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Milwaukee Ethics Board votes to subpoena tax returns of ex-FPC chair

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Fire and Police Commission Chairman Steven DeVougas speaks during the Aug. 6 meeting at which Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales was demoted to captain. (Photo: Michael Sears / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

The City of Milwaukee’s Ethics Board voted Monday to subpoena tax records from former Fire and Police Commission Chairman Steven DeVougas, who is the subject of an investigation by the board. 

DeVougas is still a member of the FPC but was replaced as chairman earlier this month by Nelson Soler.

The board voted to subpoena from DeVougas his personal income tax returns and supporting documents for tax years 2017 to 2019.

In a rare move, the Ethics Board in July launched an investigation into an ethics complaint brought by the Milwaukee Police Association against DeVougas, who was then the FPC chairman. The police union filed the complaint in February.

The Ethics Board is investigating three of the four counts in the complaint, having dismissed a fourth alleging DeVougas participated in an illegal quorum. The board found it did not have jurisdiction to investigate that allegation.

The police union complaint raises concerns about DeVougas’ presence in the August 2019 police interview of a powerful real estate developer accused of sexual assault. At that time, DeVougas was also head of the FPC, which has oversight authority over the Police Department.

The complaint charges that DeVougas’ presence with the developer, who was also his client, violated the public’s trust and was a misuse and abuse of his position at the FPC.

The other two counts allege that DeVougas did not list his ties to the developer’s company on documents known as statements of economic interest, which are meant to publicly detail officials’ financial interests.

The developer has been neither arrested nor charged. The investigation remains open.

DeVougas has denied any wrongdoing.

Ethics Board Chairwoman Patricia Hintz created an investigation committee, with the entire seven-member board serving on the committee.

She said at a meeting earlier this month that in order to determine whether DeVougas misused his position, it will be necessary to understand in what capacity DeVougas was serving when he attended the interview with the developer and police. 

The board is also seeking from the FPC the transcript and video of the August 2019 police interview of the developer in addition to reports from witnesses interviewed by an outside investigator hired by the FPC.

That independent investigator’s report found DeVougas, an attorney, likely violated the city’s ethics code and lied about his legal representation of the real estate developer.

It will also be necessary to understand from DeVougas why he was there, Hintz said. She recommended that the Ethics Board either send DeVougas written questions or depose him. 

She recommended hiring an outside investigator or attorney to look into the allegation because of the time and experience needed.

As to the other two counts, Hintz said earlier this month she thought the investigation would likely require subpoenaing documents including bills that DeVougas’ law firm had sent to the developer’s company in addition to accounting and tax records.

“I think we would subpoena documents … to try and reconcile what he’s reporting, for instance, on tax returns versus what’s on his statement of economic interest,” Hintz said.

On the second two counts, Hintz said she didn’t think an outside attorney or investigator would be necessary because there was enough expertise on the board to evaluate documents that would be received.

After the subpoenas, the next step is to get a list of potential investigators and outside attorneys, evaluate them and make a hire, Hintz said. That will help determine the timeline. 

“Certainly, the timeline is months and not weeks,” Hintz said earlier this month.

DeVougas’ attorney, Jacob Manian, did not immediately respond Monday to an email seeking comment.

In a previous letter to the Ethics Board, Manian urged the board to dismiss the complaint, saying the facts don’t support the charges in the union’s complaint.

Contact Alison Dirr at 414-224-2383 or adirr@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter @AlisonDirr

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