Friday, September 30, 2011

Marion County GOP Offers Robo-Call Challenge To Democrats

In light of U.S. District Court Judge William Lawrence's decision this week invalidating Indiana's law prohibiting the use of pre-recorded political messages to voters--often referred to as robo-calls, Marion Co. GOP Chairman Kyle Walker has issued a challenge to the Marion Co. Democrats and the campaigns of other municipal candidates this year to enter into a mutual agreement to refrain from using them prior to this year's general election. From a press release issued by the Marion Co. GOP:

Marion County Republican Party Chairman Kyle Walker states, "If the Marion County Democrat Party, Melina Kennedy's campaign, the Democrat Council candidates campaigns and every organization seeking to assist in the election of a Democrat municipal candidate or seeking to defeat a Republican municipal candidate will refrain from using "robo-calls" to contact voters, then the Marion County Republican Party and our candidates will also refrain from using them.  If the Democrat Party and its candidates will pledge publicly and send notice to every organization they can reasonably assume may consider conducting "robo-calls" and request that they honor this agreement - and immediately terminate such calls if they occur, then the Marion County Republican Party and our candidates will also prevent and immediately terminate such calls."

Friday Humor: Greg Zoeller Pledges To Curb Prostitution During Super Bowl

The absurdity of the discussions taking place among Indianapolis government and civic leaders as the city prepares to host the Super Bowl next February keeps reaching new heights--perhaps an indication that our city really isn't up to hosting such an event. Attorney General Greg Zoeller is not a prosecutor with authority to enforce these types of criminal laws, but he's promising to fight to curb prostitution that takes place during the Super Bowl. From WRTV:

Attorney General Greg Zoeller, representatives from the Marion County Prosecutor's Office, social service agencies and police met Friday for an all-day forum to discuss the issue.
Authorities are concerned about a likely increase in prostitution stemming from the Super Bowl and are grappling with ways to address it.
Zoeller said it would help if the demand for illicit services could be curbed.
"Men must take the lead in not creating a demand in the illegal activity," he said. "We have to make it clear that it's not socially acceptable."
Often, prostitutes who are in the Super Bowl city are victims of human trafficking, having been brought in to fulfill a perceived uptick in demand. Because they are often in the country illegally, victims of human trafficking are less likely to seek help.
"When you look at human trafficking, you really have to look at the young girls who have been brought to the United States, many of them against their will, or they've been told a different story about why they're being brought for some type of work," Zoeller said. "Working to identify and rescue victims is a challenge, because they're not going to come forward on their own."
Zoeller said Indiana has work to do in the Legislature to address human trafficking.
"We don't have a statute specifically focused on those who traffic … in both sex and labor," Zoeller said. "We have a very short window to make it over the legislative deadlines (before the Super Bowl)."
Sorry, Greg, but you should know that human trafficking isn't exactly the way to describe what takes place during the Super Bowl. Think about those lavish parties your good buddy Tim Durham used to throw out at his Geist mansion where all of those high-priced ladies got flown into town to entertain all of his hanger-on friends and the politicians who were taking all of his campaign dough. Yeah, that's the kind of entertainment that takes place during the Super Bowl. These aren't exactly victims of human trafficking; they're highly-paid adult entertainers who consent to selling themselves for money.

It's comical to hear these so-called law enforcement officials have these discussions when none of them are willing to step forward and suggest that State Rep. Phil Hinkle's $80 hook-up at the J.W. Marriott with an 18-year-old Pike Township High School student in response to the student's ad on Craig's List seeking a "sugga daddy" rose to the level of prostitution, or at a minimum, constituted a violation of the city's ordinance governing escort services. Sorry, but people who can afford to attend the Super Bowl aren't looking to pick up trashy street-walkers. Get a clue. I can't believe the local news media covers these BS press conferences without asking any tough questions.

Crain's Report: Daniels Offering $150 Million To CME To Move To Indiana

According to Gov. Mitch Daniels' meme, businesses are fleeing Illinois to Indiana to escape high taxes and regulations. If this report by Greg Hinz in Crain's is to be believed, they also are coming to take advantage of the large corporate welfare handouts Daniels is offering them. Hinz claims Daniels is offering CME Group, a large derivatives and futures exchange based in Chicago which owns the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Board of Trade, $150 million a year savings in economic development incentives to relocate its headquarters in Chicago to Indiana. Hinz writes:
So, just how much is Indiana offering CME Group Inc. to move its headquarters and perhaps other operations to the Hoosier state?
I hear the figure -- in net tax savings -- is a mouth-watering $150 million a year. That's from a reliable source who claims to have obtained the information from Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels' office.

CME isn't commenting on who's offering what, though CEO Terry Duffy earlier in the week said he expects the headquarters matter to be resolved by yearend.

But, in a conversation with my colleague John Pletz on Thursday, Indian's top economic development official, Dan Hasler, stopped way short of waving us off that number.

Mr. Hasler wouldn't give a number himself. But when told repeatedly that Crain's has heard the $150-million figure and wouldn't want to lead people astray, Mr. Hasler declined to comment on the number or whether Indiana has made an offer to CME.
Hinz's report contradicts an earlier report in June by the Northwest Indiana Times' Dan Cardin, which quoted Gov. Daniels as saying Indiana was not courting CME. Cardin reported then:

Gov. Mitch Daniels would be happy to welcome the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to Indiana but admitted Wednesday the state isn't actively courting the trading floor operator.

"There's a whole lot of businesses over there (in Illinois) we're talking to before we get to that," Daniels said.

CME Group Executive Chairman Terry Duffy told shareholders this month the company is considering relocating its headquarters outside Illinois to avoid a business income tax increase enacted earlier this year.

The company also has announced it wants to sell most of the landmark Chicago Board of Trade building on LaSalle Street and lease back its trading pits from the new owner.

Daniels said representatives from the Indiana Economic Development Corp. have met with more than a dozen Illinois companies — but not CME — considering a move following the January increase in Illinois' corporate income tax rate to 7 percent from 4.8 percent.
Daniels is expected to be in Chicago next week to plug sales of his new book, "Keeping The Republic." Landing the company would be quite a feat for Daniels. According to CME's Chairman, Terry Duffy, the company pays 6% of Illinois' aggregate corporate taxes, more than McDonald's or Boeing. The company claims its taxes have increased more than $50 million a year due to tax increases enacted to deal with the state's huge budget deficit. It's not clear which city in Indiana the company would move--either somewhere in the Region or Indianapolis.

Indiana Election Commission Dismisses Complaint Against House Dems Over Walkout

To me, the issue is very clear. Indiana law prohibits state lawmakers from soliciting campaign contributions while the legislature is in session. The House Democratic members who participated in the walkout this past legislative session violated that law when they solicited campaign contributions through the Indiana Democratic Party to finance the cost of their walkout. Most of those campaign contributions came from labor unions, which directly benefited from the lawmakers' walkout over legislation the unions opposed. The Indiana Election Commission took up a complaint filed against State Rep. Kraig Battles (D-Vincennes) by one of his constituents over the issue at its meeting this week. The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette's Niki Kelly has the story over the Commission's debate of the issue that ended in the complaint being dismissed for now since Battles hasn't filed his campaign finance report covering the period in question and won't do so until January:

