Madison - St. Clair Record

Friday, October 18, 2019

Former prisoners were involved in Madison County TRO suit pursued by Clayborne firm

State Court

By Record News | Aug 6, 2019


WHEATON – Chicago investor Thane Ritchie identified two former prisoners as individuals involved in a suit that James Clayborne’s firm filed in Madison County, according to a defendant seeking sanctions over the suit.  

On July 12, in DuPage County chancery court, Huizenga Managers Fund asserted that Ritchie provided names of Robert Brownell and Paul Whinnery. 

Brownell earned prison time for organizing a conspiracy that stole millions from a Wisconsin family who hired him to run their construction company. 

According to Huizenga, one of Ritchie’s lawyers stated in response to a request for admission that he worked with and for Brownell in this case. 

Whinnery, by name of Paul Schlieve, organized a methamphetamine factory on a ranch while teaching computer science at North Texas State University.

Last year a federal judge denied a motion to relax his travel restrictions so he could continue working for Clayborne’s firm. 

Huizenga claims the involvement of Brownell and Whinnery destroyed any privilege over communications between Ritchie and Clayborne’s firm. 

Circuit Judge Bonnie Wheaton granted sanctions last year for the filing of the suit in Madison County, but she wondered against whom. 

Proceedings on that point continue, with a hearing set for Aug. 28. 

Brownell stepped out of prison in 2016, owing restitution of about $6 million to Bielinski Brothers of Glendale, Wisc. 

The family hired Brownell in 1995, to manage acquisition and development.  

They promoted him to chief executive officer in 2001.  

According to charges against him, Brownell authorized payments of fraudulent invoices and expenses, and obtained loans by forging documents. 

He falsely represented that the company deposited funds with its law firm as security for transactions, and he caused the company to pay fees to third parties with which he was involved. 

He also paid an excavating company for inflated invoices, and they split the excess. 

The family fired him in 2004, in the midst of a desperate deal to escape ruin. 

U.S. prosecutors in Wisconsin’s Eastern District charged him with fraud by mail and wire in 2005, and he pleaded guilty in 2006. 

District Judge Charles Clevert sentenced him for 20 years and entered a lien judgment of $6,738,578. 

Brownell appealed the sentence, claiming Clevert miscalculated the intended loss for purposes of computing the sentencing range. 

He also challenged enhancement of his sentence as leader of the conspiracy. 

Seventh Circuit judges found no doubt about his leadership, but they doubted the calculation of intended loss. 

They remanded the case to Clevert and set out rules for the calculation. 

He reduced restitution to $5.8 million, but kept the sentence at 20 years. 

Somehow, Brownell served barely half his sentence. 

In October 2014, lawyer Mark Ruppelt of Glendale delivered a document to the court for him and the clerk sealed it. 

The clerk sealed three documents from Feb. 26 to March 6, 2015.  

On March 15, 2015, the prison bureau released Brownell to court supervision. 

In 2016, he substituted William Jones of Madison for Ruppelt. 

Jones submitted a document and the clerk sealed it. 

Clevert discharged Brownell from supervision with restitution owing in 2017, and District Judge Pamela Pepper released his passport to Jones. 

Jones also represented the other object of Huizenga’s suspicion, Paul Whinnery, in Wisconsin’s Western District last year. 

Whinnery pleaded guilty of meth production in federal court in Texas in 2004. 

A prosecutor at his sentencing said he was financially responsible for several meth cooks at his ranch. 

The prison bureau released him in 2015, and a Texas judge transferred his supervision to Western Wisconsin last year. 

Whinnery retained Jones, who moved for early termination of supervision and permission to travel freely. 

Jones wrote that six months earlier, Whinnery landed a job as a legal assistant for the firm of Clayborne, Sabo, and Wagner in Belleville. 

He wrote that Whinnery’s tasks included reviewing discovery, researching legal issues, and drafting memoranda or outlines for attorneys. 

He attached a letter from John Sabo to Whinnery, stating that he needed him in Belleville on document intensive matters. 

Sabo told Whinnery that while he appreciated his dedication in wrestling with hundreds of thousands of documents from ten years of litigation, it wouldn’t be possible to continue the relationship if he couldn’t travel.       

District Judge William Conley ruled that he wouldn’t hear the motion until Whinnery responded to the probation officer’s requests for information. 

Sabo and Jay Dowling filed the Madison County suit on Jan. 31, 2018, on behalf of John Doe entities. 

Circuit Judge David Dugan granted a temporary order without notice to Huizenga, restraining it from disparaging the entities. 

At a hearing six days later, Dugan learned that the statements he restrained had come from public record in various courts. 

He found he lacked jurisdiction and sent the suit to DuPage County, the location of Huizenga’s principal place of business. 

Clayborne’s firm no longer represents Ritchie. 

The firm claims in St. Clair County court that Ritchie owes it more than $500,000.   

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