By Benjamin Yount for Watchdog.org

Taxpayers in Eau Claire County are likely going to have to wait a long time to get their $681,000 back.

Former county treasurer Larry Lokken and his then-deputy Kay Onarheim are serving prison terms for stealing about $1,000,000 from county taxpayers over a number of years.

The $681,000 is the leftover tab that the two are required to pay.

But the state of Wisconsin and Eau Claire County cannot touch their public pensions to collect the money.

Eau Claire state Rep. Warren Petryk and Chippewa Falls state Sen. Kathy Bernier want to change that.

The two introduced a plan at the Wisconsin Capitol to allow governments in Wisconsin to try and seize someone’s pension if they are convicted of stealing from taxpayers.

“The purpose of this bill is to help make sure that what happened to the taxpayers of Eau Claire County doesn’t happen in Wisconsin again,” Petryk said.

The plan would allow a judge to order the Wisconsin Retirement System to withhold up to 25 percent of someone’s pension for restitution. That order would come only if the crime includes both theft and misconduct in public office, if the crime results in a loss to any government that participates in the WRS, and if prosecutors file felony charges. 

“This legislation will help [western Wisconsin] heal from that past unfortunate criminal breach of public trust and provide a reasonable degree of justice for the people of our State in the future,” Petryk said. 

Eau Claire County pushed for a similar “Lokken Law” after he and Onarheim were sentenced to prison in 2016.

Berneir says there are other communities across Wisconsin that, unfortunately, find themselves in similar situations.

“I hope that we can get bi-partisan support for this legislation to protect taxpayers in other communities by giving our judges and local district attorneys tools they need to make our taxpayers whole,” Bernier said.

The plan is out for co-sponsors at the statehouse, and has not yet been assigned for a vote.

Benjamin Yount Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for Watchdog.org. Reposted with permission.