Sunday, March 15, 2009

Potential Conflicts Abound In OmniSource Investigation

Last month, federal, state and local law enforcement officials raided six scrap metal sites operated by OmniSource based on allegations the scrap metal operator knowingly purchased stolen goods. The big news in the raids came from the disclosure that more than 50 off-duty IMPD officers provided security services for the firm, including an officer in charge of the police department's scrap metal theft investigations unit, Det. Jason Prendergast. The disclosure of these inherent conflicts of interest that existed as a result of these police officers off-duty work led Mayor Greg Ballard, Public Safety Director Scott Newman and IMPD Chief Michael Spears to announce a number of changes in its policies for off-duty work. A new discovery, however, raises concerns about potential conflicts of interest in the ongoing investigation of OmniSource.

Advance Indiana has learned that OmniSource is represented in the investigation by Barnes & Thornburg's Larry Mackey. Mackey specializes in white collar crime defense and complex litigation. He is best known for prosecuting the government's case against Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Mackey's representation of OmniSource raises a number of concerns. Barnes & Thornburg currently represents the City of Indianapolis and various agencies of the City-County government. The firm also represents the Marion County Prosecutor's Office and the Marion Superior Courts. Further, the firm's managing partner, Bob Grand, and another partner, Joe Loftus, attend weekly senior staff meetings conducted by Mayor Greg Ballard in their capacity of providing legal advice to him according to the Indianapolis Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy.

The potential for conflict of interest in Barnes & Thornburg's representation of OmniSource is heightened by the fact that Public Safety Director Scott Newman formerly worked as a partner at the law firm after he left the Marion County Prosecutor's Office. His successor, Carl Brizzi, relies on the firm for legal representation in lobbying matters before the Indiana General Assembly. Further, another attorney employed by the firm, Ryan Vaughn, is a City-County Councilor who chairs the Public Safety Committee through which substantive and budgetary matters affecting the police department and the prosecutor's office must pass before becoming law. The Committee also provides an oversight role for the council respecting various public safety agencies, including IMPD and the prosecutor's office.

It goes without saying that a Barnes & Thornburg attorney presently has access and influence within city-county government unrivaled by any other law firm in town, particularly on matters involving public safety. The concern here is the potential for undue influence being brought to bear in the OmniSource investigation. Scott Newman, Carl Brizzi and Ryan Vaughn will all be called upon in carrying out their public duties to keep in check these influences and to ensure the public a fair investigation of this matter. A 2008 University of Indianapolis study estimated that metal thefts in Marion County amount to $1 million each month, averaging about 200 metal thefts per month. This issue is simply too big to be swept under the rug.

1 comment:

artfuggins said...

How long is Ryan Vaughn going to be untouched in all of this...maybe we meed to start calling him Teflon Ryan!