Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Tale Of Two Plowmans Emerges

Lincoln Plowman took the witness stand in his own defense today in his public corruption trial. Under the able direction of his defense attorney, Jim Voyles, Plowman presented what appeared to be a sincere presentation of his version of the events that led to his indictment on charges of attempted extortion and soliciting a bribe from an undercover agent. His voice was weakened by a cold, and he had to stop occasionally to clear his voice and take a drink of water, but he very calmly described how he believed he was conducting honest part-time work for a real business owner seeking to open a new strip club in Indianapolis. When Plowman faced cross-examination by the government's lead prosecutor later, however, a different man emerged.

Voyles began the day by playing to jurors a recorded phone conversation between FBI agent Brian Ace and Plowman made in December, 2009 near the time of his final meeting with the undercover agent. Plowman had called him on behalf of employees working at a west side strip club who said someone had been in the club representing himself as an FBI agent conducting an investigation and that he wanted to confirm the agent was one of their employees. Ace was returning a call to Plowman, who had already received confirmation that the person in question indeed was an FBI agent from another agent, Wendy Osborne. During the conversation, the two discussed the fact that the FBI was going to interview Plowman about Kerry Forrestal, a person with whom Plowman had worked in the Sheriff's Department, who had been nominated to the U.S. Marshal's position for the Southern District of Indiana. The recording suggested Plowman had a good, professional working relationship with the local FBI office at the time.

Voyles had Plowman lay out his biographical narrative, a native of Greensburg who served in the Army for three years following his graduation from high school in 1981. He returned home where he got a job working for the Decatur Co. Sheriff's Department and worked part-time as the New Point town marshal. After attending ISU for two years without earning a degree, he got a job working for the Hamilton Co. Sheriff's Department. A few months later he got a call and accepted employment with the Marion Co. Sheriff's Department where he really wanted to work. He explained the various jobs he had at the county jail and road patrol as he grew in rank and power within the Department. Plowman joined IMPD in January, 2007 upon the merger of the Sheriff's Department law enforcement division with the Indianapolis Police Department to form the newly formed agency at the rank of lieutenant. In a short period of time, he would rise to the appointed rank of a major working in investigations where he had served in a vice commander's position over vice operations.

At the same time he was building his career in law enforcement, Plowman explained to jurors his involvement in the Marion Co. Republican Party, beginning as a precinct committeeperson and later becoming a ward chairman. After he met and married his wife, Christina Nye, he settled down in Franklin Township where her family resided. He volunteered to serve on the Board of Zoning Appeals, an appointed position he held for about three years. In 2003, he successfully ran for the City-County Council in District 25 and was re-elected in 2007. In 2008, he became the Majority Leader and served as the Chairman of the Metropolitan Development Committee.

During his time as a law enforcement officer in Marion County, Plowman explained to jurors how he had always worked part-time jobs. He provided security work and services for banks, jewelry stores, gas stations, the Indiana Pacers, Duke Realty and the homes of business executives, among others. When the Little Bit of Texas country-western club opened in a beat he worked on the city's westside, he developed a close relationship with Michael Webb, an assistant manager for the club. Plowman freely acknowledged that he frequently visited the club while off duty and received comped food, drinks and admissions, a practice he described as common for police officers. Later, when Webb went to work for PT's Showclub after he had worked another job out of town, he renewed his friendship and frequently visited him at his new place of employment and received comped benefits just as he had at Little Bit of Texas.

Plowman described how that personal relationship grew into a business relationship with PT's that paid him $1,000 a month, including a $2,500 bonus to cover work he had performed for the club since January, 2005. Plowman described his work for the club as relating to both security and political work. He also related his appointment of persons to the Board of Zoning Appeals as a councilor. He denied that he knew Larry Walker and only recommended his appointment based upon the recommendation of Cindy Mowery. He said he would nominate candidates for board positions automatically in his role as Chairman of the Metropolitan Development Committee regardless of whether it was his own personal choice. He did, however, acknowledge that he made the decision to appoint his long-time friend and campaign manager, Brad Klopfenstein, to the BZA.

