Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Brizzi Passes On Prosecuting Local DJs In "Dine & Dash" Case
"What a nightmare . . . I can't have those guys talking bad about me during an election year." That alleged statement by Prosecutor Carl Brizzi responding to a question from a police officer about a pending case of two local disc jockeys who dined at the Red Eye Cafe and then skipped out on a tab for $42.08 and his office's decision not to prosecute the DJ's has the Indiana Lawyer asking questions about Brizzi's prosecutorial discretion in a front-page story this week.
According to the IL's Abigail Johnson, WNOU (Radio Now 93.1) DJs Marco and Super Phat Mikey, who host the Morning Mess, allegedly dined at the Red Eye Cafe in downtown Indianapolis at about 2:30 a.m. on March 4 and then walked out on waiter Clint Setser without paying their tab. The waiter assumed the two inadvertently left without paying the bill, but the cafe's owners Rich Bucheri and Don Poynter soon began to think otherwise. Setser left a note for the two with security guards at the Emmis Communications headquarters on Monument Circle, along with the bill. A few days later, Johnson reports that Setser received a 4:00 a.m. call from people claiming to be on the station's morning show, trying to get Setser to appear on the show in order to be paid. That's when he decided to pursue criminal action.
A police officer investigating the alleged crime, IPD Detective Skye Griffin, discovered that a blog operated by one of the DJs mentioned that the "dine-and-dash" episode had been discussed on the air one morning. At one point, Griffin planned to arrest the two after their shift on-air was completed after deciding against arresting them on-air. But Mike Price, a community prosecutor, later told Griffin not to move forward with the case until further notice Johnson reported. Griffin is quoted as telling Johnson, "Normally, I send all my cases to Mike and he handles them, files or not files them." "The only other time I started to file a case with him that was taken away was an A-felony kidnapping case," Griffin said. Griffin found the prosecutor's handling of the case highly unusual.
Apparently Lisa Borges, chief trial deputy for the prosecutor's office is falling on the sword. She tells Johnson that she made the charging decision. Borges said she was bothered because police didn't know the two DJs full-names, only their on-air names. "Borges also said there was some dispute about whether the DJs had intentionally ditched the bill or whether the unpaid bill was an oversight, " Johnson wrote. She adds, "Borges said she wanted to have a solid case before arresting the DJs--getting it wrong in a case with such public figures could have consequences." AI thinks she means political consequences to her boss' re-election. Anyway, Borges tells Johnson the station is known for doing things for "shock value" and she thought this one fit into that category.
Brizzi is sticking by Borges' story. "Absolutely not," he said. "That decision was made by my chief trial deputy, not by me." But he told Johnson he supported Borges' decision, and he felt the case did warrant the "heightened level of scrutiny" it was given. Brizzi also insists he never learned of the case until after Borges had already made her decision. Interestingly, when WRTV began an investigation into the alleged incident, the tab got paid. That's because Brizzi, after being questioned by a WRTV reporter, "personally called management at Emmis to tell them to take care of the bill" Johnson reports.
Rich Bucheri, a co-owner of the Red Eye Cafe, is also defense attorney. He told Johnson the restaurant experienced an uptick in "dine-and-dash" incidents at the restaurant following the on-air discussion about the prank.
Like it or not, Brizzi's opponent, Melina Kennedy, is likely to make sure this story has political consequences. Following an earlier decision by his office to reduce serious drunken driving charges against Nancy Irsay, this further adds to the impression that there are two criminal justice systems--one of which looks with favor on the rich and influential.
Incidentally, if anyone thinks the Indiana Lawyer might have run this story for political reasons, bear in mind that the newspaper is owned and controlled by Mickey Maurer, Gov. Mitch Daniels' top economic development guy.