Milwaukee County Register of Deeds John La Fave (Photo11: Milwaukee County Register of Deeds)
The federal investigation of the Milwaukee County Register of Deed’s office has now crossed state lines.
FBI agents have subpoenaed Fidlar Technologies, headquartered in Davenport, Iowa, for all records related to Register of Deeds John La Fave and his agency. The office stores real estate documents and certified copies of birth, death and marriage records.
La Fave, a Democrat, has taken $1,364 in freebies, mostly tickets to Milwaukee Brewers–Chicago Cubs games, from Fidlar officials since April 2013, according to his personal ethics statements.
“They asked for everything — every conversation, all kinds of stuff,” Dave Steil, co-owner of Fidlar, the county’s land records management system vendor, said of the FBI subpoena for documents from his company.
“I am suspecting they are looking for something from somebody,” Steil continued. “But we’re confident that we do business in the proper manner.”
Steil said he has been told that the FBI has also sought records from other vendors, though he didn’t identify them.
“We’re all interested to see what’s going on,” said Ernest Riggen, the other co-owner of Fidlar, which runs the Laredo and Tapestry programs for searching county property records. Fidlar execs estimated their county contract at $50,000 to $100,000.
Earlier this month, FBI agents raided the executive offices of La Fave’s agency, taking documents and computers with them.
RELATED: Bice: Federal officials confirm raid on Milwaukee County Register of Deeds John La Fave’s agency
Leonard Peace, spokesman for the Milwaukee FBI, confirmed the raid at the Milwaukee County Courthouse. But Peace declined this week to talk about the Fidlar subpoena. The firm has until March 5 to turn over its records.
“Unfortunately, due to the ongoing investigation, we cannot offer any comment on pending matters,” Peace said.
Michael Maistelman, the attorney for La Fave, also declined to comment. La Fave was out of his office on Tuesday.
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La Fave, 69, has served as the register of deeds since 2003, making nearly $90,000 a year. Before that, he spent 10 years in the state Legislature beginning in 1993.
In political circles, he is probably best known for his advocacy of transcendental meditation. After 9/11 attacks, he spent a week at the Maharishi University of Management in Iowa meditating with 1,700 other people.
La Fave, who is up for re-election next year, is apparently a big baseball fan as well.
In his personal ethics filings, he reported that he and often his wife received tickets from Fidlar on five occasions to see games between the Brewers and the Cubs since 2013, the first year for which records are available.
For instance, on Sept. 3, 2014, Scott Moore, vice president of sales for Fidlar, got La Fave dinner and a ticket for $79 to a night game between the Brewers and Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Moore also picked up the $253 tab for overnight lodging and parking for La Fave.
On April 17, 2017, Moore footed the $207 bill for food and tickets for a Brewers-Cubs game. La Fave’s report says the game, which Milwaukee won 6-3, was at Miller Park. But Major League Baseball records show it was actually at Wrigley Field.
From the vendor, La Fave has also scored a $360 chocolate-a-month club membership, a fleece vest and food and beverages at a Fidlar education symposium in Iowa.
Favors did not flow in just one direction. La Fave gave an online endorsement to a Fidlar product called Bastion.
“Knowing that our hosted environment is also being backed-up to a second location gives us peace-of-mind that there’s a safeguard in place in the event of a disaster,” La Fave is quoted as saying.
Moore referred questions about the La Fave gifts to Steil, who downplayed their significance. He described the items as “entertainment,” not gifts. As for the FBI investigation, Steil added, “We’re cooperating 100 percent.”
Milwaukee County ethics rules say public officials should avoid taking “anything of value” if it could be seen as a reward for past actions or an incentive for future ones.
Adam Gilmore, a paralegal for the Milwaukee County Ethics Board, said his office encourages county officials to report all gifts exceeding $50. The agency then depends on its auditor to raise red flags on any questionable gifts, Gilmore said.
So far, that doesn’t seem to have happened with La Fave’s freebies. And the sums are probably too small to interest the feds.
Contact Daniel Bice at (414) 224-2135 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DanielBice or on Facebook at fb.me/daniel.bice.
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