Saturday, December 19, 2009

Brizzi Wants To Be Donald Trump Too

He's supposed to be the full-time prosecutor of our state's largest county. In recent weeks, we've learned about Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi's penchant for following the stock investments of alleged Ponzi scheme perpetrator, Tim Durham, his largest campaign contributor, ala Martha Stewart. Now it emerges that Brizzi has been busy trying to become the next Donald Trump in the world of real estate investment with another political insider, John Bales.

Advance Indiana first made a financial connection between Brizzi and real estate developer John Bales more than a year ago when I disclosed Brizzi's participation in a proposed $30 million real estate venture headed by Bales that intended to buy up distressed properties in Florida's one booming real estate market. At that time, controversy erupted over the Ballard administration's decision to award a no-bid contract to Bales to help dispose of "surplus" park lands. Last week, Advance Indiana exclusively reported on Brizzi's investment in another Bales real estate venture, Curtailing Investments, LLC. Borrowing heavily on my original reporting (without attribution, of course), the IBJ's Cory Schouten uncovers more real estate investments by Brizzi since he became prosecutor seven years ago, mostly involving deals with Bales. One of Bales' companies initiated a deal that landed a lease for the office building where the prosecutor's office leases 72,000 square feet.

Brizzi first made news with his investments while in office two years ago when he emerged as one of five investors in Harry & Izzy's, a new restaurant chain launched by the owners of St. Elmos steakhouse, along with the Colts' superstar quarterback, Peyton Manning. Although Brizzi is barred under Indiana law from holding an interest in a liquor license because he is a law enforcement officer, he got around the bar on his 10% ownership stake in Harry & Izzy's that was raised by the state's ATC by getting an opinion letter from his friends in the state's Attorney General's office that carved out an exception for him.

While the Harry & Izzy's story garnered public attention, Brizzi's other real estate investments have largely gone unnoticed until now. According to Schouten's story today in the IBJ, Brizzi invested in the development of a Key Bank branch in Broad Ripple in 2005 as part of his investment in Curtaiing Investments, and he took an ownership interest in an office building in Elkhart, Indiana, which recently received a lucrative state contract to lease most of the space in that building for the state's Department of Children Services. Brizzi also considered buying an interest in property that is home to the Cafe Patachou restaurant at 49th Street and Penn earlier this year. Neither Brizzi nor Bales would return calls from the IBJ seeking comment from them on their real estate investments.

Schouten's story raises questions about whether Bales and Brizzi received a sweetheart deal from the state on the lease of the Elkhart property. Brizzi disclosed on his federal disclosure statement he filed earlier this year when he briefly considered a bid for U.S. Rep. Dan Burton's fifth district seat an interest in L & BAB LLC, owner of the Elkhart real estate, that’s worth $50,000 to $100,000. "One such building is at 1659 Mishawaka St. in Elkhart, where the Department of Child Services agreed in July 2008 to lease 13,000 square feet for $19.12 per square foot, or $248,500, per year," Schouten writes. "It’s one of the highest per-square-foot rates for a state agency, and well above the $6-$10 range for available Elkhart office space listed on LoopNet," he continues. "Other state agencies pay less for space in downtown Indianapolis." Unbelievable. We're paying more to rent real estate space in economically-depressed Elkhart than we are in downtown Indianapolis?

Brizzi also borrowed $325,000 in 2004 to invest in a couple of condominiums at a Broad Ripple condo project known as The Reserve. That project was developed by Bales, Steve Pittman and Barnes & Thornburg's Ben Pecar. Pecar, incidentally, was involved in that Florida real estate venture with Bales and Brizzi as well. It looks like Brizzi was able to flip both of those condos for a quick profit. He made $24,000 on one of the units he sold in 2006 according to Schouten. Brizzi owns a stake in two other companies, Vergina, LLC and CJB Management, LLC, according to Schouten, although I believe they may be one and the same, the latter being the name to which he changed the former, which appears to carry a sexual connotation.

So the question becomes: How can Carl Brizzi afford all of these investments on his $125,000 a year salary as a prosecutor, not to mention his stock portfolio? According to his divorce documents, he and his ex-wife owned three homes together, each with first and second mortgages. Brizzi is paying $1,000 a month in child support to his ex-wife for the couple's four children. Ironically, an ethics expert tells Schouten that it does not appear that any of Brizzi's investments violated the City of Indianapolis' ethics ordinances. Actually, Brizzi is considered a state officer. That is why he files a financial disclosure statement with the State of Indiana and not the City of Indianapolis. A tough federal prosecutor would likely find plenty of legal wrong with what has been publicly disclosed to date about Brizzi's investments. If this were Chicago instead of Indianapolis, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald would have already convened a grand jury and began issuing subpoenas to investigate Brizzi. But we have interim U.S. Attorney Tim Morrison, the guy who inexplicably unfroze Durham's assets days after filing a forfeiture action in the U.S. district court in Indianapolis.

I'd rather not sit around and wait so see what happens to Brizzi. I will once again renew my call as an elected Republican precinct committeeman for Brizzi to resign his office immediately so we can appoint someone to clean up his tarnished office, and to run for election to his office next year.


I know said...

AMEN, Gary!

You have no idea what a home run you have hit, especially the referral to a Donald Trump.

I sincerely hope the mess Brizzi knows about with the previous Casino messes and real estate issues in Southern Indiana now starts the push out into the sunlight. Brizzi knows, his staff knows and the Governor knows.

Keep on chucking the will all come out!!!!!!

Mike Kole said...

I'm amazed at the webs you untangle. I'm amazed at the webs themselves, but your work is fantastic. Keep it up.