Racine mayor arrested in sex sting
RACINE -- Authorities seeking felony charges against Mayor Gary Becker say the 51-year-old married father of two, who ran unopposed for re-election two years ago, used the Internet to try to arrange a sexual liaison with what he thought was a tee...
RACINE -- Authorities seeking felony charges against Mayor Gary Becker say the 51-year-old married father of two, who ran unopposed for re-election two years ago, used the Internet to try to arrange a sexual liaison with what he thought was a teen girl.
Taken into custody at Brookfield Square mall Tuesday evening, Becker became one of the more than 475 people arrested by the state's 10-year-old Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
By now, it is relatively widely known that investigators from the Division of Criminal Investigation pose as youths on the Internet, looking for adults who want to have sex with minors.
But according to the criminal complaint filed Thursday, a criminal investigation of Becker began before Christmas after he brought a personal computer to City Hall and asked city workers to fix a problem with it.
The workers found pornographic images depicting nude females that appeared very young, which was turned over to Racine police, who in turn passed it on to the state task force.
Mayor Dave Ross, who has worked with Becker through the Great Lakes Initiative and Wisconsin League of Municipalities and Alliance of Cities, said the Racine mayor's arrest was an "incredible shock." Becker and Ross have lobbied together in Washington D.C. on behalf of the Great Lakes Compact.
"This came as an incredible shock to me," Ross said. He said just before Christmas he sent Becker a personal note, wishing him well as he recovered from kidney surgery, he said.
"The mayors' group in Wisconsin is not a large one because we are a state of small cities," Ross said.
"It's tragic news for both the mayor and his family, and for the people of the city of Racine," said John Lehman, a Racine state representative and Democrat who served with Becker on the Racine Common Council. "It saddens people all over town."
Based on a statement from the state task force, Becker could face at least six charges, including child enticement, possession of child pornography, attempted second-degree sexual assault of a child and misconduct in public office.
Becker's Racine lawyer, Patrick Cafferty, declined to comment other than to say he had not been given any investigation documents.
Racine County District Attorney Michael Nieskes filed charges Thursday and Becker made an initial appearance today in Racine County Circuit Court.
Hughes and Becker are fighting a wrongful-termination case filed by Sandra Tingle, Becker's former mayoral assistant. She alleges that she repeatedly told Becker that Hughes sexually harassed her verbally, and that Becker promised to intervene but did not. Tingle also alleges that Becker fired her after she filed an initial complaint with the city about the alleged harassment. She has since filed a complaint with the state Equal Rights Division, and that complaint is pending, according to her Milwaukee attorney, Nola Hitchcock Cross.
Hughes and Becker have denied the allegations.
A former Racine alderman, Becker was elected mayor of the state's fifth-largest city in 2003, the same year Ross was elected to office in Superior. He ran unopposed in 2007 for the nonpartisan office and was elected to a second four-year term.
"One of the things that always bothers me, is when elected officials misbehave," Ross said. "Elected officials already are not well thought of, partly because we don't seem to be solving people's problems, managing tax dollars well ... then when they see them misbehave, it casts a bigger sense of mistrust toward politicians. They've betrayed the public trust. Then we have a harder time trying to regain that trust."
Journal Sentinel correspondent Heather Asiyanbi and Superior Telegram editor Shelley Nelson contributed to this report.