Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Journal-Gazette Editor: Indiana Is An Ethical Swamp

The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette's editor Karen Francisco had a spot-on column this past weekend condemning the state's ethics laws in the wake of the slap on the wrist handed to former Education Superintendent Tony Bennett received for transgressions that landed criminal charges against one of his predecessors. It's so bad in Indiana that State House leaders actually advise constituents on which lobbyists they should hire. She says the lacks of ethics enforcement in the Hoosier State ensures nobody from this state will make it to the White House.
Indiana Inspector General David Thomas and the state ethics commission dispensed with the Tony Bennett mess as quietly as possible, but making something disappear doesn't mean it never happened or that it should have happened in the first place.
Bennett's champions outside Indiana have an easier job because their audiences don't know the details of the former state superintendent's transgressions and don't realize they represent just more of the muck in the ethical swamp of Indiana state government.
Under one-party rule, anything goes here. Democratic elected officials in northwest Indiana have appropriately noted that the same campaign violations for which Bennett was fined $5,000 have sent politicians there to prison.
“We don't have an ethics commission in northwest Indiana. We have the FBI," Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott Jr. told a radio station.
At the Statehouse, however, the most blatant of conflicts can be dismissed and anyone daring to point them out can be labeled as a "self-serving opportunist" or "crusading journalist."  . . .
Indiana's leaders make no apologies for the ethical mess. Like Bennett's champions, they wonder aloud how anyone could possibly suggest these "public servants" are doing anything but serving Hoosiers.
The problem for them, however, is that the swamp doesn't go beyond Indiana's borders. When one of these public servants makes a bid for a post elsewhere, they quickly learn what is acceptable in Indiana is not only frowned upon most everywhere else -- it's not legal most everywhere else. That's why you won't see a former Indiana governor in the White House for awhile and why Florida's commissioner of education is not a Hoosier.
That's all good for people elsewhere, but those of us who call Indiana home continue to live in an ethical swamp.
Boosters of Gov. Mike Pence's presidential hopes should take Francisco's comments seriously. Former Gov. Mitch Daniels dropped talk of running for president in 2012 like a hot potato after reporters outside the state started examining aspects of his personal life and corrupt dealings as governor that received very little coverage beyond the blogs within the Hoosier state. Those reporters are already similarly starting to dig into Pence's past, and they're already chomping at the bit to take on his record. Remember, the mainstream media holds Republican candidates to a much higher standard than the Clintons or Obamas.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Judge Orders Ballard Administration To Turn Over Concealed ROC Documents

After months of stonewalling by city officials, Marion Co. Circuit Court Judge Louis Rosenberg has finally issued an order compelling the Ballard administration to produce public documents related to the one-sided lease agreement the City entered into with a campaign contributor of Mayor Greg Ballard for the Regional Operations Center at the site of the former Eastgate Consumer Mall to a special council committee investigating the lease deal. According to WISH-TV, the order signed by Judge Rosenberg compels city attorneys to produce documents related to the cost of sites other than the former Eastgate Mall property; documents related to the city’s obligation to provide security during the 2012 Super Bowl; and documents related to expenses incurred with the ROC. Judge Rosenberg also asked city attorneys to review other documents requested by the ROC Investigating Committee.

The controversial lease was executed by former Public Safety Director Frank Straub, who bypassed normal approval processes for such leases through the corporation counsel's office. Straub rushed approval of the lease agreement through the City-County Council with the assistance of the Mayor's Office, which claimed the ROC had to be up and operational prior to the Super Bowl the City hosted in February, 2012. The form of the lease lacked standard provisions contained in typical government leases and included other unusual terms that favored the landlord over the tenant.

