MILWAUKEE – The sons of a first-term congresswoman and Milwaukee's former acting mayor were among five Democratic activists charged Monday with slashing the tires of vans rented by Republicans to drive voters and monitors to the polls on Election Day.
Sowande Omokunde, son of Rep. Gwen Moore (search), D-Wis., and Michael Pratt, the son of former Milwaukee acting mayor Marvin Pratt (search), were among those charged with criminal damage to property, a felony that carries a maximum punishment of 3 1/2 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The activists are accused of flattening the tires on 25 vehicles rented by the state Republican Party to get out the vote and deliver poll watchers Nov. 2.
The GOP rented more than 100 vehicles that were parked in a lot adjacent to a Bush campaign office. The party planned to drive poll watchers to polling places by 7 a.m. and deliver any voters who didn't have a ride.
A criminal complaint said the defendants originally planned to put up Democratic yard signs, placards and bumper stickers at the Republican office in a scheme they called "Operation Elephant Takeover." But the plan was dropped when they learned a security guard was posted at the GOP office, the complaint said.
One witness told investigators the five defendants, dressed in "Mission Impossible" (search) type gear, black outfits and knit caps, left the Democratic Party headquarters at about 3 a.m. on Nov. 2, and returned about 20 minutes later, extremely excited and talking about how they had slashed the tires.
Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokesman Seth Boffeli said the five were paid employees of Kerry's campaign, but were not acting on behalf of the campaign or party.
"This is not something we engage in, or encourage. We had to make it clear that this is something these individuals were doing on their own," Boffeli said.
Rick Wiley, state GOP executive director, discovered the vandalism on the morning of Election Day.
"It was unbelievable that people could stoop this low in a political campaign," he said. "I figured it had to be someone from the opposition. But I didn't think someone on the paid Kerry campaign would do this."
Wiley didn't say whether the vandalism prevented anyone from voting, but said poll watchers were about two hours late.
Moore attended the court appearance for her son, but declined to address the felony charge after the proceeding, saying only that she had to catch a plane. A message left on Marvin Pratt's cell phone was not immediately returned.
The judge denied a motion made by Omokunde's attorney, James Shellow, to dismiss the charges based on a flawed criminal complaint.
Also charged were Lewis Caldwell, Lavelle Mohammad, and Justin Howell.