- Associated Press - Thursday, July 28, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Former U.S. Attorney James Santelle misused a government credit card to pay for his dry cleaning, a rental car for personal use and an airline ticket to his nephew’s college graduation, an investigatory report released Thursday in response to an open records request filed by The Associated Press.

The report by the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General provides more details about what preceded Santelle’s abrupt resignation last July as U.S. attorney in charge of the eastern half of Wisconsin. A one-page OIG summary of his credit card misuse was released in December.

Investigators determined that Santelle misused the credit card 37 times to charge about $4,400 in goods and services while not on official travel. The detailed report, which is dated Dec. 3, shows that Santelle also tried to use his government card for $234 in personal spa treatments but it was rejected, so he paid for it with a personal check.

Thirty-one of the 38 transactions totaling just over $2,800 were related to expenses while on official travel but not properly authorized, two for $500 were for a rental car for his personal use, two for nearly $350 were for personal dry cleaning and food and two for $820 were for a personal airline ticket and booking fee.

The report said Santelle did not intentionally provide false information, but that he was not forthcoming when he spoke with investigators about the charges. His “inconsistent and inaccurate explanations” unduly lengthened and complicated the investigation, the report released Thursday said.

All of the charges occurred between September 2011 and June 2012.

Santelle, in an emailed statement, said he had made honest mistakes and “I reject in the strongest terms possible the assertion that I was ‘not forthcoming.’” He admitted not following proper protocol when using the government-issued card without prior authorization, but stressed that he did not enrich himself at the government’s expense.

“While the government never suffered any monetary loss as a result of these charges, I take full responsibility for and regret deeply my mistakes,” Santelle said. “I paid for all the questioned charges myself and never sought reimbursement for any personal expenses.”

Santelle had been the U.S. attorney in Wisconsin for 5½ years before resigning. When he stepped down, Santelle said it was the “right time” to retire after three decades in government service. He didn’t mention the investigation.

In the report, Santelle attempted to explain why he made the personal charges on his government-issued credit card, in violation of DOJ’s policies.

Santelle initially said the rental car cost was “most likely” due to his attending an official conference in Hayward, Wisconsin. But investigators determined he had actually rented the car while his vehicle was at a Waukesha dealership being repaired. Investigators also found that he had not attended the Hayward meeting, as he had earlier indicated.

Santelle also said transactions for the spa treatments, airline tickets, dry cleaning and food were unintentional. He said about $3,300 in expenses were related to his official travel, but admitted to not being consistent when seeking reimbursement.

The report said he told investigators: “At the risk of sound very self-effacing and, and government service-oriented, I do this a lot. I drive around the district routinely…and I do not ask for reimbursement at all, just because I don’t want to the government’s money to do that.”


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP and find more of his work at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-bauer

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