Wis. mayor charged with plotting tryst with child

DINESH RAMDE , Star Tribune

RACINE, Wis. – Prosecutors charged Racine Mayor Gary Becker with six felonies Thursday, alleging that the 51-year-old tried to arrange a sexual encounter with a minor. At least one city official has called on Becker to resign. The charges include attempted second-degree sexual assault of a child under 16 and possession of child pornography. Becker waived his preliminary hearing in Racine County Circuit Court on Thursday afternoon. Racine County Circuit Judge Stephen Simanek set his arraignment for Feb. 10. The mayor, who is married and has two children, also was charged with child enticement, use of a computer to facilitate a child sex crime, attempt exposing a child to harmful material and misconduct in office. He was arrested Tuesday at a Milwaukee-area mall following a two-week investigation by the state Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation. City workers who helped Becker fix a problem with his personal computer found pornography files on it and alerted Racine police before Christmas, a criminal complaint said. Police passed the case on to state investigators to avoid a conflict of interest. District Attorney Michael Nieskes said during a news conference after the court hearing that investigators also found records of 1,800 sexually explicit chats on Becker’s computer. Becker was elected mayor in 2003 and ran unopposed for re-election in 2007. The Democrat had previously served two terms as a city alderman. A female who answered the phone at Becker’s home Thursday declined to comment. Common Council President David Maack, who has been serving as acting mayor, told The Associated Press on Thursday that Becker should step down. “I think it would be in the best interest of the city and himself to resign his position,” Maack said. “He has some very serious charges he needs to devote his time and energy to, and the city of Racine doesn’t need this cloud hanging over its head.”
The Common Council can remove Becker from office before he is convicted with votes from 12 of the city’s 15 aldermen, city attorney Rob Weber said. Becker was released from jail Wednesday after a relative posted his $165,000 cash bond. Simanek reduced his bond to $10,000 Thursday. Racine is Wisconsin’s fifth largest city, with about 80,000 residents. It sits on Lake Michigan about 30 miles south of Milwaukee. ___ Associated Press writer Gretchen Ehlke contributed to this report from Milwaukee.

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