Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Southport Mayor Haunted By Past
Southport Mayor Robin Thoman is being haunted by something that happened when he was dabbling in student government politics as a pre-med student at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs 28 years ago. Thoman, then 25, was charged in 1981 with felony theft and embezzlement of public monies for allegedly falsifying travel vouchers and time cards. Thoman was also accused of coercing a student government worker to kickback overtime pay the worker earned to him. The student senate voted to impeach Thoman. In the criminal matter, Thoman pleaded nolo contendere (no admission of guilt) to two counts for felony theft and a misdemeanor theft. A judge sentenced him to 30 days in jail with a 60-day suspended sentence and ordered him to pay restitution; however, the court deferred his sentencing and judgment. Later, the court dismissed the charges against him. In 1999, Thoman successfully petitioned the court to seal his court records.
Tonight, Fox59's Russ McQuaid explored allegations that Thoman, who is also an Indianapolis dentist, lied on his dental license application. Specifically, McQuaid questioned Thoman as to why he answered no to the following question: "Have you ever been convicted of, pled guilty or nolo contendere to any offense, misdemeanor, or felony in any state (except for violation of traffic fines resulting in fines?)" He also questioned him about failing to disclose his military service in the Army Medic Corps on his application. A state licensing official told McQuaid that Thoman should have disclosed both on his application. It is unclear whether any licensing action against him will occur because of these omissions. McQuaid reports that a complaint has been filed with the Attorney General's Office, which will investigate the charges.
I spoke to Thoman this past weekend about the charges after the documents McQuaid relied upon for his report began circulating via e-mails. Thoman answered my questions very calmly and candidly. He said the allegations are not new. He said the old news stories from Colorado surfaced during his first run for office in 2003 and resurfaced again two years ago. He said he was told a grand jury looked into the allegations and decided no laws had been violated. Thoman blames the latest charges on his troubles with political opponents upset over his handling of Southport police officers, who resigned in protest recently, and haggling over the city's budget with city council members. Thoman said he relied upon the advice of counsel in completing his dental application. He believed that because the charges against him were ultimately dismissed that he didn't need to disclose them on his application. Thoman conceded in his interview with McQuaid that he left the Army with less than an honorable discharge.
I discussed with Thoman, who also serves as team dentist for the Indiana Pacers according to his website, whether the disqualification statute for candidates for public office applied to him. He said he was advised by counsel that it did not apply to him, and he urged me to look closely at the final disposition of his criminal case in Colorado. When I attempted to conduct an online search of those records, I received a response that indicated there were no criminal records on file for Thoman. Someone later e-mailed me what are purportedly sealed records, which indicated that Thoman had successfully sealed the records in 1999. Indeed, the charges to which Thoman pleaded nolo contendere were eventually dismissed by the court. It is my conclusion that Thoman was not disqualified from running for office under Indiana law. Even if the disqualification statute applied to him, it is unclear that anything could be done about it at this point because he's already assumed office. There are procedures for removing someone from office who is convicted of certain felony offenses while in office, but there is no law governing what happens if someone is elected to office and a past criminal offense is discovered.
The news stories from Colorado in 1981 are very damning to Thoman. He insists that it is important that people not judge him based upon the past charges against him and the news coverage, noting the charges were ultimately dismissed. He said a college friend of his got into trouble and made false allegations against him to take Thoman down with him. He denies the student senate impeached him, the news stories notwithstanding. He said he resigned his position as student body president. The total amount of the misspent funds was less than $500. The university decided in the wake of the scandal that all future student government expenditures would be approved in advance by the dean of student life according to the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph report at the time. Admininstrators had supervised all expenditures until seven months prior to the incident with Thoman. "It was a noble experiment that failed," said then-Chancellor Richard Gazewski.