Legislators are prohibited from soliciting or receiving campaign contributions during the long budget session of the General Assembly, which is when the walkout occurred.
The Indiana Democratic Party paid about $95,000 in Urbana expenses, according to its campaign finance report.
Some Republicans during the walkout said the state party’s payment of those expenses should be counted as an in-kind campaign contribution.
“(Battles) came across this money somehow. The question is did he solicit?” Dumezich said. “And unless the Indiana Democratic Party plans to give legislators a 1099 or W2 for the amount of money spent on vacation in Illinois, it had to come from somewhere.”
Democratic officials contend they financed a caucus – not campaign activity.
Neither Battles nor Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker attended Thursday’s hearing.
“My understanding is that this was not sanctioned by the commission, only Dumezich,” Parker said via email. “It’s not a formal proceeding, just a fishing expedition.”
While the complaint is specifically against Battles, any finding in the case would likely apply to all the House Democrats who left town, including Reps. Win Moses and Phil GiaQuinta, both of Fort Wayne.
Members of the election commission never got to the substance of the complaint because the two Democratic members questioned whether Dumezich had the authority to unilaterally place the item on the agenda for investigation.
The commission has two Republican members and two Democratic members and often deadlocks on issues with political overtones.
Legal counsel for the Republican and Democratic co-directors of the Indiana Election Division differed on Dumezich’s authority, so the group is asking Attorney General Greg Zoeller for an advisory opinion on the applicable law.
During Thursday’s discussion, it became clear that Battles has not filed a campaign finance report for the time period in question because he isn’t required to do so until January.
Democratic member Sarah Steele Riordan said, given this fact, there is no substantial likelihood of a violation.
“I do not understand what we are doing right now,” she said.
Dumezich conceded the point, and the group voted unanimously to dismiss the complaint.
But he said in January, if the contribution isn’t listed on Battles’ report, the commission should consider the issue again. Even so, it takes three members to penalize a candidate.
I'm happy to see that the Commission is at least asking Attorney General Greg Zoeller to issue an advisory opinion on the law in question. As I have previously pointed out, this is one of those few laws where he actually is statutorily empowered with enforcement authority. Zoeller wimped out during the walkout controversy and refused to use his authority under the statute, although he was more than happy to have his office get involved in a debate recently before the Ft. Wayne City Council over whether councilors had authority to impose restrictions on campaign contributions made to municipal candidates. Zoeller's office issued an advisory opinion saying the council lacked statutory authority to enact such a law, even though Jeffersonville has had a similar statute on the books it has enforced for several years now. If Zoeller interprets the law correctly, then he will then be in the predicament of admitting publicly his failure to enforce the state law prohibiting lawmakers from soliciting contributions while they are in session. My guess is he will wimp out again and limit his advisory opinion to whether the Commission Chairman has authority to unilaterally put an issue in front of the Commission.

Wouldn't that be something if partisan appointees of the Commission can always block a complaint from being heard just because it's an issue involving law-breaking by members of its own party? Anyone else see the irony here in the Democratic members blocking consideration of a complaint filed by a member of the public on a legitimate campaign finance question after the Democrats spent the past year trying to use the Commission's authority to bounce Secretary of State Charlie White from office over the specious claim that he was not a registerered voter of this state? Yeah, I would say it makes them big time hypocrites.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Electronic Voting Machines Easy To Manipulate

An assessment team at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois tested a commonly-used electronic voting machine made by Diebold to demonstrate just how cheaply and eas it is to place alien technology not easily detected into the electronic voting machine to manipulate the votes being tabulated by the machine. The assessment team used Diebold equipment for their testing but noted other electronic voting equipment manufactured by other vendors could just as easily be manipulated using man-in-the-middle hacking techniques. The video above describes how the machines can be manipulated. The New York Times has a story here, highlighting the fact that nearly one-third of all votes cast in this country are cast on these type of electronic voting machines, including many counties in Indiana.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ballard And Kennedy Agree It Is Your Duty As Taxpayers To Finance Private Projects

The Indianapolis Star summary of a debate between Mayor Greg Ballard and his Democratic opponent, Melina Kennedy, includes their views on whether taxpayers should be expected to finance private development projects. Both agree that it is your duty as taxpayers to help pay for the private development projects of fat cats who help fill up their campaign coffers.

Ballard, as ignorant as always, said, "I think that's almost the standard, and has helped attract developments and provide jobs. Spoken like a man who doesn't have a clue what the words "free enterprise" means. Just like President Obama, he believes it is the role of government to pick winners and losers in the private sector instead of letting free market competition make those decisions.

Kennedy chimed in, "It should be done judiciously and should be done in a way that's creative so that the city receives a return" on its investment. What return on investment is she talking about? She cited the Conrad Hilton deal she helped put together during the Peterson administration for Kite Realty where the taxpayers gifted $25 million to Kite, and one of the Kite family members landed a luxurious downtown condo atop the Conrad Hilton for which he was given a generous property tax abatement. Kite gave a lot of campaign dough to her former boss, Mayor Bart Peterson. Kennedy doesn't think as much of Ballard's North of South project headed up by Brad Chambers, who has given a lot of campaign dough to Ballard, because it requires taxpayers to assume too much risk.

Regardless of who wins this election, you can see that there will continue to be plenty of welfare for the rich who are willing to ante up their campaign contributions, while us lowly taxpayers can expect to pay higher taxes and expect less in basic city services.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Guide To Police Opposition To Ballard's Re-Election

Mayor Greg Ballard says he lost the endorsement of the FOP in his re-election bid because police are upset that he has implemented tougher professional standards by which the police must abide. Here's a counter-argument to the FOP's endorsement of Kennedy over Ballard. The video makes it clear police are not at all confident in Kennedy's prospective leadership; rather, the only promise seen in her election is the removal of Frank Straub and, perhaps, the elimination of the Public Safety Department altogether, which has ballooned in size and scope under Straub's leadership, freeing up money for front-line policing efforts.

Officers Demoted In Bisard Crash Sue For Defamation

Three high-ranking IMPD officers, who were singled out by IMPD Chief Paul Ciesieslski and Public Safety Director Frank Straub for mishandling the investigation of Officer David Bisard high-speed crash that left one motorcyclist dead and two others seriously injured, are suing the City of Indianapolis for defamation. The officers claim they were subject to untrue defamatory statements about their performance made by Ciesielski and Straub following the investigation and unfairly demoted from their appointed positions within the department. Darryl Pierce, Ron Hicks and John Conley are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Fox 59 News' Russ McQuaid interviewed Pierce about the officers' lawsuit:

"We were thrown under the bus," said Pierce in an exclusive interview with Fox59 news on the eve of the lawsuit's filing. "I just think that the opportunity was seized to remove us from the positions just to take some of the heat off the department and themselves."
Pierce makes it clear he's referring to Mayor Greg Ballard, Police Chief Paul Ciesielski and Public Safety Director Frank Straub. Ciesielski and Straub are specifically mentioned in the lawsuit for their comments about the trio of commanders and their roles in the subsequent demotions.
"If they would've waited until the investigations were over, if they were men, if they would've stood up and said, 'Our people didn't do anything wrong,'" said Pierce. "If they were true leaders they should've stood up for us."
The lawsuit claims the commanders have never been officially informed of any rules violations that led to their demotions yet cites public comments by Straub and Ciesielski that the litigation claims are, "false and defamatory."
Pierce said he would accept an apology, back wages and reappointment to his previous position. Pierce said he is looking forward to the release in court filings of internal investigations that were undertaken, but never revealed, which he thinks will absolve the commanders of any dereliction of duty.
"Once those investigations are given to the public and they've been completed forever, but nobody has ever seen them, and I would have to question, 'Why?'"

Monday, September 26, 2011

Daniels Sides With Mourdock On Chrysler Episode

If there was any doubt where Gov. Mitch Daniels stood on the government bailout plan for Chrylser, which Sen. Richard Lugar supported and his Republican primary opponent, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, fought in the courts, he puts that to rest in his book, "Keeping The Republic," under the heading "Fiat Government." Daniels writes:

In this episode--we might call it "Fiat government"--we saw not merely the use of political power to reward allies, but also a new willingness to stop at nothing, not even the rule of law, to dictate private-sector outcomes. In its determination to bail out its buddies, the administration bulldozed centuries of unambiguous, black letter law safeguarding the rights of secured creditors. In order to hand over so much value to the union, the government simply announced its intention to disregard all those old-fashioned rules and, in effect, confiscate the property of creditors whose claims on Chrysle should have come first and to give that property to union and other allies . . .

After private investors capitulated under this pressure, Indiana remained the sole holdout. Among the losers in, as we Hoosiers termed it, the "Chrysler cramdown" were two pension funds that serve our retired teachers and state workers. Those pension funds had invested $19 million in Chrysler and, under the administration's plan, were going to be fleeced about $6 million they would otherwise have gotten in a traditional bankruptcy. Coincidentally, I was sitting at a table of highly impressive people, all more erudite than I, discussing the very topic of the Obama blitzkrieg--as I recall, I had just tossed out the phrase "shock and awe statism"--when the time for a decision came. 

