Former Milwaukee Ald. Willie Wade was sentenced Thursday to four months in prison in a federal case charging him with taking $30,000 while falsely claiming to be able to secure a sitting alderman’s vote for a downtown Milwaukee strip club.
Wade was charged last year with wire fraud. Prosecutors said he received $30,000 in cash by claiming that he was negotiating on behalf of a current Milwaukee alderman who he said was willing to accept a bribe in exchange for voting to approve licenses for a downtown strip club. The alderman, according to court records, was not aware of Wade’s scheme.
Wade was sentenced to four months in prison and another three years of supervised release. He was also ordered to repay the money he took.
“The offense that the defendant committed here is just extremely serious” because it undermines public confidence in government, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman said during Thursday’s hearing.
Although there ultimately was no bribe, there was a representation that a bribe would take place and that the sitting alderman — and the Common Council by extension — were corrupt, Adelman said.
He said not giving Wade any time behind bars would depreciate the seriousness of the offense, and added that while he was not concerned Wade would do this again, he thought there was an element of deterrence to others.
Prosecutors and Wade’s attorneys declined to comment after the hearing.
Wade listened quietly to the verdict then walked out of the courtroom with his attorneys and a woman who had come with him.
He is being allowed to voluntarily surrender, so he was not taken into custody at Thursday’s hearing.
“This is a serious offense,” federal prosecutors wrote in a memorandum filed before sentencing. “Mr. Wade is a former elected official, and he still held a position of trust in the community. He not only obtained $30,000 for his own use by repeated lies but also did so by suggesting that a current alderman was corrupt.”
Prosecutors argued in the memorandum that Wade should serve a six-month prison sentence while Wade’s attorneys argued he should receive probation.
His attorneys wrote in their own memorandum that Wade ultimately “gave in” to pressure from former Silk Exotic co-owner Jon Ferraro, who was working undercover as part of an agreement in his own criminal case to help the government try to find corrupt public officials in Milwaukee.
Ferraro pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit money laundering and racketeering about four years ago in a federal case known as “Russian Laundry.”
Wade’s attorneys said he ultimately told Ferraro that Wade could bribe an alderman.
Ferraro did not respond to a request for an interview on Thursday, but last year told the Journal Sentinel, “I am not nor have ever been involved in anything to do with Willie Wade.”
On Thursday, Wade pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and the remaining two wire fraud counts were dismissed.
“I prided myself in my life on making good decisions. … In this particular case, this was a bad decision I made,” Wade said at the hearing, adding that he takes responsibility for his actions.
His attorney, Patrick J. Knight, said a lifetime of service was wiped out by what he described as a singular event reflected in the case.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard G. Frohling argued this was anything but an “aberrant decision” and played recordings from a number of conversations about the scheme.
“It was a series of lies to obtain that money” over a series of weeks, Frohling said.
The alderman was identified in a sealed affidavit in support of a federal search warrant as Ald. Khalif Rainey.
The indictment against Wade said the alderman, identified as “Alderman B” in the document, was “not aware of Wade’s representations and had never offered or agreed to accept any bribe.”
Court documents paint an odd case involving secret meetings in parking lots, a wire-wearing strip club owner, emojis and other code words sent by text. After getting the money, Wade allegedly read aloud a text he claimed he was sending to Rainey — which said “we good with the home team.”
Prosecutors’ sentencing memorandum stated that the alderman was angry and frustrated at Wade’s claims.
“Mr. Wade’s lies caused the alderman to become the subject of a criminal investigation, resulted in federal law enforcement interviewing the alderman about Mr. Wade’s claims, and could have endangered the alderman’s reputation and career,” the document states.
Rainey did not respond to a text message seeking comment Thursday.
Prosecutors argued that Wade tried to rationalize his behavior in his own memorandum filed before sentencing and that he had tried to increase the amount of the bribe.
The strip club caught up in the case appears to be Silk Exotic, which opened in downtown Milwaukee in 2018 after years of legal battles.
Wade, who represented Milwaukee’s 7th District from 2003 to early 2016, had been serving as president and CEO of Employ Milwaukee at the time the federal case was brought.
Rainey still represents the 7th Aldermanic District.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said in a statement after the charges were filed that Wade was no longer leading the agency or being paid.