Employ Milwaukee CEO Willie Wade faces federal charges in alleged strip club bribery scheme

Former alderman allegedly accepted $30,000 to influence votes

Willie Wade, former Milwaukee alderman and current chief executive officer of Employ Milwaukee, has been charged with three counts of wire fraud for an alleged scheme in which he falsely claimed he was negotiating on behalf of a current Milwaukee alderman to accept a bribe for a vote approving licenses for a downtown Milwaukee strip club.

Willie Wade

Wade obtained $30,000 in cash in the alleged bribery scheme, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Wednesday.

Each wire fraud count has a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a maximum fine of $250,000 and up to three years of supervised release.

Wade, 56, represented Milwaukee’s 7th District as alderman from 2003 to 2016.

He left the Common Council to join Employ Milwaukee, then known as the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board, in early 2016. In 2018, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett selected Wade to succeed Earl Buford as president and chief executive officer of the organization.

Representatives with Employ Milwaukee didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

According to the indictment, the alleged wire fraud was related to an unnamed company’s application in 2016 for a license to operate a strip club in downtown Milwaukee. That company could be Silk Exotic, which in May 2017 was granted Common Council approval for its license application to operate a strip club on Old World Third Street.

The strip club, located at 730 N. Old World Third St., opened in 2018 following legal battles with the city.

According to the indictment, Wade told an unnamed local business owner with an interest in the company that he could obtain votes in support of the license application, but “would need to be paid.”

Wade told the individual that a payment of $15,000 would result in a ‘done deal,’ the indictment said. He later sought to increase the bribe amount by giving a handwritten note to the business owner, demanding “20k cash by midnight Sunday night.” Wade said the note contained the other alderman’s “conditions,” and that, if the alderman didn’t receive a bribe, he planned to abstain from the vote.

The alderman was not aware of Wade’s representations and had never offered or agreed to accept a bribe, according to the indictment.

According to the indictment, Wade obtained an initial payment of $15,000 on May 8, before the Licenses Committee voted on the application, and a second $15,000 payment on May 9, after the full council approved the application.

The Common Council approved the proposal in a 10-5 vote.The aldermen who voted in favor of the strip club application were: Ashanti Hamilton, Cavalier Johnson, James Bohl Jr., Khalif Rainey, Bob Donovan, Chantia Lewis, Michael Murphy, Mark Borkowski, Anthony Zielinski and Russell Stamper. The aldermen who opposed the strip club application were: Nic Kovac, Robert Bauman, Milele Coggs, Jose Perez and Terry Witkowski.

Representatives with Silk Exotic didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Willie Wade, former Milwaukee alderman and current chief executive officer of Employ Milwaukee, has been charged with three counts of wire fraud for an alleged scheme in which he falsely claimed he was negotiating on behalf of a current Milwaukee alderman to accept a bribe for a vote approving licenses for a downtown Milwaukee strip club.

Willie Wade

Wade obtained $30,000 in cash in the alleged bribery scheme, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Wednesday.

Each wire fraud count has a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a maximum fine of $250,000 and up to three years of supervised release.

Wade, 56, represented Milwaukee’s 7th District as alderman from 2003 to 2016.

He left the Common Council to join Employ Milwaukee, then known as the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board, in early 2016. In 2018, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett selected Wade to succeed Earl Buford as president and chief executive officer of the organization.

Representatives with Employ Milwaukee didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

According to the indictment, the alleged wire fraud was related to an unnamed company’s application in 2016 for a license to operate a strip club in downtown Milwaukee. That company could be Silk Exotic, which in May 2017 was granted Common Council approval for its license application to operate a strip club on Old World Third Street.

The strip club, located at 730 N. Old World Third St., opened in 2018 following legal battles with the city.

According to the indictment, Wade told an unnamed local business owner with an interest in the company that he could obtain votes in support of the license application, but “would need to be paid.”

Wade told the individual that a payment of $15,000 would result in a ‘done deal,’ the indictment said. He later sought to increase the bribe amount by giving a handwritten note to the business owner, demanding “20k cash by midnight Sunday night.” Wade said the note contained the other alderman’s “conditions,” and that, if the alderman didn’t receive a bribe, he planned to abstain from the vote.

The alderman was not aware of Wade’s representations and had never offered or agreed to accept a bribe, according to the indictment.

According to the indictment, Wade obtained an initial payment of $15,000 on May 8, before the Licenses Committee voted on the application, and a second $15,000 payment on May 9, after the full council approved the application.

The Common Council approved the proposal in a 10-5 vote.The aldermen who voted in favor of the strip club application were: Ashanti Hamilton, Cavalier Johnson, James Bohl Jr., Khalif Rainey, Bob Donovan, Chantia Lewis, Michael Murphy, Mark Borkowski, Anthony Zielinski and Russell Stamper. The aldermen who opposed the strip club application were: Nic Kovac, Robert Bauman, Milele Coggs, Jose Perez and Terry Witkowski.

Representatives with Silk Exotic didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

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