What Gov. Daniels described happened next is sure to infuriate Sen. Lugar and his number one cheerleader in the press gallery, Brian Howey. Daniels recounts receiving a phone call from Richard Mourdock advising him that the "deadline for filing a lawsuit to stop the cramdown was just hours away." Daniels discusses the downside of challenging the federal government, including attacks from political adversaries. Yet, he saw a bigger issue at stake here. "My main concern was the loss to our pensioners, but the last point was important, too," he pondered. "What would happen to credit markets if lenders who previously through their investments were safe even if something went wrong now had to consider the chance that politicians might step in and give their principal to some politically favored party, leaving them with the table scraps?". Completely obliterating the criticism that has been heaped upon Mourdock over this issue, Daniels writes:

Mourdock and I, as trustees of the pension plans, decided that submission was just not an acceptable course. We authorized the lawsuit and, with the help of cut rates from attorneys incensed about the principles being violated, pursued it even after the courts allowed the cramdown to go through.
Indiana's retirees never got their $6 million back, but our resistance was not totally fruitless. A fascinating bit of legal history was made months later, when, almost surreptitiously, the U.S. Supreme Court in December 14, 2009, announced that the Chrysler case would be accorded no precedential value. The rights of secured creditors were secure once more.

In the lower court that first declared it would not be bound by the Chrysler case, the judge likened Indiana's efforts to "the little man in Tiananmen Square when the tanks rolled in." The tyranny here was more benign, but the government's disdain for law was pronounced nonetheless . . .

Chew on that, Brian. I didn't recall Gov. Daniels' support of Mourdock's legal fight being so strong at the time it was being fought, but I'm glad to see him recount the story as he does in his book. Sen. Lugar, I assume, would have preferred if he had left that bit of history out of his book.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Daniels Non-Mea Culpa For FSSA Privatization Debacle

In his new book, "Keeping The Republic," Gov. Mitch Daniels devotes about three pages to "Saying Oops", his take on the FSSA privatization debacle. "One of the words people in public life find hard to say is oops," Daniels writes in introducing the topic. He begins by describing a welfare system his administration had inherited as "rife with error." Daniels says his administration spent a year trying to figure out how to fix the system when it came to the conclusion that "no amount of money would be able to get that system functioning properly." He says his administration concluded it needed "a modern information back office, along with new front-line processes to interact with the public in a timely and accurate way."

As I documented based on the personal observations of Carl Moldthan, who was the only member of Daniels FSSA to actually visit each of the state's county welfare offices and talk to the front-line workers about what was working and not working with the welfare system, the front-line workers had never been equipped with the modern tools and systems to efficiently and accurately perform their responsibilities. Daniels claims that his administration determined that it would cost more to rebuild the existing system--"several hundred million dollars more"--than outsourcing the responsibilities to a team of private contractors. "The contract promised millions of dollars in savings from the status quo, and far more compared to the state's attempting to fix its problems within the existing bureaucracy."

Daniels' book only confirms that he never read the critical analysis Moldthan sent to him advising him that it was a big mistake to outsource the services performed by the existing bureaucracy rather than to improve upon it. Moldthan pointed out in his analysis to Daniels that his own FSSA Secretary, Mitch Roob, admitted that outsourcing the welfare services would lead to no savings. Indeed, the state would spend nearly a half billions dollars on its outsourcing effort before Daniels would conclude that the effort had failed. Daniels concedes in his book that IBM's new system "produced just as many errors" as the old system. In fact, it produced even more errors in the few localities where it was rolled out.

In describing his cancellation of the IBM contract, Daniels says the state "kept the features of the IBM approach that worked well and jettisoned the elements that failed." He claims that the new hybrid system that is now being rolled out is achieving "dramatically better results than the system we started with." Again, this would have been possible with the old system simply by purchasing modern computers and systems that allowed the front-line workers the modern tools the private contract workers have at their disposal. As Moldthan pointed out, this had never been considered as an option despite Daniels' claim to the contrary. The decision had already been made by his FSSA Secretary Mitch Roob to privatize the welfare services before any studying of the system had been undertaken.

Despite the fact that his welfare privatization initiative had both Republican and Democratic critics, he lumps all of its critics into the category of "partisan opponents." "Our partisan opponents pounced on all this as a 'failure of privatization,' even though they had remained silent while the previous all-government system racked up its worst-in-America record and stole money from poor people," he writes. "Much of the media coverage was inaccurate, incomplete, and irresponsible, parroting the partisan attacks," he continued. He concludes, "In my view, the experience validates the practice of bringing private solutions to bear on public needs." Not exactly, Mitch. It validates that the practice of "Pay To Play" is alive and well in your administration. The only beneficiaries of this effort to date have been the state contractors and lawyers who have contributed handsomely to your campaign coffers.

Daniels claims he admitted he made a mistake when he fired IBM. "My fellow citizens weighed the issue, saw through the partisanship and sloppy journalism, and shrugged it off," he writes. "To the disappointment of our attackers, they behaved like responsible citizens." Carl Moldthan weeps from his grave. He behaved liked a responsible citizen and tried to warn you what your FSSA Secretary was doing to reward his former employer, ACS, was a big mistake and was not being undertaken to save the taxpayers money as you were representing to the public. To Moldthan's disappointment, he got taken to the woodshed for his brutal honesty and relegated to a meaningless paper-shuffling job before he left your administration in total disillusionment. Daniels' take on his adminstration's welfare privatization only confirms his own inability to say "oops."

Spierer Family Detective Has Unflattering Views Of Bloomington Police And IU

The parents of missing IU student Lauren Spierer has hired Bo Dietl, a former NY Police detective and TV personality, to investigate the disappearance of their daughter. He has some very unflattering comments about Bloomington's police chief and the drug culture at IU. WTHR reports on Dietl's comments on a New York TV program:

During a Friday morning segment, Dietl disclosed that his team of detectives has been in Bloomington investigating the Lauren Spierer missing persons case.
Dietl says he's been trying to help the family find "their little girl".
When asked about cooperation between local police and his investigators, Dietl replied, " I thought I was talking to Gomer Pyle out there."
" I met with the chief and all a gotta say is, thank God for New York City detectives".
Earlier in the interview Dietl said he saw rampant drug use on the IU campus.
"This is a Big Ten school," he said. "Kids walk around like 'Night of the Living Dead'."
I think Dietl has his TV characters confused. Barney Fife, not Gomer Pyle, would be the correct character in this context.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Christine Scales Makes Her Point To The IBJ

Last week, the IBJ gave a free opportunity to Kostas Poulakidas to tout himself in his City-County Council race against incumbent Republican Councilor Christine Scales in District 4. Apparently, the IBJ's editorial staff would like to see Scales bounced from the council because she is an independent voice without the baggage Poulakidas carries as a registered lobbyist and certified member of the downtown elite. Scales, in particular, angered Mayor Greg Ballard and City-County Council President Ryan Vaughn when she dared to think for herself and cast votes against the bailout of the Capital Improvement Board, the one-sided parking meter lease deal with ACS or the appointment of the maniacal egotist, Frank Straub, as Public Safety Director.

Scales makes her point to the IBJ editors with a letter she wrote that appears in the latest edition. "After reading the Viewpoint by Kostas Poulakidas, I can only conclude I will receive Kostas' vote in the November 8 municipal elections," Scales writes in a deadpan manner. "I am exactly what Kostas is looking for in a city-county councilor." Scales uses the letter to tout her own work for her constituents in her district that has been recognized by three neighborhood organizations which have rewarded her for outstanding service. She contrasts her ability to represent her constituents without all of the baggage Poulakidas carries as a big firm attorney and registered lobbyist:

How on earth does Kostas think that he, a busy partner in a busy law firm, the father of two preschool-aged children and husband of a full-time working wife, can commit the time I do to constituents? Does he really think voters would prefer a registered lobbyist while representing their interests in his council votes? How does he define conflict of interest?
What a nice little campaign puff piece the IBJ offered for free to my opponent. As in Kostas' words, "there are good candidates running for council who have some great ideas for Indianapolis."
Take his advice--give me your attention. I am a councilor who goes above and beyond voter's expectations, and I have earned their vote.