Straub had rejected a preferred site identified by the former head of the emergency management services near the Indianapolis airport that would have required little work and would have cost the City much less than the $18 million, 25-year lease Straub executed for the ill-suited Eastgate Consumer Mall site. Straub then fired the former EMS director and absorbed the functions of his agency into his department under the department's homeland security division led by former Perry Township Trustee Gary Coons, a political hack with no prior experience in homeland security. Straub relied on Councilors Ben Hunter (R) and Mary Moriarty-Adams (D) in whose district the ROC center resides and both of whom received campaign contributions from the building's owner to usher approval of the lease agreement through the council with little discussion. During public testimony, city officials lied to council members about the ability of the City to get out of the lease if it found the site unworkable. Councilor Hunter was highly critical of council members who initially sought to slow down the approval process to allow more time for their questions about the deal to be answered. Despite his conflict of interest, he is sitting as a member of the council's investigating committee where he has engaged in obstructionist tactics and sought to discredit the investigation at every step of the way.

Before Straub left his job to start a new job as Spokane's Chief of Police after being asked to step down, he and his staff allegedly destroyed almost all documents in the public safety director's office regarding the controversial lease agreement and wiped computer hard drives clean of any information that could be accessed by his successor, Troy Riggs. That's a criminal violation under Indiana law. Yet Marion Co. Prosecutor Terry Curry announced that his office would not be pursuing any criminal charges in the case after a dubious Indiana State Police investigation concluded that no laws had been broken despite the undisputed fact that it was a criminal act to destroy those public documents. The ROC Investigating Committee was able to obtain some of the missing documents from the building's owner, Alex Carroll. The ROC Investigating Committee also learned that Straub had ordered WCTY not to videotape any of the Public Safety Board's hearings for nearly a one-year period while discussions concerning the ROC lease occurred. Shortly after the council began investigating the lease, city officials entered into a settlement agreement with the landlord which relieved it of any liability and locked the City into the lease for its full term despite numerous problems with the property that forced city employees to evacuate it for nearly eight months due to unsafe conditions while the landlord made necessary repairs to it.

GOP Prosecutor Candidate Hits Terry Curry For Allowing "Rampant Prosecutorial Misconduct" In His Office

Picking up on a theme in a recent blog post by IU Robert McKinney School of Law Professor Joel Schumm at the Indiana Law Blog, Marion Co. GOP candidate Duane Merchant issues a press release today taking Marion Co. Prosecutor Terry Curry to task for "rampant prosecutorial misconduct" happening under his watch since taking office in January 2011. Merchant's press release notes that Schumm's blog observed "22 cases since January 2012 in which an Indiana appellate court has found improper conduct by Democrat Prosecutor Terry Curry’s office."  Schumm concluded, "Terry Curry, who was elected in 2010, is either oblivious to or unfazed by these opinions." The press release goes on to say:
Prosecutor candidate Duane Merchant vows to make changes.  “I spent more than 20 years of my career as a Deputy Prosecutor and I’ve never heard of such an egregious number of violations,” stated Merchant.  “There is simply no excuse for Prosecutor Curry to tolerate this level of misconduct.  He is charged with leading that office and he has failed his legal duty to ensure that deputies conform to the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct.” 
If elected Prosecutor, Merchant plans a full review of all policies and procedures within the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office.  “As Prosecutor, I’ll make it clear from day one that prosecutorial misconduct will not be tolerated and those who violate those rules will be held accountable,” concluded Merchant. 
Duane Merchant is a veteran attorney with over 25 years of experience.  He served over two decades as a Marion County Deputy Prosecutor.  Duane has successfully prosecuted over 100 jury trials and well over a thousand court trials.  He has also served in many supervisory roles during his tenure at the Marion County Prosecutor’s office.
Schumm's blog post is well worth the read, which you can access here. He is equally as critical of the Supreme Court for failing to "expect at least as much of lawyers in the justice systems as it does [from non-lawyers]."  "The Indiana Supreme Court leads the State’s judicial system," Schumm wrote. "If it shows little or no concern about prosecutor misconduct, one cannot expect the Court of Appeals, the Disciplinary Commission, and others to care much either."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Indianapolis Man Kills First Wife And Released After Short Prison Sentence To Kill Second Wife