Voyles had Plowman explain the reason he used the 7915 S. Emerson address and the alias "Steve Rogers." Plowman said it was nothing more than a post office box address at a local UPS store, but that police officers commonly protect their true address because of the nature of their work and fear of retaliation from people they encounter in their official business. He said the "Steve Rogers" was his undercover name he used in limited undercover vice work he performed as an IMPD officer. He said he had an Indiana driver's license issued using his alias as well. Plowman also detailed the security work and legislative tracking work he did while working for PT's.

Voyles then asked Plowman to describe the circumstances of his first meeting with undercover agent Mark Aysta on August 11, 2009. Plowman said the meeting was set up by an old friend, Josh Rogers, who he had met several years earlier at a gym on the city's southside. Plowman described Rogers as the owner of the gym. He said Rogers told him Mark was a "high roller" who owned adult clubs and was interested in breaking into the Indianapolis market. Voyles asked Plowman to explain his brevado during the first meeting given that their conversation had been recorded and played to jurors. "I was just talking smack," Plowman explained. He said he was trying to feel out Mark and determine whether he was on the up and up. Voyles had Plowman to recount the numerous times he had stated in the recorded conversations with the undercover agent that everything has to be done legally or words to that effect. He had him recount how he said he did part-time work and received 1099s to report the income he earned to the IRS. He had him explain that he had indeed solicited a consulting fee from the undercover agent, but that it was intended to be used for legitimate consulting work. He explained that he would also need money to "throw around" on wining and dining people like Councilor Cockrum or Brad Klopfenstein.

Plowman explained how he spent at least 50 hours of work lining up a realtor and a zoning lawyer, scouting out potential sites for a club and other leg work and time spent working with Mark on the project before he ever took the $5,000 cash from him at the hotel room at the Conrad Hilton. He acknowledged getting Klopfenstein involved with the project, and he acknowledged discussing the issue with Councilor Cockrum and discussing a luncheon meeting with him. He insisted, however, that when he took the $5,000 cash from the undercover agent, he believed that was for work he had already begun performing for him, not for future services. He admitted that he first brought up the payment issue, but that he hadn't asked for the entire $5,000 payment he had agreed earlier with the agent would be his fee for his consulting work--only $1,000 or $2,000. The agent, he said, insisted on paying it all in advance. He said it was three days before Christmas, he hadn't been paid anything other than the $200 the agent previously gave him for his work and he, frankly, needed money to go Christmas shopping.

When four FBI agents rushed into the hotel room after he took the cash, he told jurors he thought Mark had done something wrong, not realizing initially that they were FBI agents. He said they told him to get down, they handcuffed him and then removed his service revolver strapped to his ankle. At that time, he described the four agents leaving and two other agents, Brad Bookwalter and Booz Moise, coming into the room, releasing him from handcuffs and telling him he was free to leave. Plowman said that he voluntarily agreed to talk to them, that they never asked to record the conversation and that he understood anything he said that turned out not to be true would be a criminal offense because they were FBI agents. He admitted to the agents he had been working for PT's for $1,000 a month. He insisted the agents attempted to get him to provide them information of corrupt acts committed by Mayor Ballard, Prosecutor Carl Brizzi and other police officers. He said he told them he knew of no corrupt acts being committed by any officials or other police officers. When asked by Voyles if he had ever solicited a bribe, he responded, "Absolutely not."

On cross-examination, Richard Pilger, used the recorded conversation with Agent Brian Ace to demonstrate that Plowman was a veteran law enforcement officer of a high rank who could make calls to the FBI and get them returned in short order. He presented to Plowman his grade transcripts from the FBI's law enforcement academy at the University of Virginia. That led to the first of many combative exchanges between Pilger and Plowman. Plowman indicated that he did not know he earned grades or college credits for his work and seemed surprised to see the grade transcripts showing that he had earned very high marks at the academy. Pilger had Plowman confirm his role as a senior officer in the respective police departments he had worked and his responsibility as a commander and handling disciplinary matters.

