The town of Campbell police chief is under investigation over accusations that he created online accounts on pornographic, dating and insurance websites for a tea party activist who sued him in federal court.
Chief Tim Kelemen — from the town and his personal computer — used Greg Luce’s email to establish profiles on Match.com and Selectquote.com to generate harassing solicitations, according to police investigation reports.
The same Internet addresses used to access those sites also visited sexually explicit pages. A computer user on the town’s computer and from Kelemen’s home also posted negative comments about Luce on the Tribune’s website using the handle “Bill O’Reilly,” according to investigation reports.
The chief admitted to using Luce’s email on websites, but Kelemen said he didn’t realize the conduct was illegal, the reports said. He said it was done after Luce filed suit in February against the town of Campbell, Kelemen and an officer over an ordinance that prohibits signs on a pedestrian bridge across Interstate 90.
Kelemen contends he and his department were the victims of abusive emails and death threats.
Monroe County investigators recommended Kelemen face a criminal charge. Monroe County District Attorney Kevin Croninger, brought in to ensure impartiality, said he will make a charging decision after he receives investigation reports in the ongoing case.
“There is no basis for any type of allegation for felony criminal activity. None,” said Kelemen’s attorney, Jim Birnbaum. “We will vigorously defend against any such suggestion.”
Campbell Chairman Scott Johnson said Kelemen continues to work while town board members await a charging decision. He said he did not know what sanction the chief would face if prosecutors file charges.
“I think on the surface it sounds worse than what actually happened,” Johnson said.
La Crosse police launched an investigation in January when Luce discovered someone had used his name and email address to register him on pornography and dating websites and on healthcare.gov.
Investigators through subpoenas found the internet address used to register Luce on Match.com belonged to the town of Campbell, and the address for the insurance website matched Kelemen’s home computer. Of the sites visited from those two computers, only representatives from Match.com and Selectquote.com responded to police.
La Crosse police sent the investigation to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department to avoid a conflict of interest.
Kelemen during a May 27 interview with investigators initially said he didn’t know anything about Internet solicitations made for Luce. He later admitted that he signed Luce up for the websites because Luce had been harassing the department. Kelemen told investigators “he felt it was the only way to get back at him.”
“We’re very concerned about what the chief of police has allegedly done,” said Luce’s attorney, Richard Thompson.
Campbell police on Oct. 24 threatened Luce with a ticket after a demonstration in which protesters wore T-shirts that together spelled “IMPEACH” on one side and “OBAMA” on the other while standing on the interstate overpass.
A town ordinance prohibits “signs, flags, banners, pennants, streamers, balloons” within 100 feet of the bridge. Luce argues in his federal suit that the law violates his rights to free speech and assembly.
Ever since, Kelemen and the police department have been inundated with Internet harassment, including online death threats, and attempts to access the department’s computer system and the chief’s personal bank account, Birnbaum said. Kelemen reported the activity to the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
“I call it cyber terrorism,” Birnbaum said.
Birnbaum believes tea party members — a group he called “irresponsible and dangerous with zero credibility” — are responsible for the harassment but authorities have not identified suspects.
A video posted online of a Dec. 7 rally on the interstate overpass generated hundreds of abusive emails, including death threats, toward Campbell officers, according to a statement from Kelemen.
“Town board members are now considering rescinding the overpass safety ordinance,” Kelemen wrote. “This is not because the traffic safety concerns do not and will not continue to exist, but because personal safety of our town employees is a growing concern due to the extreme nature of the people (we) are now encountering.”
But it’s concerning that a police chief used department resources to retaliate after the federal suit, said Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center.
“I have never experienced when a police chief or a police department, even though they were being harassed, turned around and violated the law themselves,” Thompson said. “This impacts our federal suit. It is intimidating to Luce that the chief of police is taking these kinds of bizarre actions because he doesn’t like the fact that Luce filed a lawsuit.”
“There is no basis for any type of allegation for felony criminal activity. None.” Jim Birnbaum, Kelemen’s attorney