Tony Rashad Degrafreed
Tony Degrafreed was convicted of killing his first wife in 1994 and sentenced to about 30 years in prison. He served only 12 years of his sentence and managed to find another woman who would marry him. Today he is accused of killing his second wife, Rebecca Degrafreed, by stabbing her to death inside the couple's home on Laurel Hall Drive on Indianapolis' north side. He tried to stab his step-son as well before fleeing the home according to the arrest report. Police caught up with him about a half mile from the couple's home and took him into custody. How many lives will be lost from these repeat offenders before prosecutors and judges start getting serious about handing out sentences that match the crime?

Militarized Police State The Cost Of Preventing Violence In Downtown Indy During Summer Celebration

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Mayor Lil Greg showing off his bling for Black Expo's All White Party. Is that the Super Bowl ring he received as a gift thanks to the $50 million Indianapolis taxpayers spent hosting the 2012 Super Bowl? (Photo/Amos Brown)
Some folks are busy patting themselves on the backs for a lack of violence at this year's Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration. I arrived back in town late Saturday night after attending a wedding out-of-town. As I drove through the heart of downtown Indianapolis about 11:00 p.m., I found a frightening scene--a full-blown military police state in place with more uniformed police officers than visitors downtown and an army of police cruisers, tactical vehicles, mobile command centers and other toys of the police state lining the streets of downtown Indianapolis. There was nothing inviting about the scene; it was a place to be avoided at all costs. Downtown businesses most assuredly saw little business on what should be a bustling summer weekend but for this event taking place annually downtown. Taxpayers no doubt shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime pay to have nearly a third of the City's entire police force patrolling downtown at a time the administration claims it lacks funding to hire enough police officers to safely patrol the city. While the police were patrolling downtown, three men were shot in another shooting near 33rd Street and Washington Blvd. on the City's north side.

There's another event that takes place annually every June on the American Legion mall that draws more than 50,000 people crammed into one small area where alcohol is served and live stage music is performed. IMPD is so content that the gay revelers and their straight supporters who attend the Indy Pride Fest and Parade won't cause any crime-related problems that the department doesn't even bother to dispatch more than a handful of police officers to direct traffic in the area packed with residents and out-of-town visitors. Rarely are any arrests made during the event. The City of Indianapolis subsidizes the organization that sponsors Summer Celebration, which is chaired by Greg Wilson, a city employee in charge of doling out minority contracts for Mayor Ballard's administration, but Indy Pride has never received a single tax dollar as it continues to grow and contribute substantially to downtown tourism the weekend it is held annually. What's wrong with this picture, Mr. Mayor? If you're so concerned about building a vibrant downtown, why do you allow an event to be hosted annually that costs so much to patrol and causes visitors to avoid downtown like the plague?

Source: Criminal Defense Attorney Claims To Represent Multiple City Employees And Officials In Ongoing Federal Probe

Advance Indiana has learned from a reliable source something about an ongoing federal investigation of corruption within an Indiana municipality that is quite troubling. According to the source, FBI agents have been told by a prominent criminal defense attorney that they may not interview various city employees and officials with knowledge of matters under investigation without his consent and presence because the attorney supposedly has been retained to represent all of those employees and officials. If the source's information is accurate, it raises serious legal and ethical questions

First of all, a municipality cannot retain a criminal defense attorney to represent any municipal officials or employees in any ongoing criminal investigation arising out of their potential actions as officials or employees of the city. If you are under investigation for suspicion of committing a crime while carrying out your official acts as a public servant, you are responsible for hiring your own attorney, not the government. Secondly, joint representation of those city officials and employees by the same criminal defense attorney is only possible if each of those officials and employees retained the services of the criminal defense attorney and agreed to joint representation after being provided informed consent of the possibility that conflict of interests might arise during the course of the representation. Even if their consent to joint representation had been obtained, the attorney may still be barred from joint representation under the rules of professional conduct that govern the conduct of attorneys.