Pilger then jumped on evidence Plowman's attorney had introduced in the form of his tax returns that indicated that he had purchased high-powered weapons and claimed them as tax deductions. Pilger got Plowman to admit that the Colt AR-15 assault rifle he had purchased at considerable cost was very similar to that used by soldiers fighting in Afghanistan, except that it was not an automatic weapon. Pilger asked him about depreciating the cost of those guns as indicated by his tax returns, but Plowman said he didn't know what depreciation meant. He said he gave the information to his accountant, who prepared the forms and he simply signed them. He seemed to suggest at one point that his wife was responsible for all of their personal finances, not him. When Pilger asked him if he was blaming her, he responded, "No, wouldn't want to blame her." He also asked him about a Walther PPK gun similar to what James Bond used in his movies his tax returns indicated that he had acquired. Plowman insisted it wasn't exactly like the James Bond hangun. He got him to admit that he liked going to strip clubs. The two argued over whether Plowman called ahead when he planned to visit PT's, eventually conceding that he may have done so frequently after initially denying that was a practice he had followed over the years.

During questioning about the money he earned from his part-time work, Plowman insisted that he did not have financial troubles and that he made plenty of money from his regular job as a police officer. He described the part-time income he earned from working at PT's and other jobs as " just gravy." Pilger jumped on the conversation Plowman had early on with Agent Aysta during which he described his personal financial situation and how he needed extra income from his part-time work because he didn't earn enough as a law enforcement officer.

Time after time Pilger would use Plowman's own words recorded during his conversations with the undercover agent or even during his testimony today to point up inconsistencies. Pilger said there are many times where you say everything has to be legal, but there are times when you suggest things aren't always on the up and up. He mentioned how Plowman said he wanted him to run a clean business, but that he knew that some club owners didn't report all their income--they would essentially live off the take they received at the door and only report their alcohol sales. He pointed out that Plowman mentioned Aysta could issue him a 1099 for his work, but it was not necessary if he didn't want to do it. He brought up Plowman's use of the term "shuck and jive" to describe what he would tell others that might not always comport with his true intentions.

Pilger got Plowman to concede that he was the first to bring up repeatedly the issue of the importance of zoning in opening up a new strip club, that he controlled the zoning boards and that he wanted a fee for his services doing "work behind the scenes with the guys zoning board." As for the 50 hours of work Plowman claimed he had performed for Aysta, he used his words, "I'm not telling you shit," when it came to other matters. He used Plowman's words about taking care of the cops by comping them in the club to stay out of trouble and how he could "intertwine his police and political experience" to exert influence on his behalf. When Pilger asked Plowman to be more specific about the work he claimed to have done, such as scouting properties, Plowman said he could not recall specifically which properties he had scouted.

Pilger challenged Plowman on the way he had taken Agent Aysta, a man he claimed to still not know well enough to determine whether he was on the up and up, unannounced on an undercover operation he was leading downtown to combat unruly panhandlers. He asked him about driving Aysta into the underground secured parking garage of the City-County Building and then leading him to the undercover operation downtown. He acknowledged he hadn't asked Aysta to sign a liability waiver or otherwise forewarned him about what he was going to do before he actually took him into the middle of the undercover operation. Pilger got Plowman to admit that he was barred from doing part-time work at PT's and the work he was performing as a consultant for Aysta under IMPD's general order governing part-time work. He got Plowman to admit he hadn't disclosed all of his part-time work as he was required to do--either to IMPD or to the City-County Council.

