Former Lake Geneva streets superintendent gets six months in jail for theft, misconduct
ELKHORN—The community is watching, and it's angry.
That's what special prosecutor Annie Jay said Wednesday before asking Walworth County Judge David Reddy to impose jail time, fines and community service for Ronald Carstensen, one of two former Lake Geneva Street Department employees charged with misconduct in public office and theft.
“This is a case where the actions of this defendant have had far-reaching consequences,” Jay said. “It's a case that has generated more calls to my office than any other case I currently have. … The taxpayers of the city of Lake Geneva are justifiably angry.”
Reddy sentenced Carstensen, 56, to six months in jail, court costs and 40 hours of community service to be completed by March 17, 2016.
Carstensen, former street department superintendent, is accused of keeping a sales tax refund check meant for the city and giving $25,000 worth of city salt and sand to two private companies owned by his friends from 2009 to 2013, according to charges filed in June 2014 by the state Attorney General's Office.
At a final pre-trial hearing Friday, Carstensen pleaded guilty to felony misconduct in office and misdemeanor theft in a business setting. The six remaining felony charges were dismissed but read into the record.
Carstensen did not make money off the salt and sand mixture, said his attorney, Patrick Kiernan Cafferty, who requested a $2,000 fine and community service.
The damage done to Carstensen's reputation and family, a felony conviction on his record and the loss of his job are punishment enough, Cafferty said.
Reddy disagreed. He said those are “natural consequences of (his) actions” and the betrayal of trust involved in the case and culture of corruption that has developed from Carstensen's “intentional” acts justify the jail time.
“You have to look at the sheer number and time frame we're talking about here,” Reddy said. “But more importantly, the public has the absolute right to expect their employees are going to act honestly in matters entrusted to them, and public employees are and should be held to a higher standard. One hand should not wash the other in matters like this.”
Carstensen apologized to the judge and said he is a good person.
“I'm so sorry this has gone this far. Trust me, I'm not what they say I am,” he told Reddy.
Many street department employees told investigators Carstensen yelled at them, and employees feared retribution if they told anyone about what they saw Carstensen doing, Jay said.
The Walworth County Sheriff's Office received a tip in October 2013, asking authorities to look into Carstensen and his job activities, one criminal complaint states.
Carstensen started working for the street department in 1996 and was superintendent from 2006 until he resigned in 2013, a complaint states.
Donald Hoeft Jr. is alleged to have helped provide the sand and salt mixture, and he failed to turn over proceeds from recycled oil and scrap metal when he worked at the street department, according to a complaint. Hoeft also is charged with falsely reporting community service hours for a street department probationer. He pleaded not guilty to his six charges in November 2014.
Carstensen paid $20.06 in restitution to cover the refund check he kept, Jay said, and will not face any further restitution.
C&D Landscaping and Design and B&J Landscape, the companies that received the salt and sand mix, have since paid the city for the bulk of the $25,000, Jay said.
Hoeft is free on a signature bond. He will appear in court next at 1:15 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5, at the Walworth County Judicial Center.