residency.

Iron County DA Faces Questions Over His Residency

Petrusha, who is being prosecuted by Tingstad, submitted a complaint to Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul last fall that questioned the district attorney’s residency in Wisconsin.

Petrusha alleged that Tingstad’s Hurley address listed in legal documents is a pole barn that doesn’t appear to be a habitable residence. He also argued a divorce complaint signed by Melissa Tingstad in April 2019 indicates that she and the district attorney still live together at a home in Wakefield, Michigan. Property reports also appear to indicate the district attorney is the owner of the Wakefield home, which is listed as his principal residence.

Tingstad has served as Iron County’s district attorney since January 2017.

“I am a resident of Wisconsin, and I have been ever since,” said Tingstad. “I’m not going to discuss it any further than that.”

Lucareli said the Wisconsin Attorney General’s office declined to review the complaint.

“I’d like to see the Wisconsin Attorney General’s office pursue the verified complaint that was filed with them and do a complete and thorough investigation as to where Mr. Tingstad truly resides,” said Lucareli.

The Wisconsin Attorney General’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

When asked what voters should make of questions he’s facing over his residency and conduct, Tingstad said they can form their own opinions.

“If they have an issue, they can come and talk to me,” said Tingstad. “Or, they can just look at the facts that are presented by a defense attorney that’s trying to get his defendant, his client, out of criminal charges.”

Lucareli said he withdrew as Petrusha’s attorney last year over fears that Tingstad’s animosity towards him may impact his client, who is now represented by Aaron Nelson.

Tingstad is running unopposed for Iron County district attorney, although Michigan attorney Douglas Muskett announced Tuesday that he’s seeking to run as a Democratic write-in candidate in the Aug. 11 primary election.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said the credit card was listed under the Hurley Fire Department’s name. The story was updated at 5:14 p.m. on Wednesday, July 22, 2020.