FOX 59 News' Russ McQuaid has an exclusive story on a new probe the FBI has launched into influence peddling in the Marion County Prosecutor's Office. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, who is already under suspicion for his ties to alleged Ponzi scheme operator Timothy Durham, is the focus of the probe along with his chief deputy, David Wyser, who is running for Hamilton Co. Prosecutor. Allegations center around a case where a millionaire Indianapolis businessman contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the campaigns of Brizzi and Wyser before the two prosecutors agreed to a modified sentence for a convicted murderer who had served only 18 years of a 110-year sentence for being found guilty of hiring a hit man to kill her husband. The convicted murderer's father made the large contributions to Brizzi and Wyser. Those tainted contributions were returned to the murderer's father within the last few days as this probe heated up. Hats off to former Marion Co. Judge Gary Miller, a Republican, for having the courage and conviction to speak out against Brizzi's and Wyser's conduct in this matter. Russ McQuaid reports:
The FBI inquiries come in the wake of a high profile raid by federal agents in November at the offices of financier Tim Durham on Monument Circle. Durham is a close friend and campaign supporter of Brizzi, donating nearly $200,000 to the prosecutor's re-election campaign in 2006.
An attorney for Brizzi, Tom Collignon, told Fox 59 News that it would be, "a leap of faith," to construe an FBI inquiry as an investigation.
Word of the FBI inquiry comes as Fox 59 News has uncovered a pattern of campaign donations to both Brizzi and his Chief Trial Deputy David Wyser at the time when the prosecutor's office was signing off on a motion to reduce the prison time of a woman originally sentenced to 110 years for the murder of her husband.
Paula Epperly Willoughby was convicted in the killing of her husband Darrell in 1991. After just 18 years in prison, Epperly Willoughby's sentenced was modified to time served.
"I was outraged," said former judge Gary Miller who presided over the trial. "I thought it was absolutely ridiculous for anybody to think that was an appropriate way to modify a sentence in this case."
Wyser said he agreed to the modification due to rehabilitation and family concerns.
"It was the right thing to do. It was based upon the merits. I would do it again."
Paula Epperly Willoughby's father is Harrison Epperly, a millionaire real estate magnet with property in downtown Indianapolis. From 2006 through 2008, Epperly donated $29,000 to the Brizzi campaign. $20,000 was donated the weekend before Brizzi's budget busting re-election in 2006. Those were the years his daughter's attorney was negotiating with Brizzi's office for a sentence modification.
"In April of 2009 Miss Lukemeyer and I drafted an order for the court modifying her sentence," said Wyser.
On May 29, 2009, less than a month before Epperly Willoughby's motion for reducing her sentence would be filed with the court, Harrison Epperly donated $2500 to Wyser's campaign for Hamilton County prosecutor.
"I understand the timing may not look good to some people," said Wyser. "It depends on how you want to put a spin on it."
Epperly Willoughby was released from the Indiana Women's Prison in early July. On August 25th her attorney Jennifer Lukemeyer sponsored a fundraiser for Wyser at her downtown Indianapolis condominium. Wyser raised $2250 that night. In a statement to Fox 59 News Lukemeyer said the Wyser fundraiser, "is not a story as far as it relates to Paula."
Wyser and Brizzi told Fox 59 News that in the last week they have returned the donations to Epperly and his company EMPS LLC. The decision to return the money coincided when word of the Fox 59 investigation leaked through the city's legal community.
At this time there is no investigation by any legal authorities into the circumstances surrounding Paula Epperly Willoughby's early release from prison.