In addition to the recognition she has received from neighborhood organizations, Scales has earned the support of the FOP and the Indianapolis Firefighters union. Interestingly, MIBOR, the professional association of Indianapolis area realtors, endorsed Poulakidas. Apparently, Indianapolis realtors have no problem supporting the only candidate for city council who has been adjudged by the Indiana Civil Rights Commission to have engaged in a discriminatory housing practice. How ironic.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Ballard Attacks Kennedy For Supporting Tax Increase

Mayor Greg Ballard's re-election campaign has launched a new ad that attacks his Democratic opponent, Melina Kennedy, for supporting the income tax increase four years ago that helped sink former Mayor Bart Peterson's campaign. The ad claims Kennedy was serving as Peterson's deputy mayor at the time the tax increase was proposed. That is untrue. Kennedy left Mayor Peterson's administration in 2004, three years before the tax increase was proposed and at a time Peterson was still publicly declaring his opposition to higher taxes. Kennedy did, however, support the tax increase for public safety funding. Four years ago, Ballard opposed the tax increase at the same time he was promising to add 750 new police officers.

Following his upset win over Peterson, Ballard refused to repeal the tax increase passed by the Democratic-controlled council and never hired any additional police officers. He claimed that the budget proposed by Peterson and passed by the Democrat council failed to appropriate the costs of police over-time work. In fact, he raised other taxes and fees over the past four years to support spending on the Capital Improvement Board and budget items other than public safety. Ballard takes credit for lower property taxes that are entirely the result of action taken by the state legislature and Gov. Mitch Daniels, which were only made possible by hiking the state sales tax a full percentage point. Given Ballard's vulnerability on this issue, one has to wonder if it was a wise decision to attack Kennedy for being a proponent of higher taxes.

The negative attack ad against Kennedy seems to suggest Ballard may not have the double-digit lead in the polls his campaign claims their polling data shows he currently holds in the race. Democrats claim a poll of their own shows their candidate with a 2-point lead. Neither campaign has publicly shared the cross tabs to allow for independent analysis of their respective polls. WISH-TV's Jim Shella claims he has been allowed by the respective campaigns to look at their polling data and has learned Democrats' polling sample assumes there is a 10% Democratic advantage in party identification over Republicans, while Republicans claim there is only a 4% Democratic advantage. That may explain the differing poll results, but it's difficult to make much of the numbers until those offering them share all of the cross tabs for the sample comprising their respective polls.

UPDATE: IndyDemocrat blog has Kennedy's reaction to Ballard's attack ad, which she believes is in response to the Democrats' poll claiming she has a slight edge over Ballard:

Unfortunately, less than 24 hours after the poll was released, the Mayor began unleashing a personal and misleading attack ad. In the ad, the Mayor claims that I supported an income tax increase while I was Deputy Mayor. I had no role in this. And, if he is referring to the Local Option Income Tax (LOIT) increase in 2007, this occurred two years after I left my position with the City.
And more disappointing is that Mayor Ballard made a campaign pledge in 2008 to FULLY repeal the LOIT. Not only has he broken this promise, but since taking office he has raised taxes, rates and fees more than 140 times – 143 to be precise. These tax hikes imposed by the Mayor have stifled job creation throughout our city. And, the Mayor's tax increases have made it more difficult for entrepreneurs, small businesses and working families to survive and succeed in our city.
I am open to discussing our records and discussing the issues, but to attack me personally and attempt to mislead the public with distorted facts is the worst type of politics. The Mayor has claimed to not be political, but his attack ads are nothing more than a vastly political move to try and keep his job.
 And here's Ballard's response to Kennedy's reaction:

In response to our ad, Kennedy is trying to mislead voters by deflecting to another income tax increase that occurred later in that administration. The facts are:      
Melina Kennedy served as Deputy Mayor in 2005 when the COIT increased from .7 to 1 - that's a 43% income tax increase.        
Melina Kennedy was later quoted by the Indianapolis Star as saying,

o "First, as deputy mayor, I supported the county option income tax (COIT) increase..."

o During her last campaign, the Indianapolis Star reported that "she would support a tax increase to fund" her proposals.

While constantly attacking Mayor Ballard, Melina Kennedy tries to hide her record on taxes and fees. For example, when she served as Deputy Mayor, Melina Kennedy promoted raising the hotel tax, car rental tax, restaurant tax, and ticket tax. 
Melina Kennedy's attacks on Mayor Ballard resulted in a recent Matthew Tully column entitled "Kennedy can't criticize Ballard on tax record." 
Again, I'm not sure why Ballard chose this issue to attack Kennedy's record.  It's just too easy for her to play tit for tat and undermine his campaign meme that he somehow reduced taxes during the past four years, which is a patently false claim. Ironically, Ballard pushed raising the hotel tax, car rental tax, admissions tax, etc. when he was asking the legislature for help in bailing out the CIB. Now, the CIB is flush with money and has even diverted property tax revenues, a first in the city's history, to fund CIB activities, including a $33.5 million handout to the billionaire Simons' Indiana Pacers. His 2012 budget calls for a series of budget tricks to make what is otherwise an unbalanced budget appear to be balanced by shifting money around between funds and calling for unspecified budget reductions. It's deja vu all over again, as they say. Everyone knows Ballard will be asking for a tax increase next year if he is re-elected.

Delph Passes Bar

Congratulations to Sen. Mike Delph (R-Carmel) on successfully passing the Indiana Bar examination. Some of his detractors in the news media delighted in reporting on his failure to pass the exam earlier this year when he sat for it during the heat of the legislative session. The extra time he had to study this summer proved beneficial. Let's see if his media detractors report on his successful passage now. The entire list can be viewed here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ballard Gives Nytes Her Ultimate Pay Off

Eat your heart out, Lincoln Plowman. Jackie Nytes shows how the game is played without fear of criminal indictment. She tossed several key votes to Mayor Greg Ballard over the past four years that earned her the ire of members of her Democratic caucus on the City-County Council. Each time she cast a controversial vote in favor of the Ballard administration, she was handsomely rewarded. There were plenty of city contracts for her husband's printing business, and the Mapleton-Fall Creek Development Corporation, which she ran, received more grant money from the city than any other CDC.

Tonight, Ballard handed her the final pay off she had requested: Chief Executive Officer of the Indianapolis Public Library. Forget her pathetic performance as the library's CFO when the library district spending got completely out of control after it went on a building spree that drove up property taxes and left the district financially strapped. She stepped up and voted for every lousy proposal Ballard put before the council where her vote made the difference, whether it was the CIB bailout vote, the sale of the city's utility assets or the one-side parking meter lease deal with Ballard's favorite Pay To Play contractor, ACS. No other member of the council, Republican or Democrat, except for Ryan Vaughn, received as much in consideration for their vote and support as Jackie Nytes received. Not surprisingly, Ballard is unabashedly hailing his sell out appointment of a person who is anathema to everything Republicans are supposed to represent to the position she has fought to get for years:

I salute the Indianapolis Public Library Board on its selection of Jackie Nytes for this position. Her dedication to public service and commitment to improving our community and the lives of our residents will undoubtedly have a profound impact in this new role. We look forward to continuing our work together to strengthen our library system and our neighborhoods.

Yep, just one more reason this life-long Republican will never cast a vote to re-elect this Benedict Arnold as mayor. I predicted this would happen just the moment the current occupant of this position announced her retirement. The only thing you can expect Nytes to do in her role is play as many games with the budget as she enjoyed doing when she served as the library's controller and exactly what she has relished doing as a player in budget-writing as a council member. She was a chief architect of the 2008 Peterson budget that Ballard has descried repeatedly since taking office four years ago. Transparency is not a word in Nytes' vocabulary. If you hadn't already figured it out, it's also not a word in Ballard's vocabulary--at least as you and I understand the word to mean.

