Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Plowman Trial Nearing End; Plowman Expected To Take The Stand In His Own Defense

The government concluded presenting its evidence this morning in the public corruption trial of former IMPD officer and City-County Councilor Lincoln Plowman. Defense attorney Jim Voyles called just five defense witnesses this afternoon and announced his intention to call his client to the stand tomorrow morning before the case is ready for closing arguments and presented to the jury for deliberations.

The government called FBI Special Agent Bradley Bookwalter to the stand to testify about an interview he and Agent Booz Moise conducted with Plowman for one hour and twenty minutes on the night of December 22, 2009 in Room 817 at the Conrad Hilton following Plowman's brief detention by FBI agents after he had accepted $5,000 cash from an undercover FBI agent posing as an out-of-state strip club owner looking to open a strip club on Indianapolis' west side with the influence of Plowman. Bookwalter listened to the conversation Plowman had with Agent Aysta and two female undercover FBI agents after the four had dined together at the Capital Grille and retired to Aysta's room from an adjacent room using listening devices installed in the room by the FBI. Bookwalter said that several FBI agents entered the room where Plowman took the cash after Agent Aysta exited the room, identified themselves and handcuffed him as a safety precaution so that he could be disarmed. When Bookwalter entered the room, the agents released Plowman from handcuffs and advised him that he was not under arrest and free to leave at that time if he wished. Plowman voluntarily chose to stay and talk to Agents Bookwalter and Moise with the understanding any false statements he made to an FBI agent would constitute a crime.

Plowman told the FBI agents during what Bookwalter described as a "relaxed interview" that he was simply trying to help out Mark, who he believed to be a legitimate business owner as part of his part-time job as a consultant. He recounted to the agents his work in helping Aysta find an attorney and realtor to aid in the development of a new strip club. Plowman said he needed money from Aysta to wine and dine folks. When asked on whom he planned to spend the money, he at first answered that he didn't know. He later told them it would be used for meetings with people like Councilor Cockrum in whose district the proposed site for the strip club was located. Plowman acknowledged to the agents that he had been paid $1,000 a month as a consultant to PT's. On cross-examination by Plowman's attorney, Bookwalter also said Plowman mentioned that he had previously been paid $1,000 a month by another strip club, Dancer's Showclub.

Bookwalter explained to Plowman's defense attorney under questioning that the purpose of the interview with Plowman, which was not recorded, was to see if he was willing to cooperate further in an ongoing investigation. Once Plowman had accepted the cash payment from the undercover agent, the FBI had concluded that phase of its investigation and was prepared to move forward with other potential targets based on the information they had gathered during the undercover sting. Bookwalter said Plowman claimed he had no knowledge of any other people engaged in corruption. Voyles pressed the agent, claiming that the two agents had pressured Plowman to give up information about Mayor Ballard, Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi and other politicians and businessmen. Agent Bookwalter denied mentioning either Ballard's or Brizzi's names to Plowman. He did, however, acknowledge they mentioned BZA board member Brad Klopfenstein and Councilor Bob Cockrum during the conversation.

The government called Steve Neff, an attorney for the Indianapolis Corporation Counsel's Office who is assigned to handle legal matters for the Board of Zoning Appeals. Neff walked jurors through the process an applicant must go through in order to handle a zoning variance. He confirmed a practice of allowing petitioners to transfer their case to a zoning board different from the one it had been initially assigned if the petitioner makes a reasonable request to the Board and the Board, in its sole discretion, decides to grant the transfer. Neff said this occurred rather frequently--at least once or twice a month. This confirmed the government's contention that Plowman could possibly have the petitioner get the case transferred to a board he found more favorable by specifying a new date for hearing a matter on which he knew the board of choice would be meeting.

Neff also explained that it is part of his job to train all new members appointed to the Board of Zoning Appeals. In particular, he said that training included an admonition to board members not to speak to members of the public about matters that come before their respective boards. He cited a specific state statute, I.C. 36-7-4-920(g), that makes ex parte communications with zoning board members illegal. Neff said the statute applied with equal force to city councilors as it did other members of the general public. Neff also explained that it was not at all uncommon for board members to ignore a staff recommendation regarding a specific zoning variance.

To further prove that Plowman's work for PT's strip club and providing consulting work to the undercover agent interested in opening a new strip club was prohibited, the government called Major Joe Finch, a 25-year veteran of IMPD assigned to the Professional Standards Bureau. Finch walked the jurors through a general order that was in effect between January 1, 2007 and May, 2009. Finch explained the process by which police officers were required to submit off-duty work request forms for approval by superiors before they could perform any such work. The general order specifically prohibits police officers from working at strip clubs or inside bars. Finch noted that the policy had changed in May, 2009, at which point all police officers of an appointed rank, which included Plowman, were specifically prohibited from performing any off-duty work. The prohibition, however, excluded a police officer's part-time work as an elected official. Major Finch presented the work approval forms Plowman had provided since becoming a part of IMPD. Not surprisingly, Plowman had not requested permission to work at PT's. The only work permit forms Plowman had completed pertained to security work he had requested permission to perform for O'Ryan Security Services and a Harris Bank branch on 86th Street.

