Thursday, September 08, 2011

Did Plowman Have The Juice?

After listening to hours of testimony from the government's key witness in the extortion and bribery case against former Indianapolis City-County Councilor and IMPD Major Lincoln Plowman and having poured over hundreds of pages of transcribed conversations between the undercover agent and Plowman, a picture emerges of a man inflating his own power and influence in hopes of making a quick buck while indulging in a lifestyle centered around kicking back with his friends and hanging out in strip clubs. For an undercover agent adept at playing the role of sleazy adult club owner, Plowman was easy prey. Getting Plowman to the point where he accepted $5,000 cash from the undercover was a piece of cake. Whether Plowman had the juice to provide any meaningful assistance in helping the out-of-state developer win zoning approval for his strip club is a debatable subject.

From his earliest conversations with special agent Aysta, Plowman attempted to create a persona of a man who controlled zoning in Indianapolis. "I am in control of zoning," he boasted on more than one occasion to Aysta. But when it come to implementing a plan to make things happen, Plowman comes up a bit short. Agent Aysta had numerous telephone conversations with Plowman after their first meeting on August 11, 2009 where it became all too apparent that Plowman had accomplished absolutely nothing in furtherance of helping the faux strip club owner get plans rolling on a strip club in Indianapolis. Aysta jump started things by identifying the Chateau Thomas Winery building in downtown Indianapolis near the Slippery Noodle as a potential site. The agent learned the building's owner was desperate to sell the property and move to Europe. It's location, size and available parking made it a perfect location for the parameters set out by Aysta in his earlier discussions with Plowman.

Plowman looked over the property with Aysta during one of his several visits to Indianapolis during the undercover operation. Plowman immediately recognized there would be a problem with the proposed site. He noted the passage of a central business development plan a year earlier that would prohibit an adult entertainment establishment in the downtown business district. That meant the newly-passed city ordinance would need amending, in addition to dealing with the zoning issues. Plowman candidly told Aysta he thought the chances of success were slim to none. Plowman also had another fight on his hand. New life was being breathed into the smoking ban ordinance and killing it was his number one priority. Plowman explained to the agent how the proponents were seeking a victory in the state's largest city that would become a model for legislation that would be proposed statewide.

Despite his misgivings, Plowman gave Aysta the impression he would help him work on the downtown site if that's what he ultimately wanted to do. Aysta's enthusiasm for the downtown location was overflowing in each conversation he had with Plowman. As the agent noted, at no point did Plowman indicate that he would not be able to help him out if the issue came before the council for a vote despite the obvious conflict of interest he had. Yet, frequently Plowman would insist to Aysta that everything he did on his behalf had to be legitimate. "I'm not going to jail" over this he would tell him on more than one occasion. The contradictions were everywhere though. Plowman adopted an alias for all official correspondence between him and Aysta. He chose "Steve Rogers" the alter ego of the fictional superhero "Captain America." As a high-ranking police officer, it left you wondering why he would insist on using an alias if everything he was doing was above board.

Sensing Aysta's frustration at the lack of progress on finding a suitable site, Plowman told him he had stopped working with the commercial realtor he had been talking to and found a much better commercial realtor, who turned out to be Ralph Balber of Halakar Real Estate. Balber put together a booklet of potential sites and gave it to Plowman, who in turn mailed it to Aysta's mailing address in San Diego. The package from "Steve Rogers" arrived. Although it contained dozens of potential properties, Aysta quickly discovered that most of the properties did not fit the parameters he had set out in earlier discussions with Plowman. Some were in residential areas, some lacked adequate parking or size and others were tied up by long-term leases with tenants. In his conversations with Plowman, Aysta surmised that Plowman hadn't even bothered to look at the properties listed in the booklet. Plowman offered to visit the potential sites for him, but Aysta made it clear that's not what he wanted him spending his time on. Getting the proper zoning approval was his aim. Aysta had learned from Plowman that he had more time to work on his project after Plowman had successfully derailed the smoking ban ordinance before the council at least for the next several months.

To reassure him he had the juice on zoning matters, Plowman would drop names like Jason Gaines, who he had appointed to both the Board of Zoning Appeals and the Metropolitan Development Commission, a person he considered one of his best friends. Plowman also dropped the name of Brad Klopfenstein frequently, the executive director of the Indiana Licensed Beverage Association, who he had also appointed to the Board of Zoning Appeals and who served as his campaign manager. Plowman gave the agent the impression guys like Gaines and Klopfenstein would do what he asked of them. "We've got some people on there taking care of us, if you understand what I'm saying." When discussing money he would need to spread around, he mentioned using the money to entertain them. "But, for me to do it in a quick and efficient manner, you know, like take Brad out to schmooze him, to help you, it's going to cost me money, I can't afford it." During one of Aysta's visits to Indianapolis, Plowman attempted to get Klopfenstein to join them but he was laying out at the beach at his parent's home on Lake Michigan when he tried to reach him. Plowman said he had taken Brad out with him to the clubs, including Dancer's Show Club and PT's for fun. "Yeah, he was drinking and the girls were rubbing on him," Plowman said of Klopfenstein.