UPDATE: How laughable. A story in today's Star on Nytes' appointment begins: "After a nationwide search, the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library Board ultimately found that the person with the best qualifications to lead the beleaguered system was right here at home." What an insult to legitimate librarian professionals. The Board plans to approve a contract that pays Nytes somewhere between $125,000 to $150,000 a year.

State Fair Contract Made Local Union Responsible For Stage Set-Up

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 30 has been noticeably quiet since the collapse of the Indiana State Fair grandstand stage rigging that claimed seven lives, including a member of its own union, Nathan Byrd and injured dozens more. WTHR's Sandra Chapman learns why the union has been so quiet. Although Mid-America Sound owned the stage rigging equipment, the State Fair contract made the local union entirely responsible for the stage rigging set-up and operation:

Local 30's contract with the Indiana State Fair Commission says the union is responsible for the set-up, because it supplied all of the labor.
Mid-America Sound owned the stage, while the commission paid Local 30 to handle "...all phases of stage scaffolding set-ups and tear-downs...and the installation, operation and dismantling of permanent or temporary sound, lighting and audio visual equipment."
"...The Union shall obtain and maintain all required permits, licenses and approvals, as well as comply with all health, safety and environmental statutes, rules or regulations..."
Under the agreement, the commission even promised to pay for one testing session for one employee each year through the Entertainment Technician Certification Program.
The certification program manager says Indiana has seven arena riggers certified through its program to set up temporary stages.
Nathan Byrd was not one of them.
Despite the responsibility of the local union for the stage-rigging equipment under the contract, neither the union nor the State Fair Commission is liable for injury or death to any persons due to the union's negligence:

The State Fair Commission's contract with Local 30 states:
"Neither party will assume liability for any injury (including death) to any persons, or damage to any property arising out of the acts or omissions of the agents, employees or subUnions of the other party."
Local 30's Agent Representative refused to answer any of our questions, and referred us to his attorney Bill Groth, who was not available.
It's unclear at this time if Nathan Byrd was involved in the set-up of the stage. But Byrd's brother told Eyewitness News some co-workers admitted problems with the stage days before the collapse.
A short time after the stage collapse, I was contacted by a relative of one of the local union's workers, who had worked on the stage rigging equipment in past years but not this year. According to this person, his relative refused to work at the State Fair this year because he said the stage-rigging equipment was deficient and dangerous. I asked the person if I could interview him about the concerns he had. He said no because the relative was concerned the union would retaliate against him and he would be denied future work opportunties. City-County Councilor Joanne Sanders (D) serves as an international representative for the union.

Lake County Coroner and Sheriff's Deputies Charged In Separate Public Corruption Cases

The U.S. Attorney's Office in the Northern District of Indiana today announced a string of indictments against Lake Co. Cororner Thomas Philpot and three sheriff's deputies. Philpot is accused of misappropriating funds during his service as Lake Co. Clerk prior to becoming the county's coroner. Three sheriff's deputies are accused of misusing their positions to acquire high-powered automatic weapons and lasers for resale on the Internet for a profit. The Northwest Indiana Times has the details:

The charges against Philpot, from his previous term as Lake County clerk, include mail fraud, theft and misappropriation of funds. Authorities said the misappropriation of funds amounted to a little less than $25,000 from the county's 4D child support program . . .
Additionally, in a separate six-county indictment, three Lake County police officers were indicted. Sgt. Joseph Kumstar and Officers Ronald Slusser and Edward Kabella are alleged to have misused their positions at the Sheriff's Department to obtain machine guns and laser sights, then sold them on the Internet for profit.
The U.S. attorney said all three officers have agreed to plead guilty to all counts and will be making statements in the coming days.
The investigation of Sheriff's Department officers started in late 2009, when the U.S. Department of Defense received a call from a concerned citizen that machine guns were missing from the Lake County Sheriff's Department inventory, the U.S. attorney said.
The three officers allegedly had falsely misrepresented that they were buying the machine guns for the Sheriff's Department. They falsified letters and shipment orders with Lake County Sheriff's Department letterhead.
When the guns were to be delivered to the Sheriff's Department, they were intercepted and taken to Slusser's house instead, the U.S. attorney said.
The indictment alleges 74 machine guns were acquired illegally. Kumstar expressed intent to buy 50 fully automatic handguns for use by the Lake County Sheriff's Department in a letter dated Dec. 22, 2008, on Lake County Sheriff's Department paper. Four parts from that order were recovered in Canada.

Varvel On Barnes v. State

Star editorial cartoonist Gary Varvel hits it out of the park today with his take on the Indiana Supreme Court's decision in Barnes v. State.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Zoeller Agrees To Return $11,000 In Durham Contributions To Fair Finance Trustee

He didn't exactly lead by example, but Attorney General Greg Zoeller has finally reached an agreement with the bankruptcy trustee for Fair Finance Company to return $11,000 in contributions his campaign committee received from indicted Ponzi scheme operator Tim Durham. That leaves only the committees of Gov. Mitch Daniels and former Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, the largest recipients of Durham's campaign contributions, which have yet to reach a settlement agreement with the bankruptcy trustee, Brian Bash. Bash has threatened to sue, if necessary, to recover the money. Bash also issued a flurry of subpoenas over the last week to a variety of financial institutions and businesses tied to Durham in what appears to be an effort to track the flow of dollars out of the bankrupt company.

Tully On Carmel Councilors Taking Care Of Themselves First

Star political columnist Matt Tully may not have found time to walk a block down the street to the federal courthouse to watch the public corruption trial of Lincoln Plowman unfold, but he did take a trip up to Carmel to watch city councilors vote to award themselves a $20,000 a year perk and describe it as one of the toughest votes they had ever made. The most apt description of what took place came from outgoing Councilor John Acceturo according to Tully:

Councilman John Accetturo walked by me a few minutes before the start of Monday night's Carmel City Council meeting and pointed with a smile toward a group of his colleagues.
"Sometimes," he said, "I think people do stuff just to make themselves look bad."
 Tully notes that the council voted for a new health insurance perk for themselves despite overwhelming public opposition to the move:

In emails and phone calls, and in impassioned public testimony, Carmelites made clear their dissatisfaction with the council . . . .
Their timing seemed calculated; they introduced the ordinance after the May primaries -- the only elections that matter in Carmel because none of the council members will be challenged by Democrats in November.
Tully picks up on the absurd explanations offered by councilors who supported the perk:

Councilwoman Luci Snyder promised not to take the coverage but said the perk was appropriate because, "We pay for excellence here." Colleague Ron Carter said it was "the hardest vote" he'd taken, a self-pitying sentiment echoed by others.
Voting to give yourself a new perk isn't exactly a profile in courage.
Congratulations, Carmel City Council. You've proven you can be just as bad of a city council as the one we're stuck with down here in Indianapolis.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

FBI Raids IHOPs In Evansville And Ohio

Seven IHOP franchise restaurants, one in Evansville and six others at locations in Ohio operated by the same franchise owner, were raided this morning by the FBI and other federal agencies. The Evansville Courier & Press identifies the franschise owner as Terry Elk; however, fellow blogger Debbie Schlussel reports his real name is Tarek Elkafrawi. A spokesperson for IHOP tells the Courier Press the raids are not terrorist-related, but Debbie Schlussel thinks differently:

"Don’t believe that BS for a second. IHOP is lying, as the feds already told the media this is about terrorist money-laundering. The Joint Terrorism Task Force isn’t conducting these raids because they “aren’t related to terrorism.”
The Courier & Press confirms the raid involved multiple federal agencies, including the FBI, IRS and ICE. The search warrants are sealed so it is not entirely clear what the investigation involves, although it is safe to assume it involves potential unlawful immigrant worker violations since ICE participated in the raid.

UPDATE: Evansville's WEHT-TV says the purpose of the raid is based on a suspicion of money laundering for terrorist groups:
A spokesperson with the Cleveland, Ohio FBI Office would not confirm to NEWS 25 the exact nature of the raids, citing the sealed nature of federal search warrants. Special Agent Scott Wilson would also not confirm what agents were searching for at each location.
However, other sources tell NEWS 25 the investigation is connected to allegations of money laundering to terrorist groups in the Middle East, as well as the hiring of illegal workers. Our source also says the restaurants being raided in Toledo share the same owners as the Evansville IHOP. Because no arrests have been made, and no charges filed, we are not releasing their names.

