Watertown mayoral, Assembly candidate charged with theft

Jordan Turner is shown in this October 2016 photo used in a Daily Times story related to his run for 37th Assembly District in Wisconsin. Caption from Photoshop: Published Caption: Watertown resident Jordan Turner plans to run against Rep. John Jagler in state Assembly District 37.

JEFFERSON -- A 24-year-old former Watertown man who was defeated in his bids for mayor and state Assembly District 37 representative as a Democrat in 2016 is facing a charge of being party to the crime of theft of more than $10,000, some of it while he was campaigning.

According to a criminal complaint on file at the Jefferson County Courthouse, Jordan W. Turner, formerly of 808 Fieldcrest Court in Watertown, but now listed as living at a college-related address in Columbus, Ohio, allegedly committed the acts in the city of Watertown. He is accused of the crimes after he and others obtained property of Global Conservation Group Inc. worth more than $10,000 by allegedly intentionally deceiving people by false representation. The complaint claims the acts were intended to "defraud."

Turner lost in a race for mayor of the city of Watertown to incumbent John David, then to incumbent state Assembly District 37 Rep. John Jagler, both in 2016.

Turner made his initial appearance this week in the Jefferson County Circuit Court, where Judge Jennifer Weber set Turner's signature bond at $10,000, with conditions he not form any business or solicit donations for any organization.

In the criminal complaint in the matter, generated by Watertown Police Department Sgt. Leon Ruder and Jefferson County Assistant District Attorney Brookellen Teuber, on Oct. 30, 2008, Turner's father, Michael Turner, filed Articles of Incorporation for GCG with the Department of Financial Institutions. The documents list Michael Turner as "incorporator." GCG's intentions were, according to the complaint, to solicit contributions for a charitable purpose, in this case, the prevention of cruelty to animals. Subsequent documents from July of 2014 list Jordan Turner as the president of GCG.

"On Jan. 30, 2015, Articles of Incorporation are filed for GCG with the Wisconsin DFI and list (Jordan Turner) as the organizer ... On Feb. 12, 2015, Articles of Dissolution for GCG (were) filed with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions," the complaint stated.

On March 23, 2015, according to the complaint, Jordan Turner opened a PayPal account as the user/registrant with GCG as the business name on the account. On March 10, 2016, Turner opened a checking account for GCG at Partnership Bank in Watertown for GCG and listed himself as the owner and authorized signer on the account.

The complainant stated the DFI received two charitable organization complaints relating to Jordan Turner and GCI. A DFI investigation in July of 2018 found Turner and his father, through GCG, were soliciting contributions for the prevention of cruelty to animals, but were using many of those contributions "for personal benefit and for funding the defendant's political campaign," the complaint stated.

DFI found that from 2013 to 2017, GCG received approximately $35,012 in donations. The contributions broke down to $30,712 from online donations through PayPal and GoFundMe (We Pay), and $4,300 from paper check donations.

During that same time period, the complaint alleges, Turner and his father spent funds from the donations in the amounts of $6,711 for 16 payments toward a credit card unrelated to the organization's operations and $3,357 for 411 transactions at restaurants. Other expenditures included $2,364 for 131 transactions at gas stations, $2,155 for 74 transactions at retail stores, $1,961 for 49 cash withdrawals, $1,737 for 17 transactions of travel and $679 for 38 service fee charges.

A Dec. 15, 2014, transaction of $599 for a website for the defendant's Watertown mayoral campaign is discussed in the complaint, as are expenditures of $411 for 57 entertainment purchases, including numerous Amazon videos on-demand; $3,016 in direct payments to Michael Turner and $280 in direct payments to Jordan Turner. The remainder of the funds were spent on office- and retail-related charges for which the DFI was unable to determine usage.

The complaint stated that GCG was not registered as a charitable organization in any years in which Turner solicited or had contributions solicited in Wisconsin. Unless exempted from registration under state statutes, no charitable organization may solicit in Wisconsin, or have contributions solicited in the state on its behalf, unless it is registered with DFI.

Representatives of the DFI contacted Turner to inquire about any exemption status and he replied that GCG was, indeed, exempt from registration because it did not intend to raise or receive contributions in excess of $25,000. The DFI, however, determined GCG did not meet exemption requirements under state statute in any of its fiscal years, because its assets and income in those years had been to the benefit of the defendant and Michael Turner, the complaint said. Representatives of DFI also stated GCG had not filed a state income tax return or a required federal tax form to make it exempt from income tax.

"The IRS has no records of GCG applying for tax exempt status," the complaint stated.

On Jan. 5, 2018, an investigator from the Watertown Police Department met with Jordan Turner at the Watertown Police Department. The detective asked Turner who owned GCG. Turner said his father helped him create the group when he was in eighth grade, but his dad backed away from the criminal case investigation related to the alleged fraud when Turner turned 18.

"The defendant stated that they raised approximately $10,000 for the first few years and the overwhelming majority of the money went to campaigns to end animal cruelty," the complaint said. "The defendant stated that they received donations through the organization website and the GoFundMe campaigns. They also had a PayPal for general matters."

When asked who made decisions about the finances, Turner claimed that he had a group of volunteers that would help make decisions related to the money. He admitted that he was the only one who had access to the checks that were donated and that the money went to a general organization account. He was the person who had direct access to the funds and would move the money.

Turner said some of the money was used to spay and neuter cats for low-income households and they fixed approximately 10 cats. During his interview with the Watertown detective, Turner denied using any of the money raised for personal expenditures and said any money spent would be a direct cost for something the organization was doing. Turner discussed using money for protests, investigations and researching anonymous tips.

The detective then asked Turner why the organization would write a check to "Turner for Office," which was the defendant's campaign for Watertown mayor. Turner confirmed that the handwriting on the check and the signature on the check belonged to him.

"He could not recall what the expenditure covered and suggested it could've been for a 'Facebook boosting type of thing,'" the complaint stated.

The complaint further alleged that Turner and his father, through GCG, fraudulently obtained charitable contributions by intentionally and deceptively representing that the contributions would be used for the prevention of cruelty to animals. These false representations include failing to disclose that the contributions would be used for personal benefit; failing to disclose that the contributions would be used for political purposes; false representations on the GCG website proclaiming to have a Cruelty Investigation Department, an Animal Emergency Response Department and a Division of Legal Affairs; false representations that GCG is a registered organization powered by 50 staff members and volunteers; and GCG paper checks from the checking account claiming it was "Wisconsin's Largest Animal Group."

In their complaint, Teuber and Ruder said a properly formed charitable organization would have incorporated or organized with the state agency regulating business organizations -- this being DFI in Wisconsin; it would have filed and received 501(c)(3) tax exempt status with the IRS and it would have registered with the appropriate state agency regulating charitable organizations.

There is no record of Michael Turner being charged in relation to this case. A pretrial conference is scheduled for Jordan Turner on Sept. 18 in Jefferson County. If convicted of the felony, he could face a fine of up to $25,000 and 10 years in prison.

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