REGARDING SCHMITZ: Artist rendering of what we believe Francis Schmitz, special prosecutor in a secret probe targeting conservatives, looks like.
MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin Democrats leading a secret investigation into conservative groups have brought in a heavy hitter - a former federal prosecutor who specialized in tracking terrorists.
Francis D. Schmitz, now in private practice in Waukesha, once served in the U.S. Department of Justice's counterterrorism operations and helped apprehend a large group of foreigners carrying illegal visas, some of whom officials believed had ties with Sept. 11 hijackers.
Because of the secrecy surrounding the state's so-called John Doe investigations, no one can say exactly how Schmitz, who rose to the rank of colonel in the U.S. Army, became the top prosecutor in the Democrats' probe, which reportedly has spread to five counties.
Multiple sources told Wisconsin Reporter it's easier to speculate about why Democrats
, one of George W. Bush's three finalists for the position of U.S. attorney for the Milwaukee-based Eastern District of Wisconsin
The Democrats hired Schmitz, the source said, because they think "his anti-terror experience will intimidate.
I don't think it's too much to say it is designed to terrify some people."
However, another source noted that whatever Schmitz's skills are in spycraft, he
has no First Amendment experience and no election-law background.
A source speculates that Schmitz
, because of his
"nominal ties to Republicans, gives a hyper-partisan investigation the public appearance of fairness."
When contacted by Wisconsin Reporter, Schmitz repeatedly declined to discuss the secret case, or even to acknowledge its existence.
By law, he
Like the scores of individuals who have reportedly been subpoenaed or questioned in the investigation, Schmitz
is bound to secrecy by Wisconsin's long-standing John Doe law.
Breaking that silence could land a violator behind bars.
won't even say much about himself.
Asked Wednesday for details of his
background, the prosecutor hesitated.
"Let me think about whether it's even proper for me to acknowledge that," Schmitz
said, seconds before ending the short phone conversation.
Fortunately, there's his LinkedIn profile, which reveals that Schmitz has spent most of his career working for an agency known for keeping secrets, serving in various positions at the Department of Justice from May 1983 to March 2013.
spent most of that time as an assistant U.S. attorney in the eastern district in Milwaukee.
During those three decades with the DOJ
specialized in criminal and civil litigation, crisis response planning, international anti-terrorism training, management evaluations and policy development.
Schmitz, who also was a member of the DOJ's National Security Division in Washington, D.C., for five years, was one of three finalists in 2002 for the U.S. attorney position at the eastern district of Milwaukee.
The job eventually went to Steven Biskupic, who worked alongside Schmitz
in Milwaukee for several years.
Schmitz, a 1982 graduate of Marquette University Law School, also was the DOJ's national crisis management coordinator and a member of its counterterrorism section.
Tracy M. Johnson, executive assistant U.S. attorney, confirmed that Schmitz had been employed at the Milwaukee office as an assistant U.S. attorney and retired earlier this year.
Because Schmitz is no longer with the U.S. attorney's office, the DOJ cannot comment on his employment history, according to DeanPuschnig, law enforcement community coordinator for the state's eastern district.
"It's the policy of the Department of Justice
not to provide any information on retired employees," Puschnig said.
Biskupic also declined to talk about Schmitz
because of potential conflicts with one of Biskupic's clients.
"Obviously, I worked with Fran a long time and I have a lot of respect for him, and I'm going to leave it at that because … I'm also the lawyer for Friends of Scott Walker," said Biskupic, who now runs his own practice.
Wall, the only one to respond, worked with Schmitz
on a late-1990s case that led to the conviction of the owners of an aluminum smelting firm who used their company as a springboard for a variety of fraudulent schemes.
also had been involved in a high-profile investigation in the early 2000s that resulted in the apprehension of 70 people accused of bribing U.S. embassy officials to get illegal visas, including seven who ended up in Wisconsin.
told a judge he
didn't think the operation was the best use of law enforcement resources.
also didn't believe the sting went far enough in going after violent offenders.