Written by Bill Schanen IV
Wednesday, 12 October 2016 18:04
Aging Port sex offender’s request to be freed from supervision so he can return to Italy denied again
Not long after pleading no contest in 2001 to repeatedly sexually assaulting a girl when she was 9 and 10, and facing a certain prison sentence, Burt Briganti, now 71 and living in Port Washington, skipped town.
On the run for two-and-a-half years, Briganti fled the country and found a new home in South America, where he may have lived out his years a free man if not for his desire to return to his native Italy.
Briganti was en route from South America to Europe in late 2003 or early 2004 when the plane he was on made an unscheduled stop in Florida, perhaps for a mechanical problem, Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol recounted for a judge last week. That prompted a check of passengers and the discovery that Briganti was a fugitive wanted for years by Ozaukee County authorities.
That was the first time Briganti tried to escape his punishment, but not his last, although his subsequent attempts have been within the confines of the law.
Last week, having served 10 years in prison, Briganti found himself back where his case began 16 years ago — in an Ozaukee County courtroom, this time to ask Judge Joseph Voiland to commute the remainder of his sentence.
Briganti has completed his prison sentence but is only two-and-a-half years into a 15-year period of extended supervision by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, the conditions of which prevent him from leaving the country.
“That amounts to a life sentence for Mr. Briganti,” his lawyer Frank Schiro said.
And as was the case so many years ago, Briganti, who according to Schiro is estranged from his son and ex-wife, wants desperately to return to Italy.
“Here in the U.S., I live out my days alone,” Briganti, who was born in Gatteo, Italy, and is a citizen of both that country and the United States, told Voiland in an Italian accent. “I have no family in Wisconsin. I have only one brother left (in Italy). My hope is to see him again before I leave this earth.
“I am a very lonely person. I would like to start a new life.”
Briganti, who appeared in court last week well groomed, trim and wearing a gray suit, filed a motion under Wisconsin’s compassionate release statute, which gives judges the authority to commute sentences for convicts with serious, generally terminal, illnesses, as well as for elderly inmates. Schiro said his client is a cancer survivor who has suffered numerous strokes, and argued his sentence is unduly harsh.
“This man has served his (prison) sentence,” Schiro said. “We’re just asking for a compassionate consideration so he can be released from supervision.”
Noting this is the fourth time Briganti has asked a judge to modify his sentence, Gerol argued against his motion and Voiland rejected it, concluding that the statute allowing sentences to be modified does not apply to Briganti’s case and that his sentence was not unduly harsh.
Although 16 years divorced from his crimes, Briganti still cannot escape them.
Briganti was charged on Oct. 12, 2000, with first-degree sexual assault of a child and sexual assault of a child more than three times after his victim told police he assaulted her multiple times between Sept. 26, 1999, and Sept. 29, 2000, by rubbing against her while she was at his house for piano lessons. She said Briganti, a relative who lived in Mequon at the time, also assaulted her once at her home.
When questioned by police officers, Briganti admitted he would place his hands on the girl’s hips and rub against her “because he had the urge and it made him feel good,” according to the criminal complaint.
Briganti’s case moved along fairly quickly. He immediately posted the $5,000 bail set by the late judge Walter Swietlik, waived his right to a preliminary hearing and on May 14, 2001, pleaded to the two felony charges.
Still free on bail, Briganti was ordered to return to court in July to be sentenced. Instead he fled.
Years later, on May 6, 2004, after he was arrested in Florida and now also guilty of felony bail jumping, Briganti was sentenced by then-Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Tom Wolfgram to 10 years in prison and 15 years of extended supervision.
Briganti, who is registered as a sex offender, was released from prison in December 2013. That’s when he moved to Port Washington.
In arguing last week that his client’s sentence was unduly harsh, Schiro said that a 2001 letter from then-District Attorney Sandy Williams indicated she intended to recommend Briganti be sentenced to two years in prison and three years of extended supervision. Ultimately, however, Williams did not recommend a specific sentence.
“Even in the mind of the DA, this wasn’t viewed as a case that warranted something as harsh as this,” Schiro said.
