Former administrators plead guilty

Joseph Schulz, Managing Editor

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After a legal battle that lasted for almost two years, two former UW Oshkosh administrators pleaded guilty last month to felony misconduct charges.

In a plea deal on Jan. 15, Former Chancellor Richard Wells and former Vice Chancellor Thomas Sonnleitner each pleaded guilty to one of five possible felony counts, according to the Associated Press.

Both men were accused of violating the state constitution by making loan guarantees on behalf of UWO to the UWO Foundation for real estate projects, according to court documents. The projects include: the Best Western Premier Waterfront Hotel & Convention Center, the Culver Family Welcome Center, two biodigesters and the Oshkosh Sports Complex, court papers said.

The count Wells and Sonnleitner pleaded guilty to involved the Best Western Premier Waterfront Hotel.

Court documents say the administrators signed a memorandum of understanding to the foundation, “agreeing that the university would cover additional investment loans and expenses incurred by the foundation in the hotel project.”

As part of the plea deal, Wells and Sonnleitner will each pay a $5,000 fine and $70,000 in restitution, court papers stated. UW System Board of Regents president Andrew Petersen released a statement on Jan. 15 after the hearing that said, “Today’s guilty pleas are the result of a three-year process to bring about public accountability, while affording UW Oshkosh the ability to renew its focus on its students and mission.

We are gratified that [the] DOJ and UW System’s efforts resulted in restitution and acknowledgment of misconduct in office by former UW Oshkosh officials.” UWO Chancellor Andrew Leavitt also released a statement after the hearing that said: “Today marks the end of a long, difficult chapter for the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.”

The statement went on to thank the university’s leaders, students, faculty and staff for their continued support. “The foundations of this three-campus university join us in engaging donors and partners with renewed purpose and hope. We will grow life-changing student scholarships, develop innovative academic programs, enhance students’ experiences and advance with confidence into the institution’s next 150 years,” Leavitt’s statement said.