Supreme Court Holds Firm On Barnes v. State

A controversial Indiana Supreme Court decision, Barnes v. State, earlier this year created a firestorm when the state's high court abrogated a long-held rule that a person had a right to reasonably resist an unlawful entry into their home by a police officer. In the wake of public outrage over the decision authored by Justice Steven David, Attorney General Greg Zoeller asked the Court to rehear the case "to allow for a more narrow ruling that would continue to recognize the individual right of reasonable resistance to unlawful entry." The Supreme Court today announced it is affirming its earlier ruling in a 4-1 decision authored by Justice David. Justice Rucker dissented. Justice Dickson, who dissented in the earlier decision, flipped to the majority this time. The General Assembly is already laying the groundwork to statutorily overturn the controversial decision. Legislation will no doubt be sent to the Governor next year in light of today's ruling. David's ruling says the Court didn't mean what its original opinion was interpreted to say:

“Our earlier opinion was not intended to, and did not, change that existing law about the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, and papers against unreasonable searches and seizures.” 
Attorney General Greg Zoeller seems satisfied by the clarification issued by the Court in today's ruling:

"The Indiana Supreme Court's ruling today means that individuals still have the common law right of reasonable resistance to an unlawful entry, though there is never justification for committing battery against a police officer. In volatile domestic violence situations, police have the right to enter a home to ensure safety of others, but today's ruling also means the individual has the right to stand against his locked door to protect his home and communicate with police outside without a physical altercation. While the Legislature considers whether to revise the existing statute, we respect the Indiana Supreme Court's ruling, which underscores that the individual's constitutional right remains in force," Zoeller said.

I'm  not sure how one can "reasonably resist" an unlawful entry into their home by a police officer without running the risk of committing battery on a law enforcement officer.

Daniels' Book Takes A Swipe At Northwest Indiana

Some Northwest Indiana leaders may not like what Gov. Mitch Daniels has to say about northwest Indiana in his new book, "Keeping the Republic." The Northwest Indiana Times' Dan Carden discusses this passage in his book and the Governor's explanation of it:

In a chapter detailing his work to overcome environmental objections to the $4 billion expansion of BP's Whiting refinery, Daniels said he was "thrilled" to bring new jobs to a region that "has been the hardest part of the state to attract jobs to."
"Culturally close to Chicago in both economics and politics, and with a reputation for governmental corruption and labor union aggression, our northwest corner is a place employers are more likely to flee than invest in," Daniels wrote in "Keeping the Republic: Saving America by Trusting Americans."
In a phone interview Monday with The Times, the Republican governor stood by his comments.
"My heart is still in the project of making something really positive happen there, but there is some responsibility," Daniels said. "If you want the kind of new jobs that we've been able to get in most of the rest of the state, it would sure help if governmental leadership was a little more pro-growth."
He said Valparaiso is on the right track compared to other cities in Northwest Indiana, but said region political and business leaders should be motivated by jobs locating elsewhere in the state to decide, "Let's shape up."
Northwest Indiana also figures prominently in Daniels' retelling of his 2006 lease of the Indiana Toll Road, which he says he became fascinated with while traveling on it repeatedly during his 2004 campaign for governor.
He says he was determined to find a way to run it better when he learned the state paid 34 cents per vehicle in staff costs to collect a 15-cent toll before cars could enter Illinois . . .
If Gov. Daniels thinks the politics of Lake County is any more corrupt than the politics down in Indianapolis, he must be living under a rock. Insider government deals have made many of his good friends quite rich down here in Indianapolis and have often short-changed the taxpayers. Northwest Indiana has benefited a lot because of Chicago and not in spite of it regardless of what he wants to believe.

The Journal-Gazette includes this passage in Daniels' book about convicted former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who will probably soon be taking up residency with another former Illinois governor at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute:

Daniels also talks of the only time he ever met now-infamous former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich at a meeting of the nation’s governors in Philadelphia soon after President Obama’s inauguration.
He said to Blagojevich, “your phone must be ringing off the hook with the vacant Senate seat appointment coming up.” To which Blagojevich responded, “Yeah, every SOB in Illinois thinks he ought to be a United States Senator.”
Five days later, the FBI arrested Blagojevich on charges that he had sought bribes to make the appointment.
Among the SOBs Blagojevich spoke to on the phone during that meeting in Philadelphia was then President-elect Barack Obama, who called him to discuss the Senate seat appointment. Federal prosecutors kept under wraps the contents of that conversation during Blagojevich's federal corruption trial in Chicago.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dick Cady Publishes Murder Mystery Book Based On True Story

A Pulitzer prize-winning former reporter and columnist for the Indianapolis Star, Dick Cady, has authored a new book entitled, "Scavengers: A True Story of Money, Madness and Murder." Cady tells the story of the ill-fated Jackson family fortune and how it lured 24 people into crime, brought about two murdes and led two men to the electric chair. Cady's first book-signing will take place on September 24, 2011 at 1:30 p.m. at Book Mamas at 9 South Johnson in Irvington. The book is available for purchase on by clicking here.

300 East Out Of Business: New Home For Small Claims Court?

The controversial restaurant/bar that former Center Township Trustee Carl Drummer and his good buddy Lacy Johnson broke virtually every imaginable rule to locate in the Julia Carson Government Center four years ago closed its doors on September 1 without fanfare. The current township trustee, Eugene Akers, now wants to relocate the Center Township Small Claims Court into the former space occupied by 300 East from its current location in the basement of the City-County Building. Akers says the move will save the township money, but the small claim's court judge, Michelle Scott Smith, is opposed to the plan. The IBJ's Scott Olson explains:

The Center Township trustee is pushing to move the township's small claims court from the downtown Indianapolis City-County Building to the Julia M. Carson Government Center in what is being promoted as a cost-saving measure.

Trustee Eugene Akers’ plan, which could be approved at a Wednesday township board meeting, is not without controversy, however. The court’s judge, Michelle Smith Scott, is adamantly opposed to the move.

“If the trustee for Center [Township] is able to do this and is allowed to interfere with the court over the objection of the judge,” she said, “I don’t think it sets a good precedent.”
The court is the city’s oldest of nine township small claims courts and is the only one located in the City-County Building, where it’s been housed since the 28-story building opened in 1962.

Scott said the court needs to be in the building because it has the highest volume of cases among Marion County courts—14,000 in 2010. The building’s security is critical, she said, given the large number of litigants coming into her courtroom . . .
According to Olson's story, the township pays the county $16,701.00 to lease the space in the City-County building and it's scheduled to increase next year by 5%. Akers says he can build out the space in the Julia Carson Government building owned by the township, which was formerly occupied by 300 East, for $459,000. Olson says the township reported a cash surplus of $8.5 million at the end of last year. It only makes sense if the township is going to own that big office building that it should house its small claims court there rather than rent basement space in the City-County Building.

As to the demise of 300 East, Olson had this comment from one of the principal owners of the business, Bill Mays:

Local businessman Bill Mays was part of a group that invested $500,000 to launch the restaurant in 2006. Mays said he and local attorney Lacy Johnson could have continued to underwrite restaurant losses, but others couldn’t.

Mays said he continued to financially support the restaurant to give African-Americans and others in the area a place to meet and conduct business.

“The neighborhood was very slow to warm to it,” he said, “and that’s too bad, because it’s their loss.”

Mays said he backs Akers’ plan to move the small claims court into the space, citing an abundance of free parking near the building.

White Files Motion To Dismiss Special Prosecutor's Case Against Him

The attorney representing Secretary of State Charlie White on Friday filed a motion to dismiss the multi-count criminal indictment two special prosecutors filed against him earlier this year. Former Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, who is representing White, has challenged both the validity of the grand jury proceedings conducted by the special prosecutors and the sufficiency of the multiple indictments returned by that grand jury under the direction of the special prosecutors that arose out of allegations White had committed vote fraud prior to seeking the office of Secretary of State by voting in a precinct in which he allegedly did not live and holding a seat on the Fishers Town Council district while he lived outside the district.