In a memo to the court, Schiro wrote, “Based on the criminal complaint, although clearly child sex crimes are abhorrent and serious, Mr. Briganti and the minor child were both fully clothed during the criminal acts and Mr. Briganti did not engage in any touching of the minor underneath the minor child’s clothes ....”
But Gerol emphasized the seriousness of Briganti’s crimes and said the victim as well as the public are right to expect that he serve the entirety of his sentence.
“He’s still being supervised and the public is still being protected,” said Gerol, who also questioned whether Briganti is old enough or sick enough to qualify for compassionate release.
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm
Wednesday, 28 September 2016 16:41
Loss of $30,000 has agency officials wondering how they can continue serving 74 community organizations
The Volunteer Center of Ozaukee County is facing a financial crisis, one that could force it to close — a move that would affect not just the agency but the 74 other nonprofits it works with, Executive Director Brenda Peterson said Tuesday.
United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha is ending its funding of the agency next year — an amount equal to a quarter of the center’s annual budget, she said.
The United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha, which has helped fund the Volunteer Center since its inception in 1989, contributed $30,000 of the center’s $120,000 budget, Peterson said.
The group notified the Volunteer Center of its decision in January 2015, Peterson said, and has been cutting its allocation ever since.
This year, she said, the Volunteer Center’s allocation from the United Way of Greater Milwaukee was cut to $3,000.
“We’re struggling to make up $15,000 to $20,000 now,” she said. “We’ve been able to keep up with it until now.
“We’re just not getting the local support we need to survive and thrive.”
Peterson noted that the center still receives funding from the United Way of Northern Ozaukee, which this year allocated $14,000 to the Volunteer Center.
Knowing that the Milwaukee and Waukesha United Way’s cut was coming, Peterson said, the Volunteer Center instituted two new fundraising events — the Rhythm Road Rally and the “I Heart Volunteers” campaign.
The goal of the campaign, she said, is to seek individual donations of at least $10.
“There are enough people here to support us,” Peterson said. “If everyone does $10, we’re golden.”
But, she said, it will take time to build these fundraisers into something that can make up a $30,000 shortfall in the agency’s budget.
“It’s going to take a while to get everything going at that level,” Peterson said.
Those events supplement funds raised at the center’s “Let’s Dance and Lip Synch” fundraiser, which will be held on Nov. 11.
The budget cut couldn’t come at a worse time, Peterson said, noting that needs in Ozaukee County are continuing to increase even as budgets get tighter for all nonprofits.
“All of us in the nonprofit world, we’re talking about more needs with less resources,” she said. “We’re all scrambling for local funds.”
The Volunteer Center provides several important services for 74 area agencies, Peterson said. It matches volunteers in the community with volunteer positions — a service research has shown is valued at $358,000, she said.
“That’s three times our budget,” Peterson said. “We’re the best financial stewards around.”
The center places about 4,000 volunteers each year, she said — placing 50,000 volunteers in jobs over the last 10 years.
In the process, she said, the center helps raise awareness of these services and agencies.
The Volunteer Center also provides training for the staff and boards of directors of the agencies, she said — training that helps them remain efficient and effective.
Peterson said that if the center can’t raise the needed funds, it will have to reimagine its mission and see whether it can continue, and in what form.
“I know for sure our community needs us,” she said. “They need our services. And we know the big hearts we have in this community.”
She’s hoping people will contribute to the Volunteer Center while still supporting the other agencies they help fund.
“We don’t want to take anything from the others,” she said.
Written by Bill Schanen IV
Wednesday, 05 October 2016 18:31
Appeals court rejects arguments of Fredonia man who assaulted stepdaughter
A Fredonia man serving a 35-year prison sentence for raping his 12-year-old stepdaughter during a 2013 assault arranged with the help of the girl’s mother is not entitled to a new trial, an appeals court has ruled.
Affirming the decisions of Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Paul Malloy, the District 2 Wisconsin Court of Appeals rejected the man’s claims that Malloy incorrectly barred evidence at his trial that could have impeached the credibility of one of two key witnesses — the victim’s mother, who was his wife at the time.
