Local lawmakers introduce bill regarding restitution and misconduct of office

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- It's been more than three years since former Eau Claire County treasurer Larry Lokken and his deputy Kay Onarheim were found guilty of embezzling more than half a million dollars from taxpayers. They're still serving their sentences and paying back restitution.

But local legislators are hoping to make changes when it comes to how similar felony offenders will pay back that restitution. On Monday, two local lawmakers introduced some new legislation that would give judges another tool to make sure at least some of the restitution gets paid.

The new bill would allow judges to withhold money from the offender's state pension in order to pay restitution under specific conditions. “What this bill will do will create a tool for judges to be able to bring fiscal restorative justice for the people and the taxpayers of Wisconsin,” said Representative Warren Petryk.

Rep. Petryk laid out the details of his new bill during a press conference, all in response to the Eau Claire County treasurer and his deputy of stealing $625,000 from taxpayers from 2011-2013. "That kind of money, that kind of theft, it's just a real problem,” said Steve Chilson, the Eau Claire County Board Supervisor.

To help deter future situations in the future, the new bill would give judges the power to order restitution is payed from a Wisconsin Retirement System under three conditions. First, the crime has to be a felony and second, the case must involve both theft and misconduct in public office. Third, the crime resulted in loss to the employer who participates in the Wisconsin Retirement System. "Even though there is insurance, I think that those of us who pay taxes and want to make sure our governments are run properly would feel much better to know that that individual is going to have to pay restitution,” said Senator Kathy Bernier.

A federal mandate allows the maximum amount to be taken from the retirement funds to be 25 percent paid monthly or in a lump sum. "We thought this was probably the most effective and the most judicious way to find justice,” said Rep. Pertyk.

And even though the new bill cannot be applied to the Eau Claire County case, lawmakers say they hope it prevents similar cases in the future. "It would make a person think twice that a judge could look at them and say one quarter of your income is now gone and that would be a pretty decent deterrent I think,” said Sen. Bernier.

Rep. Petryk says he also hopes the new bill help Eau Claire County heal after the major breach of trust in public office. "It's just a real sense that this is wrong and something hopefully needs to change,” Chilson said. Rep. Petryk says the draft of the bill will come out later this week looking for co-sponsors, and he hopes to have it on the governor’s desk as soon as possible.