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Former aide to Scott Walker convicted of embezzlement

By Brendan O'Brien

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - A former aide to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was convicted on Friday of stealing money from a fund for families of U.S. soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A jury in Milwaukee County Circuit Court found Kevin Kavanaugh guilty of embezzling more than $42,000 from Operation Freedom, a military appreciation event held each year at the Milwaukee County Zoo.

Kavanaugh, who worked for Walker when the first-term Republican governor served as Milwaukee County executive, faces up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. Sentencing is expected on December 7.

Kavanaugh, 62, was the treasurer of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, a charity involved in Operation Freedom, from 2006 to 2009. Walker appointed him to serve on the Milwaukee County Veteran Service Commission during Walker's term as Milwaukee County executive.

Walker originally ran the Operation Freedom event through his county office. It was later turned over to the Purple Heart organization after Walker received legal advice the event should be handled by a charitable organization.

The investigation began when Tom Nardelli, Walker's chief of staff in Milwaukee, voiced concerns about how funds for the event were being handled. Tim Russell, another close Walker aide, also was implicated in the investigation.

Russell is accused of diverting more than $21,000 to his personal bank account and using some of the money to go on Hawaiian and Caribbean vacations. He is scheduled to go to trial in December.

The investigation is part of a wider probe into Walker's county executive office. Walker, who was county executive from 2002 to 2010, has not been charged in the investigation.

On Thursday, Kelly Rindfleisch, who was Walker's deputy chief of staff, pleaded guilty to felony misconduct in public office, a charge that grew out of the investigation into the funds missing from Operation Freedom. Rindfleisch admitted she did campaign work for Republicans while she was on the clock in Walker's office working for the taxpayers of Milwaukee County.

Walker had been subpoenaed to testify during Rindfleisch's jury trial.

(Editing by James B. Kelleher and Bill Trott)

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