The 47-year-old man, who Ozaukee Press is not naming to protect the identity of the victim, also argued there was not enough evidence to convict him and that Malloy abused his authority by imposing an exceedingly harsh sentence. The appeals court also rejected those claims in its Sept. 21 decision.
On Feb. 5, 2014, after a day-and-a-half of testimony, an Ozaukee County jury deliberated for less than two hours before finding the man guilty of two felonies — first-degree sexual assault of a child and incest with a child by a stepparent.
During the trial, the victim testified that at about 9 p.m. on April 1, 2013 — her stepfather’s 44th birthday — her mother led her to the master bedroom of the family’s second-story apartment where her stepfather was waiting for her in bed.
“She (her mother) said, ‘We’re going to give your daddy a special birthday gift,’” the girl told the jury. “I said, ‘I don’t want to, mommy,’ but she said, ‘Do this just for once.’”
In the bedroom, the girl said, her mother instructed her to take off her clothes and lie on the bed. Then her stepfather sexually assaulted her, she said.
“She (her mother) was lying right next to me telling me it will be all right,” the girl testified. “I was just like, ‘Oh God, not this.’
“Ten or 15 minutes later, I said, ‘I think that’s enough,’ and he stopped. My mom told me to take a shower, get ready for bed and never tell anybody what happened.”
The girl’s mother, who at the time was facing felony charges and is currently serving a prison sentence for her role in the assault, corroborated much of her daughter’s account, telling the jury she was depressed and overworked and finally gave in to her husband’s incessant requests to have sex with one of her daughters.
Her husband’s attorney, Robert Olmr, targeted her credibility when he attempted to question her about photographs and a text message she received on her phone that allegedly expressed interest in a sexual encounter with her in the presence of one of her daughters.
The appeals court ruled that Malloy correctly prohibited the questioning, concluding that while not very useful it was highly prejudicial, “designed to smear more than it is to shine any light on what’s happened here.”
Without any physical evidence, the testimony of the victim and her mother was crucial. The assault was reported about two months after the attack when the victim’s older sister accidentally mentioned it while the girls were visiting their biological father, who then reported the crime.
The appeals court ruled the testimony was sufficient to convict the man of two of the three felonies he faced. The jury acquitted him of child enticement.
The man also argued in his appeal that in sentencing him Malloy did not give ample weight to the fact he had no prior criminal record, a presentence report recommended a lesser punishment and that he did not use force against the victim.
Again, the appeals court rejected this argument, noting Malloy based his sentence on the fact the man betrayed the trust of his stepdaughter as well as the need to protect the public and deter similar crimes.
At the March 15, 2014, sentencing hearing, which the victim did not attend, Malloy told the man, “I was hoping (the victim) would have been in court today. I want her to understand we can’t undo what happened to her, but we can make sure you can’t hurt anyone again, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
“You were one of two people she had a right to expect would protect her.”
The victim’s 40-year-old mother, who pleaded no contest in May 2014 to felony crimes of failure to protect a child from sexual assault, being party to the crime of first-degree sexual assault of a child and child enticement, was sentenced in June 2014 by Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Sandy Williams to 22-1/2 years in prison and 15 years of extended supervision.
“This is one of those cases that, quite frankly, is repulsive,” Williams said during the sentencing.
The woman also appealed her case, claiming that she was convicted twice for the same crime in violation of the double jeopardy clause of the constitution and that her lawyer failed to adequately represent her because he did not advise her of the double jeopardy violation.
The court of appeals rejected those argument, but she has filed a petition for review, which is pending.
Written by Mark Jaeger
Wednesday, 21 September 2016 18:52
Board member who criticized football player, coach faces call for his removal from office
A veteran Northern Ozaukee School Board member and father of an Ozaukee High football player faces accusations of cyberbullying and a call for his ouster after he posted a Facebook comment criticizing football coaches and the abilities of a player.
In his post, Tom Hoffmann, who has represented the Town of Saukville on the Fredonia school district’s board since 1993, criticized a coaching decision to stop throwing to his son Garrett after he caught two touchdown passes on Ozaukee’s 35-25 loss to defending Division 6 state champion St. Mary’s Springs on Sept. 2.
