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2010 - New beginnings, fading memories



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December 29, 2010 | 08:31 AM
An old face fades from Delavan Lake. A new face represents the State 32nd Assembly District. Finally, an East Troy man, who thought he was hiring a hitman, faces six years in prison.

These are some of the top stories for 2010.

Elegant old resort folds

On Dec. 8, the doors of the 132-year-old Lake Lawn Resort, Delavan, closed for the last time, and more than 126 full-time employees found themselves out of work.

The closing of Lake Lawn was also a blow to local tourism.

"It's very sad. It will be sad for the county to lose such a magnificent piece of property," said Kathy Seeberg, executive director of the Walworth County Visitors Bureau.

In March, Anchor Bank won a $34.4 million foreclosure judgment against the property.

According to the Lake Lawn website, the resort, located on the shores of Delavan Lake, with a main entrances on Highway 50, was founded in 1878. The resort has 281 guest rooms, a 120-slip marina, an 18-hole golf course and a 4,400-foot private air strip

The resort was purchased by Delavan Resort Holdings in 2004.

In early 2005, resort owners approached the city of Delavan with a $390 million plan to redevelop the property. The resort completed about $30 million in upgrades to its 222 guest rooms by 2006.

In August 2009, Anchor Bank of Madison filed a $51.9 million foreclosure action against Delavan Resort Holdings and Lake Lawn. The case was moved to Racine County when Walworth County judges recused themselves.

In March 2010, Racine County Judge Richard Kreul ruled in favor of foreclosure against Lake Lawn.

The property went up for auction at the Walworth County Sheriff's Department in Elkhorn on Oct. 7.

Nearly two dozen of the interested, curious and invested were in the Walworth County Law Enforcement Center lobby when the bids were called. But when Deputy Mark Drews, who handled the sale for the county, asked if anyone in the crowd represented Lake Lawn, no one stepped forward.

Anchor Bank of Madison put down the sole bid on the property. At $19.97 million, it was probably the highest bid ever entered at a sheriff's sale in Walworth County, said Deputy Brian Schmieden, a process server who has nine years experience conducting sheriff's sales.

Shortly after the sale was completed, a 60-day layoff notice was sent to each of the 126 full-time resort employees at the resort. The notice said they would all lose their jobs by Dec. 8.

During peak tourist times, the resort employed up to 320 full- and part-time workers.

The city of Delavan is included among the other losers with the closing of Lake Lawn. Former City Administrator Joe Salitros said the attorney for Lake Lawn reported that the resort contributed about $400,000 last year alone in room taxes.

The loss of that income would make an already challenging budget year, even more challenging, Salitros said.

New guy tops eight

Republican Tyler August, 27, of Walworth, was enjoying himself with friends and supporters at the Abbey Resort's Waterfront Restaurant in Fontana on the evening of Nov. 2, as vote tallies showed him comfortably in the lead over a Democratic and two independent challengers in the race for the state's 32nd Assembly District.

In the end, August beat out eight other opponents in the primary and general elections. Not bad for a guy who initially wound up second in the Sept. 14 Republican primary.

Tom Lothian, who had held the 32nd District seat since 2002, decided to retire. August was Lothian's chief of staff and a favorite candidate to succeed his former boss.

But when the Republican primary ballot was printed, August found himself as one of six candidates.

Among the other five was Adam Gibbs, 24, of town of Lyons, son of former Walworth County Judge Michael Gibbs, and with a strong group of supporters backing him.

Following the Sept. 14 primary, Gibbs held first place in the six-way race, including a slim four-vote advantage over August.

But August wasn't done. He filed for a recount with the Government Accountability Board.

By the evening of Sept. 26, after a five-day recount, Gibbs' lead melted away, giving August an even slimmer three-vote victory.

There were plenty of electoral thrills and spills during those five days, including some minor intrigue, when the apparent winner "disappeared."

The recount was put on hold for a day when the winning candidate's father complained that his son was not able to officially respond to notification of the recount.

Walworth County Sheriff David Graves said his deputies made six attempts to reach Adam Gibbs without success.

August accused Gibbs of intentionally delaying the recount. Gibbs' father, the former county judge, told the Regional News that he believed August was rushing the process.