Brizzi argues in his filing with the court that incoming Hamilton Co. Prosecutor Lee Buckingham had an affirmative duty to consent to the appointment of the special prosecutors appointed by his predecessor, Sonia Leerkamp, upon entering office in January. Buckingham neglected to do this until July of this year after the issue was raised by White following his indictment on seven felonies by the grand jury directed by the special prosecutors. Brizzi argues that Buckingham was attempting to correct a fundamental error he had made in failiing to re-affirm the need for a special prosecutor to handle the case following his swearing in as the new prosecutor. The notice Buckingham filed with the court in July in response to White raising the issue claimed the special prosecutor statute "required no action" on his part. Brizzi argues that Buckingham's failure to act should nullify the grand jury proceedings and indictments those proceeding produced against White.

Following his appointment as one of the two special prosecutors, Dan Sigler, Sr., made his son, Dan Sigler, Jr., a third member of the special prosecution team simply by filing a notice with the court of his appointment as a deputy special prosecutor. The notice did not seek the court's review or approval of his appointment. Brizzi contends his appointment could have only been made under the special prosecution statute by the court. Brizzi contends that Sigler, Jr. played an active role in interrogating witnesses brought before the grand jury. His "unlawful presence" Brizzi contends violated White's Fifth Amendment right to be judged by a fair and impartial jury. Brizzi further argues that the grand jury proceedings were improper because the special prosecutors only allowed members of the grand jury to question three of the eight witnesses that appeared before it. Some of the witnesses, according to Brizzi, were excused and then later recalled to testify further. Brizzi also contends that the special prosecutors failed to present the complete applicable law and excluded exculpatory evidence from them in order to reach a desired outcome. In particular, Brizzi contends grand jurors were not explained fully the standards for determining residency under Indiana law.

Brizzi's motion lays out several deficiencies he found in the indictments returned by the grand jury. The charge of perjury against White as related to his marriage application is based on an immaterial matter in violation of Indiana law Brizzi argues. The indictment on a charge of theft for receiving a salary as a Fishers Town Council member cannot be proven as a matter of law because each of the elements, including that he exercised "unauthorized control" over his pay, cannot be proven on the facts presented according to Brizzi's argument. Several counts of the indictment Brizzi argues constitute double jeopardy under the Indiana Constitution because they are essentially charging White with multiple crimes for the same offense. Brizzi's motion also cites a provision of the Indiana Election Code that prohibits the commencement of a criminal prosecution against a candidate during a pending election as an interference with "free and equal elections." Brizzi acknowledges there is no case law interpreting this particular statute, but the plain meaning of the words in the statute suggest that commencement of a criminal proceeding against a candidate is likely to distract voters, disrupt elections and campaigns and unlawfully influence voters and candidates.

White's trial is scheduled to take place in January of next year after the trial date has twice been delayed. Brizzi only recently took over White's defense from Dennis Zahn. The filing of a motion to dismiss at least some of the charges the grand jury returned against White would have seemed logical, but for whatever reason, Zahn never filed any dismissal motion while he was handling the case. The date for filing a motion to dismiss under the court's previously adopted omnibus schedule had actually already passed when Brizzi took over the case. Brizzi will have to obtain leave of the court to consider dispositive pre-trial motions at this point.

Carmel City Council Moving Forward With Plan To Give Part-Time Councilors Health Insurance Benefits

This is exactly the reason that so many of us within the Republican Party are disgusted by the people within are own party. When it comes down to it, many of our elected Republicans are no better than the Democrats when it comes to using public service as an excuse for self-enrichment. Carmel city councilors are already paid $16,000 a year for their part-time jobs, but that's not good enough. They think they are entitled to gold-plated health insurance benefits like a full-time employee would receive. They conveniently waited until after the May primary election, which is the general election in Carmel for all practical purposes since the entire council is made up of Republicans. The self-dealing councilors are moving forward with the plan despite opposition from the local Republican leader. The Star's Dan McFeely reports:

But Alan Potasnik, a former city councilman and current chairman of the local Republican Party, thinks this is a mistake and said there is a bigger issue at hand.
"My wife and I both (she has also served on the council) feel that if you sign up for one of these positions, for public service, then that is the name of the game," said Potasnik, who has rallied local taxpayers to speak out against the proposal.
"We believe you do not do this expecting to be paid big salaries and benefits. Spending thousands of extra dollars is not what conservative taxpayers would expect."
The council president uses the excuse of other council members in other cities receiving health insurance benefits as an excuse for Carmel's councilors receiving the same benefit:

Council President Eric Seidensticker sees both sides of the issue.
"If the people have permitted the (Hamilton) County Council and County Commissioners to have this benefit, and since they are elected to a similar position as the City Council (most still have full-time jobs as well), the benefits extended to each should be the same," he said. "I also understand that public service was not intended to provide the same luxuries as full-time employment."
The Indiana Association of Cities and Towns said its survey this year of 227 cities and towns showed that only 26 offered health benefits. Among those 26 are major cities such as Indianapolis, Anderson, Bloomington, Fort Wayne and South Bend. In Central Indiana, smaller locales such as Mooresville and Whitestown provide benefits, while the rest do not.
Plainfield council members can opt in to that city's plan but only if they pay the premiums themselves.
This is what disgusts me so much about the Republican Party. It constantly preaches fiscal conservatism and smaller government, but the only people getting ahead in the party these days are self-dealing pigs who want to squeeze as much out of their public service as possible. True fiscal conservatives are driven out of the party because they are principled people.

UPDATE: The proposal passed by a vote of 5-2. Only the two retiring council members voted against the proposal.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Is There More To Come From The Lincoln Plowman Saga?

Lincoln Plowman
Generally speaking, public corruption trials in the Southern District of Indiana have been few and far between. Some observers think the FBI sting operation conducted against Lincoln Plowman was simply an obligatory muscle flexing by the local FBI office to address perceived increasing public restlessness that little was being done to curtail public corruption in the Southern District compared to a number of high profile cases prosecuted in the Northern District of Indiana. That may be the case, and it's hard not to argue that Lincoln Plowman was pretty low hanging fruit. There have been some hints, however, that there may be a wider ongoing investigation of public corruption in Indianapolis that may claim a number of high-profile public officials before it comes to a conclusion.

Something that got little notice at the time was the fact that the investigation into former Perry Township Constable Roy Houchin's badge-selling scheme was being spear-headed by the Public Integrity Section of the Justice Department and not the local U.S. Attorney's office. That was also the case with Lincoln Plowman. The government's lead prosecutor was Richard Pilger, a senior attorney in the criminal division of the Public Integrity Section in Washington. Plowman's conviction included this statement from the Assistant Attorney General in Washington, Lanny Breuer:

“Former Councilman Plowman betrayed the public’s trust by attempting to use his public office for personal gain. He attempted to trade official actions for cash and campaign contributions, but he was caught,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer. “Corruption at any level of government flies in the face of the ideals upon which our democracy is built. We will simply not allow self-dealing by elected officials to go unpunished.”
It would seem rather odd that the Public Integrity Section in Washington would have time to devote on small fish like Houchins and Plowman unless they had bigger fish to fry. Houchins died unexpectedly the week before he had been scheduled to go on trial in federal court. There were rumors he was about to cut a deal with federal investigators when he was found dead in a parking lot on the city's south side. He supposedly fell and hit his head after passing out and died from a head injury inflicted by his fall. He had been accused of selling badges out of his township constable office. The buyers of his badges reportedly included a who's who of Indianapolis political and business figures.

During the trial of Plowman, the government played hours of recorded conversations between an undercover FBI agent, Mark Aysta, and Plowman, which the government used to prove that Plowman was willing to take money from the undercover agent to grease the wheels for the zoning approval that would be needed to open up a new strip club in Indianapolis. There were some fascinating details that got little notice in the media that emerged during his trial.

