Monday, September 12, 2011

PT's Manager Bolsters Government's Case Plowman Sold Influence

A manager of PT's Showclub, a Lawrence adult club owned by VCG Holdings, told jurors in the public corruption trial of former IMPD Officer and City-County Councilor Lincoln Plowman that Plowman had been on the company's payroll from 2005 through December, 2009-- right up to the point that he was arrested in a downtown Indianapolis hotel room accepting $5,000 cash from an undercover FBI agent and accused of selling influence to help an out-of-state strip club owner get a zoning variance to open up a new strip club on Indianapolis' west side. Club manager Michael Webb told jurors the consulting work included political work. E-mails Webb turned over to the government under subpoena indicated that Plowman's political work included lobbying the Indianapolis City-County Council while a member of the council against a smoking ban ordinance opposed by the club.

Under direct examination by the government's lead prosecutor, Richard Pilger, Webb said he first came to know Plowman while he was working as a manager at Little Bit of Texas, a nightclub featuring live bands on Indianapolis' west side, while Plowman worked a beat as a sergeant for the Marion Co. Sheriff's Department that included the nightclub. Webb said Plowman frequently responded to police runs at the club and frequented the club during his off-duty hours. Webb said the club comped Plowman and other Indianapolis police officers who patronized the club with free admission, drinks and cigars. If Plowman brought friends along with him to the club, Webb indicated that their admission was comped as well.

When Webb later went to work at PT's in Lawrence, he said Plowman was a regular there as well and similarly received comped benefits from the adult club. Webb testified that all police officers and politicians who frequent the club are provided comped benefits. Webb said Plowman would often call in advance when he planned to visit the club so he could let the club's employees know he was coming to the club. Eventually, as Plowman's relationship with the club grew, he expected more than comped business and sought a consulting arrangement with the club according to Webb. The first payment the club made to Plowman came in 2005 for services beginning in January of that year. VCG Holdings, the parent company for the club, formalized an agreement with Plowman in May, 2005, paying him $1,000 a month. A payment of $2,500 was also paid to Plowman for work he performed from January to May, although Webb testified Plowman had initially sought a payment of $5,000 for that work. Although Plowman was initially paid on a monthly basis, in 2008 and 2009, PT's paid Plowman in two advance payments that allowed him to draw his entire annual payment by the end of February of each year. Webb said Plowman had requested the advance payment to assist him with expenses related to his home.

Incredibly, Webb claimed that Plowman initially solicited PT's help in landing the job as State House lobbyist for the Indiana Nighclub Association (INCA), a position then held by State House lobbyist Bill Powers, who also performed legal work for PT's. Webb said the company's president, Michael Ocello, told Plowman that he did not think it would be "kosher" for the organization to employ a police officer as its lobbyist because of "conflict" and the fact that his role would have to be publicly disclosed in a lobbyist registration statement. Plowman solicited the paid consulting work on a letterhead labeled "Lincoln Plowman & Associates."

Notwithstanding the characterization of Plowman's contract with PT's as a consulting contract, documents introduced by the government showed Plowman had lobbied his fellow councilors to vote against a proposed smoking ban ordinance when it was first heard at a council hearing in March, 2005 near the time the club began making payments to him. Webb produced e-mails as early as February, 2005 from Plowman discussing the proposed smoking ban ordinance. In one e-mail to the company's president, Michael Ocello, Plowman wrote, "I've pulled all the favors I can pull for VCG." A May, 2005 e-mail to Osello from Plowman indicated that he had taken the entire week off from his day time job as an IMPD officer to "work on [the smoking ban] issue." "Your money hard at work," Plowman said. Plowman told Ocello that his efforts had paid off and that one of the ordinance's sponsors, Greg Bowes, had assured him there would be an exemption from the smoking ban for bars and adult clubs where patrons had to be at least 21 years of age to enter. Other e-mails from Plowman to Ocello or Webb solicited contributions for his campaign committee or participation in political golf outings.

Some of the e-mails Plowman exchanged with PT's management covered the same period beginning in August, 2009 that undercover FBI agent Mark Aysta had initiated contact with Plowman to see if he would bite at the opportunity to sell influence. Several e-mails discussed state legislation pertaining to Sunday alcohol sales. Ocello told Plowman he wasn't interested in expending any political capital on that issue. In October, 2009, Plowman wrote urgently to Ocello to let him know the smoking ban issue was coming back to the Indianapolis City-County Council. "This is going to be a complete ban," he warned Ocello. Plowman solicited additional money from Ocello to fight the total ban. Webb confirmed that Ocello arranged for a $5,000 campaign contribution to the Greater Indianapolis Finance Committee to fight the ban.

Webb detailed work Plowman performed under the consulting contract during the four-year period, including surveillance camera and motion detector placement, closing time procedures, counterfeit ID detection, counterfeit currency detection, and employee and entertainer safety and security, which supported Plowman's lawyer's contention that it was a legitimate contract for consulting work. Webb said Plowman also performed criminal background checks for potential club employees, although he could not say whether Plowman accessed the law enforcement database furnished through his principal employer, IMPD, to perform the work. Plowman's lawyer, Jim Voyles, countered that the work Plowman did on the smoking ban ordinance would not even impact PT's club in Lawrence because it is one of the three excluded cities under UniGov. The government countered that PT's management feared that once Indianapolis adopted such an ordinance that it would become the model for legislation that would apply statewide. Webb conceded the consulting services Plowman provided weren't really critical to the club's operation and involved very little work over the four-year period.