Hoffmann said in his post that the coaching strategy was altered to throw to Jared Zausch, who “couldn’t catch a cold in a blizzard.”
Jared’s father John, an assistant on Jim Lippe’s coaching staff, told the School Board Monday that Hoffmann’s comments criticizing his son were mean-spirited and amounted to cyberbullying. Zausch called on school officials to immediately remove Hoffmann from the board and ban him from all Ozaukee High athletic events.
“It’s unbelievable and beyond my comprehension,” Zausch said. “What Tom said was reprehensible, shocking and an embarrassment to the School Board.”
Hoffmann was not at the meeting.
Zausch’s comments, made during the public forum period of the board meeting, caught board members by surprise. Because the issue was not on the board agenda, no action could be taken, although Zausch’s call for Hoffmann’s ouster did spark discussion about whether the board should or could remove one of its members from an elected office.
“Is there nothing we can do?” board member Scott Szczerbinski asked. “How do we go about recalling him from office?”
Board president Paul Krause said Hoffmann’s Facebook post has created “a tough, ugly situation,” adding that it may be possible for the board to adopt a resolution censuring Hoffmann for making inappropriate comments on social media.
“Clearly Tom’s comments are not what this board or this district stand for,” Krause said.
But it is not the job of the School Board, he said, to remove elected officials from office.
“Removing someone from office is, ultimately, in the hands of the electors,” Krause said. “We don’t pick board members.
He also said Hoffmann has a right to express himself.
“The reality is, in this country everyone has the First Amendment right of free speech,” Krause said.
Although not at the meeting, Hoffmann said in an interview Tuesday he was not surprised by the firestorm caused by his Facebook posting, but said his comments were made in the heat of the moment after a disheartening loss.
“I apologize for any damaging perception that comes from this, but it was frustrating to see an opportunity against Springs slip away and I needed to vent a little,” he said.
Hoffmann said he has had ongoing issues with the football coaching staff, but now realizes it was unfair to put his son and teammate in the middle of the dispute.
“I get where they are coming from … but this is the world of sports,” he said.
Hoffmann said it was “unfortunate” that the students became part of the controversy, and worried that the fallout may take attention away from more important issues.
Hoffmann said he did not expect anyone to come to his defense, but questioned the results of any action the board may take.
“What would a recall accomplish? As a parent, I will still be vocal,” Hoffmann said.
The board directed Supt. Dave Karrels to research what options the board has in reprimanding Hoffmann.
Karrels was asked to report back to the board at its October meeting.
In an interview with Ozaukee Press, Lippe said the Hoffmann incident may prove to be a valuable teaching moment for his staff and players.
“As a coach, one thing we harp on over and over with our players is how important it is to be smart when using social media,” the coach said.
“We don’t want our players trash talking back and forth with rivals. My rule of thumb is if you can’t say something to a person’s face, you probably shouldn’t be saying it on social media.”
Lippe said part of the job as coach is facing criticism, but he said it is unacceptable when that is broadened to include players.
“I have a problem with any parent, especially a School Board member, posting that kind of comment online. It is beyond belief,” he said.
As for the St. Mary’s Springs loss, Lippe said he had to make a mid-game adjustment in his game plan after the opponent began double-teaming Hoffmann’s son.
Lippe said the team has the luxury of having several potent offensive weapons, including Jared Zausch and Garrett Hoffmann.
He said he planned to talk with the team about the Facebook criticism, adding there is “zero chance” Garrett Hoffmann would face any fallout from the incident.
Coincidentally, at this week’s meeting, the board gave first readings to a host of policy revisions prepared by the policy auditing company NEOLA.
Among those was a policy on duties and responsibilities of School Board members, explaining the risk that public comments made by individuals can be seen as the opinion of the entire board.
Such misunderstandings, the policy states, “may cause issues for the board as well as the district. Therefore, board members should, when writing or speaking on school matters on social media, to the media, legislators and other officials, make it clear that their views do not necessarily reflect the views of the board or of their colleagues on the board.”
The policy is already in place, but minor wording revisions are expected to be approved during the second reading at the next board meeting.