The disgraced former Public Works Director John P. Steinbrink, Jr was charged with a series of felony charges on July 19, 2022 related to misconduct and corruption within the Village of Pleasant Prairie. Today he made his first court appearance. He donned sunglasses, a violation of court rules, which the Commissioner and others present in court initially thought were “transition lenses”. He was dressed in an expensive dark-grey suit. The prosecution got off to an awkward and weird start.
If the Kenosha DA does a bad job with a case and justice misses the mark, the Kenosha County voters can replace him or her. There is direct accountability in the system. But what if the prosecutor is from another county? In the case of the State of Wisconsin vs John Steinbrink, Jr, the prosecution is being handled by The Racine County DA, Patricia Hanson. The investigation was handled by the Racine County Sheriff’s Office. From what we know so far, the investigation was thorough and the police in Racine CO did a good job. What really counts, however, is what happens in court. If the Racine County DA does a poor job, there is no direct accountability. Kenosha County residents, and more importantly, the Pleasant Prairie Taxpayers might find this out the hard way in this case.
As many of you know, this author’s full-time occupation is that of a criminal defense investigator, and thus has a slightly higher knowledge of the criminal justice system than a lay-person. Being a citizen journalist with no boss or corporate oversight, this author can state opinions and advocate for things. This author sent an email to Racine County DA Patricia Hanson on July 20, 2022 saying in part:
“BTW, the criminal complaint is deficient. It seems like allowing a 2 year attorney and a 3-year attorney to charge such a large-scale corruption case is a mystery. Looks like you want it to fail. I’m not a lawyer and I can almost guarantee some of these counts will be dismissed at the initial/prelim. Is that what you want?
I suggest you file an amended complaint with more information.“
That is exactly what happened. Hanson sent Racine ADA Chris Steenrod today to Steinbrink’s initial appearance. Steinbrink’s defense attorney, Richard Smith made a motion to dismiss Count #4, a felony of misconduct in public office, because the criminal complaint was deficient. Steenrod, who seemed unprepared to argue, had no response after fervently looking through the multi-page document. “I don’t have the file with me” said Steenrod.
Defense Attorney Smith seemed frustrated with the sloppily written criminal complaint saying, “My client is being charged with some very serious charges here, you see the cameras” said Attorney Smith to Commissioner Keating, pointing at this author and a photographer for the Kenosha News. To which Keating replied “I got it. I got it.”
Keating dismissed the count. This reduced the total possible prison time by 3.5 years. Keating didn’t have a choice here. It was clear that the complaint did not make a probable cause statement as to the charge.
ADA Steenrod asked for a signature bond of $25,000, meaning that Steinbrink doesn’t have to post any money and will be out of custody until trial. Steenrod also asked the commissioner to prohibit Steinbrink from having any contact with any current employees of the Village of Pleasant Prairie (except his father, the Village President, John Steinbrink, Sr) or former employees that worked for Steinbrink. Steinbrinks’s attorney opposed that request stating that the prohibition was too broad. Ultimately the Commissioner ordered the prohibition as requested, stating “Theses are allegations that strike to the heart of public trust and a violation of public trust and the involvement with employees as well. I’m going to air on the side of caution with contact.” Steinbrink, JR cannot speak to any current employees of the Village or former employees that worked from him.
Some new information was stated in court today. Steenrod told the court that the Sheriff’s office had an outside HR firm come in to take complaints from “dozens” of Village employees and that lasted “for an entire afternoon……This was not a favorable work environment that Mr. Steinbrink Jr fostered.” This gives further merit to allegations that the Village’s HR Director Carol Wilke who recently resigned, was complicit in the misconduct.
In a rare move, Steinbrink’s attorney asked the commissioner to waive his client’s preliminary examination, meaning that he cannot further challenge probable cause until trial.
We reached out to DA Patricia Hanson and we don’t expect to hear back. If you live in Pleasant Prairie and want her to take this more seriously, her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
We asked Steinbrink and his attorney for comments after the hearing. His attorney told KCE his client was “happy” that one of the felonies was dropped. Steinbrink said “no comment.”
Steinbrink Jr is due to appear in front of the Honorable Judge Anthony Milisauskas on August 26 at 1pm.