However, later that same day, after he filed receipt of the notification of recount, Adam Gibbs said the issue was being "blown out of proportion."

The recount started the next day.

The vote total turnaround came about through improperly marked absentee ballot envelopes, the board of canvassers determining voters' intent benefitting August on three ballots, and apparently just plain bad luck for Gibbs.

Final figures from Walworth and Kenosha counties, parts of each which are in the 32nd District, showed August winning 1,760-1,757.

August found his winning margin in Kenosha County, where he won the town of Wheatland by 10 votes, 68-58.

Gibbs won Walworth County by seven, 1,699-1,692.

Gibbs could have thrown the whole thing into a Walworth County courtroom by filing an appeal. He didn't.

Walworth County Clerk Kim Bushy said that Gibbs lost three votes through a draw down of four absentee ballots.

Absentee ballots are delivered in envelopes that must be signed by the voter and a witness, Bushey said.

When the ballots are counted, the ballots are separated from the envelopes to preserve the voters' anonymity.

Ideally, the number of properly signed envelopes will equal the number of absentee ballots. In this case, four envelopes were found to be either unsigned or unwitnessed, Bushey said.

That meant four absentee ballots had to be withdrawn at random.

Gibbs was unlucky. He lost three votes through the draw down, while August lost none. The fourth ballot withdrawn was for another candidate, Dan Necci.

Meanwhile, August gained a vote through an absentee ballot that was initially rejected because of an over-voted office, not the 32nd District, on the ballot. State law requires that voter intent be ascertained during a recount, and August was clearly marked on that ballot, Bushey said.

Voter intent also gained August another vote on a ballot on which the voter had marked candidates' names with "X"es, rather than filling in the ovals as instructed.

In this case, the "X" fell between the ovals for August and candidate John Finley. The center point of the X was closer to August's oval than Finley's, leading the board of canvassers to decide the voter intended to vote for August, Bushey said.

According to a spokeswoman at the Kenosha County Clerk's office, August also gained a vote in the town of Wheatland, where a voter clearly check-marked his name on a ballot that had been rejected.

After a grueling primary victory, August faced another three opponents in the Nov. 2 election, two independents and a Democrat. But this time, the Republican tendencies of Walworth County voters worked to his advantage.

Late Walworth County results alone showed August up by more than two to one over his closest competitor, Democrat Doug Harrod, 65, of Bloomfield township. Independents Dan Kilkenny and Rick Pappas were even further behind.

August credited the straight ticket Republican voters in the 32nd District and the conservative wave that seems to have swept Wisconsin and the nation for his victory.

Outrageous behavior

In July, John K. Gorman, 51, of East Troy, was sentenced to six years in prison by a Waukesha County judge.

Gorman tried to have the three people in Walworth County killed because of their involvement in criminal proceedings against him.

Gorman was looking for a hired gun to kill a Walworth County assistant district attorney, a village of East Troy police officer and the East Troy village clerk.

Gorman's gruesome plan went nowhere because the "hitman" he solicited turned out to be an undercover police officer. Authorities were tipped off about Gorman's plot after he sought advice from a Walworth County Jail inmate about finding a hitman, according to the criminal complaint.

Gorman was arrested and charged with three counts of solicitation of first-degree intentional homicide and three felony counts of bail jumping.

In April, Gorman pleaded guilty to one count of solicitation of first-degree intentional homicide.

Three felony bail jumping, and two solicitation of first-degree intentional homicide charges were dismissed but considered during sentencing.

In May, 2010, the Walworth County District Attorney's Office filed charges against Gorman for allegedly stalking Alita Bourdo, the East Troy village clerk. On May 12, police searched Gorman's home and reportedly found more than 30 weapons.

Subsequently, he was charged with felony bail jumping because he was ordered not to possess any firearms.

He also was charged with allegedly harassing Kevin Weber, the East Troy police officer. Assistant District Attorney Diana Donohoo was prosecuting several felony charges against Gorman.

Gorman reportedly told Judge Kieffer during the sentencing hearing that he regretted his actions.

"I can't believe that this whole thing happened. It just isn't like me. I'm more the type of guy to help someone out than to hurt them or whatever. I'm ashamed of this whole thing, what I've done to those people and to my family," Gorman reportedly said.

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