Prior to offering Webb's testimony, Pilger told jurors that he had agreed to provide testimony and comply with a subpoena issued by the grand jury in the proceedings based on a written proffer made by the government that he would not be prosecuted for an offense related to his compelled testimony. Webb explained that PT's holding company, VCG Holdings, is a publicly-traded company based in Denver, Colorado. The company operates 18 adult clubs in 10 states. Not mentioned in today's testimony were recent news stories about Missouri's Lt. Governor, Peter Kinder, being a frequent patron of one of the company's strip clubs in Sauget, Illinois, just across the river from St. Louis. Kinder, a favorite of the religious right, has been highly criticized for his apparent hypocrisy. One of the club's former entertainers, Tammy Chapman, a former Penthouse model, complained that Kinder had stalked her.

Plowman's attorney not only had to fend off allegations made by the government that Plowman's employment by PT's was made for the purpose of selling influence, he also was faced with allegations Plowman violated police rules governing off-duty employment. The government called as a witness, Angela Grider, the HR Director for the Sheriff's Department, who testified that while Plowman was an employee of the Sheriff's Department, he was required to obtain written approval for any part-time work. More importantly, she testified that rules in place since 2000 prohibited Plowman from working for any establishment whose primary revenue source came from alcohol sales or any establishment that would bring embarrassment to the Department. Grider claimed the rules would not have allowed Plowman to work for an adult club. She also produced documents reporting his part-time work for 2005-06 showing that he had failed to disclose his work for PT's, although he had disclosed work for several part-time employers, including the Pacers, First Watch Patrol, Thornton Oil Co, the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union and Davis Jean & Fashion. Plowman had also listed work for LP & Associates prior to his work for PT's, which was presumably security consulting work he did in a self-employed capacity.

Defense attorney Jim Voyles sought to prove that the Sheriff's Department made exceptions to the rules Grider testified about. She conceded the Department allowed merit police officers like Plowman to work for businesses that sold alcohol as long as it wasn't their primary source of revenues. Working at hotels and performing security work for the Pacers at Conseco Fieldhouse fell into this category she explained. Voyles attempted to introduce evidence Sheriff's deputies also worked for Monarch Beverage, an alcohol distributor, but Grider claimed she had no knowledge of employment of deputies by the alcohol distributor. Voyles also emphasized that Plowman had disclosed all of the income he earned from PT's to the IRS through 1099s the company issued to him, but the government countered that the income reported only went to the IRS and not to government investigative agencies.

Similarly, the government offered evidence by City-County Council Clerk Melissa Thompson that Plowman had not disclosed his part-time work for PT's on his statement of economic interest he filed as a councilor in 2009 and 2010 for the prior calendar years. Thompson explained that the council had adopted a new ethics ordinance in 2008 that established a new ethics form for councilors to use that required them to disclose their employers and whether they earned money from self-employment. Voyles sought to mitigate the damaging disclosure by pointing out that it was a new disclosure form and differed from the form he had been required to file as a city employee.

The government also meticulously used Thompson's testimony to introduce evidence pertaining to Plowman's role in the appointment of members of the Board of Zoning Appeals during the period of 2008-09 while he was serving as the Majority Leader. In his leadership role, Plowman automatically sat on the Committee on Committees, which appointed committee members and chairs. Thompson testified that Plowman served on the Metropolitan Development Committee both years and served as its chairman during 2008. Former City-County Councilor Kent Smith chaired the committee in 2009. Thompson explained that the council appointed two members each to the three divisions of the 5-member Board of Zoning Appeals, while the mayor gets two appointees and the Metropolitan Development Commission gets the fifth appointment. During the 2-year period, Thompson testified that Plowman recommended and sponsored the appointments of Brad Klopfenstein, the executive director of the Indiana Licensed Beverage Association, Larry Walker, a home builder and developer and Alan Retherford, a real estate developer and father of a well-known zoning attorney. Thompson also confirmed evidence of Plowman's own service on the Board of Zoning Appeals from 1999-2002.

Thompson claimed two council appointments during this 2-year period were made based on her personal recommendation. That included law students Matthew Symmons and Mindy Westrick. Thompson said she had met Symmons when they both worked together in the Prosecutor's Office where he worked as a spokesman before leaving to attend law school full-time. Thompson claimed she had met Westrick, an employee of Baker & Daniels, while working on Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi's campaign. Voyles also argued on direct examination that the appointment of Walker had been made at the recommendation of Cindy Mowery and not Plowman, although he filed the paperwork for his appointment and sponsored his appointment. Voyles further contended that Retherford's appointment came at the recommendation of former City-County Council President Phil Borst and that Plowman had merely acted on it. Government lawyers played video testimony of the council hearings on the appointments, including a contentious debate over Klopfenstein's appointment due to his job with the alcohol industry and the conflict of interest his job posed, as well as concern about his reappointment a second year due to complaints made against him by neighborhood organizations, including MCANA, about the votes he cast during his first year on the BZA. The government emphasized that it had not alleged that any of Plowman's appointees to the BZA had engaged in any criminal wrongdoing.

1 comment:

Had Enough Indy? said...

Your last paragraph brings renewed vigor to the need for public hearings on the appointments - and an absolute need for the Councillors to actually listen to the information presented. We also need to get beyond political appointments.