Carter earned the respect of many locals for his vote fraud investigation in Lake County and his civil racketeering lawsuit against former East Chicago Mayor Robert Pastrick and associates. Zoeller, Carter's chief deputy, has touted his experience in those investigations and promised to actively pursue them.
Costas' connection to the law firm Burke Costanza & Cuppy LLP, where he is an "of counsel" attorney, has privately left some local Republicans with reservations.
The firm worked extensively for the city of East Chicago during Pastrick's administration, and Burke attorneys defended two men named along with Pastrick in the civil racketeering case. Interviewed earlier this month, Costas said he is not familiar enough with the RICO case to say how he might proceed with it, if elected.
Costas' fuzziness on the details of the Pastrick prosecution gave Zoeller pause.
"Frankly, I wouldn't think it would become too hard to get familiar with the case if it's in your firm. I would be willing to provide him with (a copy)," Zoeller said recently.
But Williams said Costas' lifetime in Lake County has steeled him to fight corruption.
"He grew up in Gary, and moved away from there," Williams said. "He knows firsthand about bad government and good government, and he's ready to step in and do what needs to be done to combat government fraud."
As an attorney, I know it is unfair to attribute the wrongdoings of a client to an attorney or his law firm. I, too, once worked for a law firm which represented East Chicago. Costas should not be painted with the brush of Lake County corruption simply because his law firm defends individuals accused of political corruption in Lake County. What makes Byrne's observation intriguing, however, is a reason I've heard from several sources as to why several of the state's largest law firms are backing Costas over Zoeller. These firms are said to be unhappy with Steve Carter's office for pursuing a RICO action for the past several years against high-ranking East Chicago officials. I'm told they fear Zoeller will continue the litigation strategies started by Carter for combating public corruption if he succeeds him to the office.
In 2004, Attorney General Steve Carter filed federal and state RICO charges against high-ranking East Chicago public officials seeking to recoup for taxpayers millions of dollars city officials unlawfully used to pay for work on public and private property. A press release from Carter's office explained the action:
Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter announced today efforts to recoup millions of public dollars East Chicago city officials used to pay for concrete work on private property. Carter has filed civil federal and state RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization) charges against 27 individuals and contractors, including East Chicago Mayor Robert Pastrick.
“Our investigation has uncovered a serpentine maze that took an incredible amount of energy and time to unravel,” Attorney General Steve Carter said. “We have found an orchestrated plan that was obvious in its intent and corrupt to its core. We are breaking the maze down and tearing apart the wall of deceit that was used to manipulate city resources for purely personal gain.”
The lawsuit maintains that public officials and contractors corrupted East Chicago city government as an enterprise for personal gain. Twenty-seven defendants are named in the lawsuit and are being pursued to repay $3.1 million to the City. Carter has filed the lawsuit on behalf of the citizens of the State of Indiana and the citizens of the City of East Chicago.
Last week, the Attorney General's office announced that a settlement had been reached with four defendants in the East Chicago RICO, who agreed to cooperate with investigators in the case against other defendants. The Gary Post-Tribune reported:
Attorney General Steve Carter -- who filed a civil lawsuit alleging former mayor Robert A. Pastrick and 28 co-defendants ran city government as a "criminal enterprise" -- has settled out of court with former city councilman Adrian Santos, financial director George Weems, general services director Frank Miskowski and the contracting firm TRI Inc . . .
Miskowski and Weems will pay $10,000 to settle the case in which -- as members of the city Board of Public Works -- they approved payments for the paving project. TRI Inc., one of the contractors paid for work done as part of the paving program, will pay $2,500.
Santos, who was sentenced to prison time and $24 million in restitution in a federal criminal prosecution, was not required to pay a settlement.
As a Republican, it is inexplicable to me why any Republican or reputable law firm would be unhappy with what Carter's office has been doing to root out corruption in Lake County. Yet, this RICO case seems to be a driving force behind some big law firms pushing Costas' election so hard. Even Secretary of State Todd Rokita, who hails from Lake County and has worked side by side with Carter in combating vote fraud in Lake County, has joined these powerful law firms in backing Costas over Zoeller. The interwoven ties of these firms with Lake County politicians and certain business interests have made changing the guard at the Attorney General's Office a top priority. Whether Costas is sympathetic to the corrupt pols his law firm represents is irrelevant at this point. The people who back his campaign want to rein in the role of the AG's office in combating these people and their public corruption. That alone is enough to give me pause about what his election to the office would mean.