Sunday, May 10, 2009

Good Cops Giving Up On Justice In Scrap Metal Theft Investigation

The good cops at IMPD gave it their best shot. They helped uncover the fact that off-duty police officers working for a scrap metal giant, OmniSource, had been working on the investigation of scrap metal thefts in Indianapolis as part of their day job. They learned that those same cops were working undercover to bust competitors of OmniSource for purchasing stolen metal products. Some of those competitors have gone to jail. Others await trial. Despite having more than 50 off-duty IMPD officers working at its scrap yards, the good cops learned that OmniSource did not have clean hands.

While local news media ignored key details of the investigation, Platts Steel Market Daily, a trade publication, did not. Platts reported that police recovered "folders on how to avoid anti-trust violations." The Platts report indicated that undercover police officers pretending to be auto thieves were able to sell items to OmniSource which had been altered to appear stolen. Platts also reported that OmniSource allegedly "wanted to target their competitors while employing [IMPD] officers." At the same time, Platts reported that "nothing of enforcement appeared to be happening at their yards."

The Platts' report was only the tip of the iceberg of what an IMPD investigation uncovered during its investigation of OmniSource according to a source close to the investigation. Four days before IMPD executed search warrants on OmniSource's scrap yards in Indianapolis in February, 2009, investigators learned that an OmniSource scrap yard in Marion County purchased 45,204 pounds of stolen lead ingots valued at $40,000. The lead has been purchased by Johnson Company, an Indianapolis-based company, from Gopher Resources, a Michigan company. The lead was supposed to be transported by Freight Master. Investigators learned that a Freight Master supervisor had noticed that the shipment was still on their lot and was long over due to be delivered to Johnson Company. The Freight Master driver, who apparently believed the shipment was so long over due that no one would miss it, took the load of lead to one of the OmniSource locations to sell it. At the OmniSource location in question, the driver presented a shipping receipt clearly stating that the shipment was purchased from Gopher and was to be delivered to Johnson. Because the driver was using a Freight Master truck, OmniSource cut a check for $8,100 for the $40,000 shipment to Freight Master.

What investigators say happened next is extraordinary. The Freight Master driver allegedly told the OmniSource employee to make the check out to him personally. Shockingly, the OmniSource employee is alleged to have done just that. By the time investigators served search warrants on all OmniSource locations in Indianapolis four days later for receiving stolen property, the stolen lead shipment had been moved to OmniSource's Ft. Wayne facility. The day after police served search warrants on OmniSource, all of the information, including pictures and copies of the shipping receipt and check written directly to the driver, was forwarded through the company's chain of command to the company's vice president in Ft. Wayne. Despite being made aware by this point of the stolen lead purchase, the vice president failed to notify police of the purchase or file a police report concerning the stolen lead. Instead, the vice president sent all of the information back down the chain of command to the company's head of security with a cryptic note, “FYI”.

The head of OmniSource's security also failed to make a police report. Instead, the security chief for the company allegedly told Johnson Company personnel that he could not make a police report because OmniSource was not "a victim." Unbelievably, the head of OmniSource's security allegedly told Johnson Company personnel that the company could not get back their shipment until OmniSource had been paid the $8,100 it had paid for the obviously stolen property. Later, as pressure on OmniSource picked up, the company reportedly allowed Johnson Company to pick up the lead shipment order without paying the $8,100. OmniSource reportedly fired the employee who purchased the stolen lead; however, a source close to the investigation says investigators believe OmniSource has a history of moving employees who commit these types of violations to another location instead of firing them. Bear in mind that all of these activities occurred undetected while your police officers were working within the company's scrap yards.

Despite the indisputable paper trail investigators gathered, Public Safety Director Scott Newman gave OmniSource and IMPD officers employed off duty by the company a clean bill of health recently. "OmniSource has been charged with no crime," he said. "No police officer has been charged or even indicated to be a target of an investigation," Newman continued at the Mayor's Night Out in Lawrence on April 21. One high-ranking officer, Major David Allender, has been relieved of his duties as the North District Commander as a consequence of the investigation, and the more than 50 police officers who had been working off duty for OmniSource have been barred from doing further work for the company.

At the Mayor's Night meeting in Lawrence, an audience member asked Newman about Allender and the OmniSource investigation. Newman had nothing but praise for Allender, whom he continued to address as a "Major" despite his own announcement earlier that he had been busted to the rank of captain. Newman described Allender's wrong-doing as a "minor slip up." He was guilty of the sin of "first fruits" as Newman described it. Newman explained that Allender had been giving priority to the assignment of officers assigned to his beat to OmniSource off-duty work as opposed to work for the public they are charged with protecting. Newman described Allender as "a very talented police officer" who he has known for many years. He said Allender would be an important part of IMPD for many years to come.

While Newman was busy patting Allender on the back, the good guys within IMPD find themselves under attack for doing the people's business. Shortly after the OmniSource search warrants were issued, the company hired high profile criminal defense attorney Larry Mackey, a partner at Barnes & Thornburg, the same law firm that previously employed Newman as a partner. Mackey, who is also a close friend of Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi and has served as Brizzi's campaign chairman, wasted no time in throwing his perceived clout around. Mackey fired off a letter to Brizzi and Newman complaining about a lead police investigator doing what police do in these high profile investigations--share information with the public through reporters about what the investigation has uncovered. For this unforgivable sin, Mackey called on Brizzi and Newman to take disciplinary action against the police officer, if not his out right termination. Although the officer has not been disciplined, the investigation ground to a halt according to a source. A plan to have another high profile attorney, Greg Garrison, file a civil RICO action against OmniSource to recover money misspent on police resources used by OmniSource in furtherance of its own interests has been axed according to the source. Investigators were further disheartened when Mackey showed up as a guest on Brizzi's radio talk show on WIBC during which Brizzi was gushing in his admiration of Mackey.

The problem of stolen scrap metal in Indianapolis cannot be understated. A 2008 study by the University of Indianapolis found that more than 200 thefts a month occur, amounting to monthly losses of $1 million. News that the fruits of the biggest investigation of scrap metal thefts in the city's history are winding up on the trash heap is truly disappointing. Whose side are Scott Newman and Carl Brizzi on, anyway? It's no wonder that so many good cops leave the ranks of service when corruption within is treated with kid gloves by the men at the top.


Unigov said...

With that much money floating around, Occam's razor indicates that the investigation was dropped because the right people got what they wanted.

Sure, there's other possibilities, but none makes as much sense.

Americans foolishly think our country is fair and honest, compared to, say, Mexico. Uh, no.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Terrific job bringing this to light, Gary. I don't know what it will take to get Carl Brizzi to do his job. If he's not going to do his job, he needs to resign and let us find someone who will. It's shameful that you can just hire a Barnes & Thornburg attorney, a friend of Brizzi, and any possible prosecution goes away.

jabberdoodle said...

I thought the Feds were investigating this???