Rule 1.6 imposes an obligation on the part of the attorney to maintain the confidentiality of communications between the attorney and client. If one client reveals information that is detrimental to another, the attorney is faced with a conflict of interest that might compel him to withdraw his representation of one or both clients. Rule 1.7 further provides that a conflict of interest exists "if the representation of one client will be directly adverse to another client, or there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the lawyer's responsibilities to another client." In this particular case, the attorney's law firm has been retained by the city's mayor to provide various legal services on behalf of the city in the past and currently. Clearly, the law firm serves the city at the pleasure of the mayor and not any of the city's employees.

A recent 7th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision demonstrates how these rules can prohibit an attorney from representing criminal defendants even when the defendants have consented to joint representation. In U.S. v. Volpendesto et al.,  several defendants had been tried and convicted on numerous racketeering charges related to the operation of an illegal gambling business, as well as bombing and conspiracy to obstruct justice, among others. Prior to trial, government lawyers moved to disqualify one of the defendant's attorneys, Alex Salerno, because he had previously represented three of the defendant's co-defendants. The defendant, Mark Polchan, and two of his co-defendants waived any conflicts that may have arisen from Salerno's prior representation of them, while one of the co-defendants objected. Polchan retained co-counsel who would cross-examine the dissenting co-defendant and with whom Salerno offered assurances that he would provide no privileged information. The district court granted the government's motion to disqualify Salerno, observing that it "cannot know what information Salerno has learned from his previous client [Hay] that would be detrimental to that client in this case” and that “[c]ross-examination by an independent counsel would not safeguard against impermissible use of confidential information."

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed the district court's ruling disqualifying Salerno. The Court found that an actual conflict of interest existed, not merely the possibility that one might arise during trial. "Hay had already decided to cooperate with the government and testify against his co-defendants when the government moved to disqualify Salerno," the court reasoned. "And Salerno had represented Hay on closely related state charges, including charges that involved Polchan, where he might have obtained damaging evidence about Hay's credibility or his guilt." Salerno could not represent Polchan without breaching his ethical obligations to his former client the Court concluded. I would add that Polchan and one of his co-defendants, Michael Sarno, received what amounted to life sentences as a result of their convictions. Sarno represented the top spot in the criminal enterprise according to the facts recited in the case. The district court had noted that Salerno had been "less than forthcoming" about his prior representation of Sarno. Polchan received a 60-year sentence, while Sarno received a 25-year sentence.

In the case at hand, it seems unlikely that all of the persons the FBI would want to question in its ongoing investigation actually consented and paid for the attorney in question to represent them in its ongoing investigation. It is even more unlikely that most of the persons the FBI would want to question committed any crimes. My concern is that the tactic employed by the criminal defense attorney to block FBI agents from questioning various city employees and officials is more about protecting and obstructing an ongoing federal investigation of the mayor by preventing them from learning information from others with knowledge of the matters being investigated. It is unclear why the FBI would allow the attorney to make such an absurd claim as to represent all of the potential witnesses. The agency certainly doesn't have a reputation for being bullied by criminal defense attorneys. Those employees who want to cooperate and speak to federal investigators should seek their own independent counsel and not merely rely on the representation of an attorney who may not in represent their interests in the matter.

Ballard Administration Intentionally Exacerbates Funding For More Police To Force Tax Increase

In what can only be described as a deliberate act on the part of the Ballard administration to pressure the Indianapolis City-County Council into raising taxes to hire more police officers, the administration chose not to re-apply for a federal COPS grant for the next three fiscal years that would have funded 15 to 20 full-time additional police officers during that period. The administration told Fox 59 News that it didn't apply for the grant money because it would have been irresponsible to do so without enough money to pay for the positions when the grant money expires. In other words, the mayor has no intention of finding additional money to hire more cops unless the council passes a tax increase. Yet his administration has been relying for the past three years on a federal COPS to fund 50 full-time police officer positions. I don't recall Mayor Ballard saying that was irresponsible as he sought re-election in 2011 when he was boasting about reducing crime while honestly balancing the city's budget.