Plowman also claimed credit for appointees to the Marion County Alcoholic Beverage Board over which he exercised control. Referring to the board's chair, Jennifer Ping, Plowman had this exchange with Aysta:

Plowman: I've got some friends on there, this woman is close to me, and she's also the Assistant Director of the Republican Party, she's on the Board, she's really friendly, you know, to, uh, for start a business, I always flirt with her, she's got a big old nose, and a big belly.

Agent: Nice. Not like the crawfish that you . . .

Plowman: No, And she'd be--she's probably not the girl you'd want to pick up the first time in a crowd, but she'd be a good fuck, she's married to a nice guy, she's been . . .

Agent: So, she probably wants to get laid.

Plowman: Oh, but listen to this, too. In high school, my, my wife's maiden name was Nye, and I, I can't remember this other lady's maiden name, but their lockers were next to each other four years in high school. So, they know each other real well.

Agent: Man.

Plowman: They didn't hang out together.

Agent: Isn't that something?

Plowman: Yeah, small world.
Plowman told Aysta that Murray Clark, a partner at Baker & Daniels and State Republican Party Chairman, could be a big help. "He always can swing a couple of votes, you know, he's got the hookups," Plowman said. He also occasionally dropped Mayor Greg Ballard's name, but he didn't claim to have a tight relationship with him. Plowman told the agent Ballard wasn't real friendly. "He's not unfriendly, he's just not political, that's why people like him, but it also hurts him," Plowman said. "Retired Marine Colonel, and he expects when he says something that you do it, and that's not the way it is in politics--you've got to, to give-and-take and move around."

To get the ball rolling after the Winery site became viewed as a non-starter, Aysta selected an abandoned office building site at 2421 Production Drive in an industrial park on the city's westside near the airport, virtually the only site on the list of sites included in Balber's booklet that Aysta found suitable. Plowman immediately recognized the location, noting that it was part of his beat when he worked vice. Aysta knew a zoning variance would be needed for the site, but he didn't share that information with Plowman. The empty office building was two stories, had 24,000 square feet and plenty of parking. Because it was in an industrial park, there were no issues with residences, schools or churches.

Plowman expressed some concern to Aysta that there may be restrictive covenants that would make it impossible to develop at that site. Although he said he would check out the location immediately, Aysta got the impression Plowman had never bothered to go check out the property. With prodding, Plowman referred Ayta to Cameron Clark, brother of Murray Clark and a prominent zoning attorney, to help check out the zoning work. Surprisingly, the conversation did not lend to the belief that Plowman knew Clark very well or had even referred any work to him previously. "He's a guy by the name of Cam Clark. I think his real name's Cameron. Everybody calls him Cam." Plowman tells Aysta that Cam is Murray's brother. "This guy's a very good attorney . . . A zoning attorney, too, handles these kinds of cases, um, has another client that is a, uh-owns five or six adult shops." Plowman tells the agent he has spoken to Clark and that he was going to check to see if any of his existing client's strip clubs were for sale. Clark also indicated to him that he would need to make sure the client didn't object to him helping someone else establish a strip club in the city.

As I related in my earlier post, Aysta told Plowman during their meeting at the Conrad Hilton where Plowman accepted a $5,000 cash payment that he had spoken to Clark and been told that he would need to be paid a $20,000 retainer to work on the case. Plowman reacted to the size of the retainer with surprise as have some others. I've since spoken to other attorneys who believe Clark may have been leery of representing an out-of-state individual about whom he knew little. Some zoning attorneys have also suggested the size of the retainer for controversial projects like adult entertainment would not at all be unusual.

One of the most striking things to me in this whole matter was how little effort Plowman made to do any background investigation on the undercover agent. As a law enforcement officer, he would have had easy access to information that could at least track his criminal record. At one point Aysta asked Plowman if he had done a background check on him yet. Plowman said he had done a little research on him but not a complete background check. One would have thought he would have asked for the names of the strip clubs he operated in San Diego and Miami and found out what he could about those establishments. I didn't get the impression from the transcripts I reviewed that he even asked for anything that specific on him. He seemed to suggest at one point that he knew there were no felony convictions against him within the last ten years, a point Plowman said would be important for purposes of getting a liquor license.

More specifically on the possibility of gaining approval of the proposed airport site, Plowman told Aysta he was very good friends with the councilor for the district in which it was located, Robert Lutz. Plowman told him he was an attorney and former small claims court judge. Referring to Lutz, Plowman said, "That Councilor over there, he probably wouldn't care one way or the other unless somebody calls him and says what the hell are we doing letting that business in our neighborhood?" Plowman also brought up Cathy Burton of MCANA once again. "I would talk to the head of [MCANA] . . . she's one of my constituents that lives in my neighborhood. And I help her out all the time. And even as of last--yesterday, I spoke at a meeting on behalf of that organization." Plowman suggested he could win her over. "She's the type of person that she would say, you know, I hate that kind of business, but we're not going to protest against it." [Note: Plowman apparently mistakenly believes initially the business is located in Lutz' district. He later realizes it is in Councilor Bob Cochrum's district as is revealed in later testimony]


Had Enough Indy? said...

What do they have? Five hours of tape of Plowman giving his opinions of the folks in Franklin Township?

Downtown Indy said...

I feel I need a shower after just reading a few of his quotes.

Not sure I could ever feel clean if I watched all the video surveillance personally.

Bill said...

WOW, just WOW. Im with Downtown, this is sick stuff. Someone on the 25th is getting nervous.