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Employ Milwaukee CEO Willie Wade indicted in strip club bribery scheme

Former Alderman Willie Wade at Employ Milwaukee's offices. Wade is faced with federal wire-fraud charges over allegations that he solicited a $30,000 bribe to push through plans for a downtown Milwaukee strip club while he was a city alderman in 2017. (File photo by Kevin Harnack)

Former Alderman Willie Wade at Employ Milwaukee’s offices. Wade is faced with federal wire-fraud charges over allegations that he solicited a $30,000 bribe to push through plans for a downtown Milwaukee strip club while he was a city alderman in 2017. (File photo by Kevin Harnack)

The Milwaukee workforce chief Willie Wade is faced with federal wire-fraud charges over allegations that he solicited a $30,000 bribe to push through plans for a downtown Milwaukee strip club while he was a city alderman in 2017.

Wade allegedly told unidentified company officials he was negotiating on the behalf of another alderman to push through approvals for a downtown strip club but would “need to be paid” first. The case appears to be linked to the strip club Silk Exotic, which won the Common Council’s approval to open a location at 730 N. Old World 3rd St. in 2017 after years of lawsuits over the project. Silk opened about a year later.

In July, Wade was named CEO of the workforce development agency Employ Milwaukee, the largest of Wisconsin’s 11 workforce boards. Before that, he had served as the 7th District Milwaukee Alderman until 2016, when he stepped down to become the chief marketing officer of Employ Milwaukee. Wade was first elected to the Milwaukee Common Council in a 2003 special election, which was called to replace an alderwoman found guilty of misappropriating public money.

Employ Milwaukee Board Chair Don Leyden said Wade told him last week that he was the subject of federal investigation and could be indicted. The agency has placed Wade on administrative leave without pay.

“I will be meeting with the senior staff and the executive committee of our board to discuss the transition during his leave and the likely appointment of an interim CEO,” Leyden said.

Prosecutors said Wade had told both an unidentified local business owner, who is cooperating with investigators, and an associate that he could help obtain license approvals for the Silk project in exchange for a bribe. Wade claimed to be negotiating on the behalf of an unidentified alderman who prosecutors said was unaware of the scheme.

Wade initially told the business owner that a payment of $15,000 would result in a “done deal” for the project, but later used a handwritten note to demand more from the person, asking for “20K in cash by midnight Sunday night.” Wade falsely claimed he had convinced the unnamed alderman to accept that lower sum rather than the originally requested $50,000. Wade claimed that if he didn’t receive the money, the unnamed alderman would abstain from voting on the project.

According to the indictment, Wade told the business owner that the unnamed alderman couldn’t discuss the deal because Wade’s phone was tapped and that he had trained the alderman to use “layers.” The person later paid Wade $10,000 upfront after he texted the alderman “we all good with the home team,” a message he claimed was prearranged code signaling the deal was done. After the licenses committee postponed a vote on the project in April 2017, Wade returned the money to the business owner and said the deal could be repeated when the project came up again.

In May 2017, ahead of a planned vote on the project, Wade called the unnamed alderman in the presence of the business person to discuss the deal, but the alderman said he was unsure if he’d vote to approve the strip club. The business owner offered to sweeten the pot, upping his payment to $30,000. Just before a Licenses Committee meeting on May 8, Wade accepted $15,000 upfront. And after the Milwaukee Common Council approved the project on May 9, Wade met the business owner to accept another $15,000 in cash.

Wade is schedule to appear in court on May 15 for an arraignment and plea hearing, according to court files.

About Nate Beck

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

2 comments

  1. What a shame, most of these guys are on the take. When you go before the board to get a license they get to decide if you can live your dream or not. These guys are so dirty it ain’t even funny. I have 1st hand knowledge twice of how they come to you wanting money. This ain’t the 1st and it won’t be the last. He was asked to keep oversized trucks from using residential streets but he didn’t bother to help the community. I guess the community should have gave him more than the trucking company paid him.

  2. Don Cornelius sr.

    Shocking that these flunkies get elected to represent their constituents and instead sell out to the highest bidder. By the smile on his face he must have gotten a lap dance along with the 30k.

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