During the IMPD Staffing Commission deliberations, the Ballard administration repeatedly represented to the commission members that part of its future funding of police officers included applying for a new COPS grant. IMPD received full funding for 50 full-time positions the past three years despite the fact that the City did not actually use that money to hire additional police officers. In fact, the number of full-time police officers actually fell during that period. The Ballard administration used money it received from the COPS grant to pay for existing police officers. The Justice Department could have forced the City to repay that money since it failed to comply with the terms of the grant, but since the federal government just passes out money like candy, it chose not to penalize the City for failing to comply with the terms of the grant.

This latest news came as leaders of the local FOP flew out to Washington this past week to meet with members of Indiana's congressional delegation to plea for more federal dollars. The FOP claim without proof that the recent shooting deaths of two IMPD officers is to blame on too few police officers patrolling the streets.  “Somebody has got to do something, and just like I said it’s time for people to stop talking about it. I’m tired of talking about it, you’re tired of listening,” said FOP Prsesident Bill Owensby. Of course, Owensby could care less whether any additional funding is used to hire more police officers. His organization didn't start clamoring for a tax increase to support funding for more police officers until it became apparent that promised pay increases for police couldn't be funded. Police received generous pay raises following the enactment of the 65% increase in the local income tax dubbed the public safety tax in 2007 that was supposed to fund at least 100 additional police officers. The FOP never complained then about officer safety when the money from the tax increase wasn't used to hire more police officers as promised to the public.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

New York Cops Kill Unarmed Man As Onlookers Watch And Record

New York Police have a public image crisis on their hands after a video goes viral on the Internet of several officers forcibly taking an unarmed, 350-pound man with health issues into custody leads to his death. Police claimed he was illegally selling cigarettes on Staten Island by hawking Lucky cigarettes for 50 cents a piece. One police officer placed the 43-year Eric Garner in a chokehold as others assisted in wrestling him to the ground. The man repeatedly tells officers he couldn't breath, but they persisted until he laid motionless. He was later declared dead after being transported to a hospital.

Two officers have been placed on desk duty pending an investigation according to the New York Daily News. One of the officers, Daniel Pantaleo, is already the subject of two lawsuits brought by African Americans in which he was accused of false arrest. One of those lawsuits has been settled for $15,000 where he was accused of forcibly stripping two men in public so they could be searched. Charges against the two men were later dropped. In another suit, Pantaleo, is accused of trumping up charges against a man in Brooklyn who was held in a jail for a day. New York's Mayor Bill de Blasio postponed his scheduled vacation to Italy to deal with the crisis.

Police Commissioner William Bratton conceded at a press conference that the video appeared to show a police officer placing Garner in a chokehold, a maneuver that was banned by the New York Police Department more than 20 years ago. According to family members, Garners suffered from asthma, sleep apnea and diabetes. He couldn't walk a block without having to sit down to take a rest they said.