Remarkably, Plowman claimed he didn't know he had to disclose his part-time work on his statement of economic interest he was required to complete as a councilor, even though he knew the council had adopted a new ethics ordinance and that he had voted for it. Plowman said someone stuck the disclosure statement in his mailbox to sign and that he had not checked it closely before signing it--as if someone else had completed it for him. Pilger noted that he had corrected a typo on the form and signed the statement under penalties of perjury. Plowman said he often signs forms prepared by someone else, including his tax returns, without looking over the work closely. Plowman claimed he didn't understand the legal distinction between income he earned as wages and that as a self-employed person. Pilger asked him if he treated paperwork at IMPD in that fashion where people's lives were at stake. He responded that his last work was primarily signing paperwork regarding the purchase of supplies so it wasn't that important. At one point, Plowman tried to defend his part-time work, suggesting that he could do it as a sole proprietorship and it was okay. Pressed further by Pilger, Plowman conceded his work was not allowed--either for PT's or for Aysta. At one point, Plowman apologized for the mistake he had made in completing two ethics disclosure statements as a councilor indicating that he performed no part-time work.

Pilger hammered Plowman for performing work on the smoking ban for PT's and voting on the very same matters as a councilor. He asked him about taking a week off work to fight the smoking ban ordinance. Plowman said he actually didn't take a week off because the entire time off was not approved--that was how much time he had wanted to take off to work on it when he explained in an e-mail to Mark Ocello, president of PT's holding company, that he was working hard for him to earn the money he had asked the company to pay to him for his work. Plowman's voice grew more hoarse as Pilger wore him down by taking him to task on the words he had spoken and the actions he had taken. You couldn't help but wonder whether his attorney was beginning to have second thoughts about putting his client on the witness stand to testify in his own defense. The jury was paying close attention and taking many notes. It couldn't be described as a good day for the defendant by any stretch of the imagination.


Indy4u2c said...

Remember: "Corruption is as corruption does."

Alias name....

Didn't report on ethics statements that he was being paid off.

Didn't have permission from his employer to be paid off.

Hmmmmm...anyone else ready for the conclusion?

varangianguard said...

If I were a juror, I would concentrate upon the defendant's repeated insistence that he wouldn't be doing anything illegal, while his hand was outstretched for the cash. It was almost as if he had rehearsed a speech in case he were being taped (which he was), so he could have his defense attorney try to spin the conversations.

The quote from Hamlet is appropriate here, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks.". I would be interested in his actions, not his words. It appears his actions were to stick out his hand for the money at every opportunity.

Gary R. Welsh said...

That will be the government's central contention this morning, vg, in closing arguments. He argues he does nothing illegal, but he files a false statement of economic interest statement and fails to disclose his part-time work to his employer, for which he could have never gotten approval because said work was specifically barred and he knew it.

guy77money said...

Did the FBI ever say why and who wanted him investigated? Seems a bit strange with all that is going on in Marion County that they would go after a small time politician. The Brizzi and Durham connection seems plausible.

I know said...

If he is convicted the only person who will keep him from squealing on the other public officials and their crooked behavior will be his attorney.

The only way to reduce his time and penalty will be to spill his guts

If his is found not guilty the pigs will be playing full time in the trough and the FBI will back out!

It will fun to watch the next act of the play!

Gary R. Welsh said...

I couldn't disagree with you more on that point, I Know. Plowman stood trial and took the witness stand of his own choosing, not his attorney's. Plowman will decide whether he has any information in which the government is interested should he be found guilty. That information would probably be of little value now, however, because he already testified that he knew nothing that anyone else had done that was corrupt. He would be impeached mercilessly on that point if he became a government witness in another proceeding.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Guy, Some of us wonder where the FBI was when the OmniSource scandal was unfolding, which by comparison, was of far greater magnitude than Plowman's activities. The FBI had credible information that Plowman had an untoward relationship with strip clubs in Indy and acted on that information. You can't fault them for doing that. The agency obviously hit pay dirt with little effort as these types of investigations go. I believe the total amount of money laid out for the investigation was a little more than $5,000. It wasn't a big operation by any stretch of the imagination.