Sheriff Dale K. Schmidt, Washington County, WI
On June 23, 2016 the Washington County Sheriff’s Office began investigating a complaint of wire fraud involving county funds. The complaint centers around the County Treasurer, Jane Merten making two wire transfers of
county funds in the amounts of $48,560 and 39,200, to two different banks. Merten made the transfers
based on a series of emails she believed to be from County Administrator, Joshua Schoemann.
Merten believed Schoemann was requesting the funds to be transferred. In fact, Administrator Schoemann’s
email account was “spoofed.” An outside party, with criminal intent to steal funds, was able to send the emails to Merten so that when she received them, the sender email address was Schoemann’s.
Although the transactions were completed, $32,163.76 was returned to Washington County on September 15, 2016, through a “fraud recall” procedure conducted by Washington County’s bank. The investigation remains open with the intent to arrest those involved and seek restitution as would be done in any criminal case.
In most open investigations, the Sheriff’s Office will only publicly release basic information on a reported crime. This is done by balancing of the public’s right to access against the harm to the public’s interest in the event of disclosure.
Criminal investigations and prosecutions can be harmed if certain information is released prior to the charging process starting. In this case, however, I believe the balancing test has shifted to the public’s right of access, in part.
The following items make it appropriate to release more information:
•The case involves public funds.
•Several media stories on the case.
•Several requests from Washington County Board Supervisors for information.
•County Administration requests for information
•The pending election for the County Treasurer’s Office.
At this time, with the consent of the District Attorney, and after consultation with the Lieutenant of Detectives, I have decided to release a portion of the investigative reports. Included are copies of the email correspondence less
important investigative information. Most of what appeared on the Treasurer’s screen is provided. (Please see below for further detailed information on the release and redaction of these investigative reports.)
Release and redaction information
In determining whether to release information, a balancing of the public’s right to access against the
harm to the public’s interest in the event of disclosure needs to be performed. Generally, the law
presumes that public records shall be open to the public. Nonetheless, the public’s right to access is not
absolute, and access may be declined or restricted when public interest in nondisclosure outweighs the
right to inspect.
Please be advised that this matter continues to be investigated by our agency, and consequently, limited
information can only be provided at this time. Section 19.35 (1)(am), Wis. Stats., clearly indicates that the right to inspect or copy a record does not apply to any record containing personally identifiable information that is collected or maintained in connection with a complaint, investigation or other circumstances that may lead to an enforcement action, administrative proceeding, arbitration proceeding, or court proceeding, or any such record that is collected or maintained in connection with such action or proceeding.
Because the nature of this criminal investigation involves public money, the Sheriff’s Office recognizes the need to be as open as possible. We have carefully contemplated what to publicly release in an effort to keep the public well informed while at the same time not compromise any subsequent investigative efforts.
The Sheriff’s Office is prepared to release portions of the initial reports and emails relating to this public funds fraud complaint. Upon review of this document, what we felt was confidential information, and weighed against the public’s right to know, was redacted. We are releasing what we feel is not confidential and will also not negatively impact future investigative efforts.
For example, financial institution account numbers, which are documented in both the narrative of the case and in emails, are exempt from disclosure under § 19.36 (13), Wis. Stats. This statute states that personally identifiable data that contains an individual’s account or customer number with a financial institution, shall not be disclosed. Courts have also recognized the privacy-related public-policy reasons supporting the nondisclosure of such information. The account numbers are also important to on-going investigative efforts.
The full thread of the emails are also not currently being released as the entire thread contains metadata that continues to be followed up on. This includes electronic routing information, IP address information and other data stored in an email about the email.
There are several areas of the reports that are blacked out (redacted) which contain names. Pursuant to the Federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), we cannot provide a record with personal information of another party without that party’s permission. As a result, the personal information of subjects listed in the report has been redacted. Any requester has the right to inspect any record unless otherwise provided by law.
In the attached documents we removed last names, addresses and non-business phone numbers. In the interest of the public, first names have been left in the report for clarity to the reader.