Major Finch said that officers who violated the general order regarding part-time work were typically subject to discipline, including at least a one-day suspension from work and a six-month prohibition on performing part-time work, even if approved. On cross-examination, Voyles tried to make it appear that Plowman could have been confused during the transition from working at the Sheriff's Department and IMPD following the merger of the two law enforcement agencies, which took effect on January 1, 2007. Finch said every officer was charged with reading and understanding all general orders. He said officers were provided with three-ring binders containing the general orders and also had access to an electronic version via an Intranet site for police officers' use.

The government called Councilor Bob Cockrum to the witness stand this morning, who confirmed that Plowman had discussed with him in a hallway during a city council meeting a developer that was interested in developing a strip club located within his district. Cockrum said he was familiar with the location Plowman identified, but he told him that he would probably have a difficult time supporting the proposed strip club. Cockrum explained that his Decatur Township district is very conservative and has a lot of Quakers residing in it, although the proposed site was located in one of the two precincts he represented in Wayne Township that included the airport. Plowman asked him to agree to meet with the developer for lunch he recalled, and he said he believed that he had indicated to him that he would be willing to do that because that had been his normal practice as a councilor to meet with developers interested in projects within his district. Cockrum said he never talked to the developer, Plowman or anyone else about the proposed project again.

After the government rested its case, Voyles called as Plowman's first defense witness, zoning attorney Cameron Clark, who now works as the general counsel for the Department of Natural Resources. Surpisingly, Clark testified that the first person to contact him regarding the proposed strip club development was former State Rep. John Keeler, who is now a partner at Baker & Daniels, and who felt him out about his potential interest in helping Plowman out on the case. After Clark told him that he would be willing to discuss the case with him, he said Plowman contacted him directly by telephone. Plowman gave him the information about the site's location, whereupon Clark did some basic research to determine how the area was zoned. Clark said that he knew realtor Ralph Balber was involved in the project. He asked for and received the covenants and confirmed his interpretation of them not to have any specific restrictions against an adult club; however, he said there was some general language regarding any business that represented a "nuisance" that caused him some concern.

Clark said that he was later contacted by the undercover FBI agent posing as the strip club developer. He confirmed that he told him the project was potentially doable, although he told him that he should expect opposition to it because adult establishments generally draw out remonstrators. Clark told the agent his hourly rate was $250 and that he would require a $20,000 retainer payment. Clark prepared a written engagement agreement and e-mailed it to the agent. He said that the next thing he heard on the project was a call he received from Plowman advising him that it had been a ruse conducted by the FBI. Clark said that he had in total no more than two or three conversations with Plowman and that he had no personal relationship with him beyond his knowledge and familiarity with him as a councilor.

In a rather odd move, Voyles then called to the stand Joel Fischer, a CPA who had prepared Plowman's tax returns. Voyles offered as evidence tax returns Fischer had prepared for Plowman for the period of 2007-09 to prove that Plowman had reported off-duty compensation for which he had been issued 1099 forms, including the work Plowman had performed for PT's. The returns showed Plowman had reported $12,000 in income earned from working for PT's in each of the three tax years, but the government on cross-examination showed that Plowman had claimed a large number of business expenses related to the outside income he earned. The government's lead prosecutor, Richard Pilger, in particular honed in on expenses Plowman claimed for costly Colt assault rifles and ammunition magazines he had purchased in 2008. Plowman actually claimed a loss of $4,623.00 after claiming all of his business expenses, including $11,000 in depreciation for equipment, including the purchase of the assault rifles. Voyles became perturbed that Pilger had focused on the purchase of the guns, suggesting they were needed for the security work he performed. Voyles and Pilger also sparred over the $200 the undercover agent had paid to Plowman early on in the investigation, which he claimed on his tax return. He did not claim the $5,000 cash payment he received from the agent, however, because the FBI took the money back when they detained him at the Conrad Hilton.

The defense called Brad Klopfenstein to the stand to testify about the work he did on the strip club project. Klopfenstein matter-of-factly acknowledged his work on the project, including getting the location sites from Ralph Balber, introducing Plowman to Balber and setting up a meeting between the two, as well as inquiring to DMD staff about two of the sites under consideration, including the Chateau Thomas Winery site downtown and the airport site. Klopfenstein said he forwarded the information he received from the DMD staff on to Plowman. When questioned by the government's prosecutor, Joe Vaughn, about the rule against ex parte communications, Klopfenstein testified that he and other BZA members regularly spoke to council members about such matters and there was nothing unusual about it. He said that if this particular matter had come before the BZA panel on which he served, he would have recused himself anyway because it involved a liquor license and that he had recused himself in such cases because of his work for the Indiana Licensed Beverage Association.

Klopfenstein described himself as "great friends" with Plowman. He testified that he had served as Plowman's campaign manager, although he conceded the position required little work because Plowman represented such a heavily Republican district. Klopfenstein said his employment with the Indiana Licensed Beverage Association ended a short time after Plowman was snared by the FBI sting. He said he now works as a bar manager for a Claude & Annie's franchise at the airport. He said that Plowman had made it possible for people like him within the Libertarian Party, which Voyles referred to as the "Left Out Party", to participate in the political process. He said his views on zoning issues reflected his Libertarian views. He felt property owners should be allowed to do with their property what they wanted without the government bossing them around about what they could or could not do.

The only other witness called by the defense today was zoning attorney David Retherford, whose father was appointed by Plowman to the BZA. He acknowledged that Plowman had telephoned him about doing work on the strip club project, but that he had immediately told him that he would not handle the case because of his religious views and general opposition to adult nightclubs. He advised Plowman to look for another zoning attorney.

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