Friday, July 18, 2014

IMPD: New Roving Covert SWAT Team Here To Stay

If you thought it was something out of the ordinary earlier this week when an IMPD SWAT team was immediately on the scene as an 18-year old with a lengthy criminal record began firing on another car to take him out, you were right. IMPD tells the Star's Jill Disis that it is a new covert SWAT team established to covertly track the City's most violent offenders.
The gunfire was over almost as soon as it started.
One minute, the man was talking with people inside a red car.
The next, police said, he began shooting — prompting two officers to jump from an unmarked police car nearby, guns at the ready.
When the man didn’t comply with ­police commands, the officers fired.
Suspect down. Incident over.
The operation early Tuesday in the 1300 block of West Pruitt Street wasn’t like others the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department has conducted in the past. This time, the responding officers were not from the department’s ­patrol units.
They were members of IMPD’s new full-time SWAT force — a tactical change that is here to stay, Chief Rick Hite said.
“It’s a more direct approach to support the mission of the district commanders in each of the districts they’re assigned to,” Hite said. “They’re targeting those violent offenders in those areas where we have violent crime.”
In the past, the city’s SWAT team operated on a callout basis, suiting up specifically to deal with dangerous situations such as crowd violence or armed suspects barricaded inside buildings.  
The full-time SWAT team, with about a dozen members, has a different mission: to seek out and neutralize violent offenders . . .
Because this SWAT team is operating under cover, the SWAT team members ride in unmarked cars and are not wearing uniforms.  The covert SWAT team was operating in this particular area on that given night because of reports of shots being fired in recent days. Disis' report says that full-time SWAT teams of this sort are out of the ordinary in police departments across the country, but they are "a staple in some of the nation's biggest cities, such as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles." Her report notes that such efforts have been criticized by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, which argues that some police departments are becoming too militarized and adopt a "warrior mentality," seeing the people they serve as the enemy. It looks like there's no need for any Paul Kerseys in Indianapolis as long as this SWAT team is here to stay.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Beware: False Flags Will Attack

Virtually every war in modern times has been started by false flag attacks. The supposed shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 by a missile in flight between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur in the Ukraine very close to the Russian border is a bit too convenient for the agenda pursued by the permanent war industry folks. The talking head experts are already conflating this event as a Russian-caused tragedy in an energy-rich area where the West has been itching to start another regional war. Naturally, CNN had an expert on hand, Tom Foreman, with a virtual replica of a Russian-made BUK missile launcher rolled into the studio from a warehouse on the back lot for today's breaking news story that is being fingered as the likely weapon used to down an the airliner with 280 passengers and 15 crew members, reportedly including 23 Americans.

The plane supposedly shot down today was not only from the same airline involved in the missing Flight 370 that took off from Kuala Lumpur enroute to Beijing last April when it disappeared without a trace, but also the same Boeing 777 model. This comical prank call to MSNBC's Krystal Ball from a Howard Stern fan posing as a U.S. staff sergeant stationed at the American embassy claiming to have witnessed the missile shooting down the plane is all the proof you need that you simply cannot believe the crap the mainstream media feeds to you every time one of these events occurs, which coincided with Israel launching a ground offensive into the Gaza region.

If this plane was blown out of the sky at 33,000 feet by a missile launched by Russian-backed rebels, if not the Russians themselves, as reported, how is their video footage of an explosion and a large plume of smoke on the ground without any visible trail of smoke in the sky where the missile impacted the plane and would have blown it into pieces before hitting the ground? And never forget that whistle blowers in the investigation of the crashed TWA Flight 800, which occurred 18 years ago today, insisted that the FBI manufactured a story to cover up the true cause of the downing of that airliner. Remember a fact the mainstream media will not report. Every Boeing aircraft is equipped with an uninterruptible autopilot system that allows the aircraft to be remotely piloted without any action on the part of the plane's crew that prevents the crew from controlling any aspect of the aircraft once that system is turned on.

UPDATE: Check out the photo of dozens of perfectly intact passports being found at the crash site. Not credible unless your eyes are wide shut. I'll spare you the images of the intact, uncharred bodies popping up on the Internet that were found in the wreckage that was totally consumed by intense flames from the explosion. Again, not credible. I'm assuming this was a staged event until proven otherwise.

There's also evidence that the smoking gun evidence produced by the Ukranian government in the form of alleged evidence showing a rebel leader talking to a Russian commander about the successful shooting down of the airliner was produced the day before the actual downing of the airplane. Questions are also being raised about why the airplane diverted from its normal flight path route to take it over the war-torn region of Ukraine.