While it was widely reported that Plowman had been on the payroll of PT's Showclub in Lawrence since 2005 and had used his position as a City-County Councilor to help influence public debate on the smoking ban debated by the City-County Council over a several year period, there was little mention of who was behind Plowman's hiring. PT's is owned VCG Holdings, a publicly-traded company based in Denver, Colorado that owns about 20 strip clubs around the country. Plowman reported directly to the company's president, Michael Ocello, who is based in the St. Louis area.

Michael Ocello
Ocello is an interesting character. The 50-year-old Ocello got his start in the adult entertainment business working as a male stripper before owning his own strip club and hooking up with Troy Lowerie, the CEO of VCG Holdings, to build the largest strip club empire in the country. Lowerie had his own run-in with the law when he was busted for soliciting a prostitute in Denver recently. Ocello serves as President of the Association of Club Executives, a trade organization for adult nightclubs. He first gained national prominence in 2004 when he launched a national campaign on behalf of the adult entertainment business to defeat the re-election of President George W. Bush. ''We must do everything within our power to help ensure that Bush and his ultra-conservative administration are removed from the White House,'' Ocello wrote in a letter to the adult entertainment industry. Ocello, a Democrat, has also been very politically active in Missouri at both the state and local level on issues of importance to the adult entertainment industry. He gained notoriety when he ran a "Buns For Guns" campaign at his strip clubs, which offered free lap dances to patrons in exchange for their handguns. He reportedly had no takers. Ocello even served a couple of terms on his local school board in Mehlville, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis.

Ocello seems like an unlikely character for a high-ranking law enforcement officer in the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and City-County Councilor representing the city's most conservative district to become involved. According to testimony provided during Plowman's trial by Michael Webb, PT's club manager in Lawrence, Plowman had actually sought the job from Ocello of becoming the Indiana Nighclub Association's State House lobbyist, a position held by veteran lobbyist Bill Powers. Ocello, instead, set up a deal for Plowman to work on the industry's behalf in a role that would not require him to register and report as a lobbyist. It seemed Plowman's primary value to the club's $1,000 a month contract with him was to fight a smoking ban ordinance before the City-County Council. Webb testified that VCG helped spread money around on a public advertising campaign that included buying ads on two local radio stations, printing up t-shirts opposing the ban and preparing fliers to distribute in Indianapolis' bars and nightclubs. The company also kicked in $5,000 to the Marion Co. Republicans to help fight the smoking ban, although the issue has never been a partisan issue.

While the Plowman jury heard hours of recorded conversations between Plowman and the undercover agent, there were also noticeable redactions in some of the recorded conversations that the jurors were not allowed to hear. The government's lead attorney, Richard Pilger, disclosed during a short hearing before Judge Larry McKinney following the announcement of the jury's guilty verdict on both counts against Plowman for bribery and attempted extortion, the substance of the redacted conversations. Pilger said Plowman discussed frequent trips he had made to Costa Rica and the fact that he had ties there that made him a flight risk. The government was also concerned that Plowman's training as an undercover officer and the fact that he was found to possess a large number of high-powered weapons and ammunition heightened their concern of flight risk. Judge McKinney ultimately decided to allow Plowman to remain on home detention until his sentencing hearing, which has not yet been scheduled, because he had surrendered his passport and all of his guns and ammunition to federal authorities.

Tim Durham
The fact that Plowman had made frequest trips to Costa Rica raised some eyebrows. Although it is a popular tourist destination in Central America, it is also reknowned for its role as a center for international money laundering activities. A source claims Plowman accompanied indicted Ponzi scheme operator Tim Durham on several occasions aboard a private jet Durham formerly owned. Plowman mentioned during his testimony that he had provided security services for the homes of some Indianapolis business executives, but he did not disclose who those business executives were. Durham was known for hiring off-duty police officers to work at lavish parties he threw at his Geist mansion before his high-flying world came crashing down in November, 2009 when federal agents raided his offices as part of its investigation of the Ponzi scheme he allegedly operated to bilk Ohio investors out of more than $200 million through Fair Finance Company. Durham once hosted a caucus meeting of the Republican councilors in his offices atop the Chase Tower in downtown Indianapolis at which Plowman was elected as the caucus' Majority Leader--the very offices raided by FBI agents in 2009.

A federal bankruptcy trustee for Fair Finance Company has managed to recover only a few million dollars to date, most of which has gone to pay for legal expenses and other professional expenses incurred in its efforts to recover as many assets for the defrauded creditors as possible. Federal authorities are no doubt exploring as many avenues as possible to determine where all of the dollars that flowed out of Fair Finance wound up. Whether any of the money wound up in accounts or investments outside the country is anybody's guess at this point. The bankruptcy trustee this past week reached an agreement with the Marion Co. Republicans and the campaign committee of Lawrence Mayor Paul Ricketts to return about $60,000 Durham had contributed to their campaign committees. PT's Showclub where Plowman supposedly provided security services is located in Ricketts' community of Lawrence.

Officially, U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett is saying that he will neither confirm nor deny whether there are ongoing investigations arising out of the activities of Lincoln Plowman or other public officials. It is also possible that he doesn't have an answer to that question because authorities in Washington are being very tight-lipped about any ongoing investigations. One thing that is clear, however, is that the investigations to date have been Washington-driven, not locally-driven. Whether there is a role for Plowman to offer testimony in exchange for a lenient sentence remains to be seen. As a witness, he would be of limited value because he is on record as twice saying that he knew of no corruption--the first time during an interview with two FBI agents following his brief detention after accepting $5,000 cash from an undercover FBI agent. He reiterated that position on the witness stand during his own trial. Nonetheless, he could still possibly provide valuable information to federal investigators if he chooses to cooperate.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Why Lincoln Plowman Honestly Believes He Is Innocent

A somber Lincoln Plowman could be heard murmuring to himself that he was innocent as the jury's verdict was read in U.S. District Court Judge Larry McKinney's courtroom finding him guilty of bribery and attempted extortion charges. I find no joy in knowing that Plowman is likely to spend the next few years sitting in the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute. If it's any consolation, he may have the company of two former governors of Illinois to pass away the long days ahead of him.

When Lincoln professes his innocence, I truly think he believes that. After all, he's not new to the rodeo called Marion County politics. As a young military veteran seeking a career in law enforcement, he landed the job he wanted as a deputy in the Marion Co. Sheriff's Department. Growing up in a small town in Illinois, it never occurred to me that anyone would aspire to work as a deputy in Sheriff's Department as a path to political power. Aspiring politicians in Indiana knew otherwise. At one time, the Marion County Sheriff was the highest paid elected official in the entire United States. Yes, he actually earned more than the President of the United States, and that was still true when Plowman joined the office as a new deputy back in the late 1980s.

Under the tutelage of powerful sheriffs like Joe McAtee and Jack Cottey, Plowman learned there were a lot of perks that came with working in the Sheriff's Department. All around him were law enforcement officials making big money off their part-time jobs and businesses, while driving their well-equipped Crown Vics available to them for their personal and private business use. There were also all the added perks of not having to pay admission to nightclubs, getting free drinks and food in many local restaurants and bars and free passes to watch the latest flicks at the local theater. So when Plowman worked his own side deal with a local strip club that provided him $1,000 a month in what he told jurors was "just gravy", he was doing what he had seen so many of his law enforcement buddies do over the years: get their cut.

When Plowman was selected over far-more qualified persons to enjoy the added bonus of serving as a City-County Councilor with a top leadership position and powerful committee chairmanship with control over the city's zoning boards that provided him an additional $18,000 a year, he saw nothing wrong with using that position to get more of "his cut." And why not? Others around him were getting their cut without any legal consequences.

Ryan Vaughn sold his seat on the council to the City's most powerful law firm in consideration for a high-paying job with the firm and shamelessly uses his powerful position every day to benefit his law firm and its clients--even voting on measures that specifically benefit them. Former City-County Council President Monroe Gray got a high-paid no work, no show job with the Indianapolis Fire Department and contracts for his concrete company courtesy of former Mayor Bart Peterson. Jackie Nytes gets multi-million dollar government grants for her "nonprofit" employer and city contracts for her husband's business. A large company puts 50 police officers on its payroll in part-time jobs and uses them as cover for receiving stolen property and to eliminate its competition using their law enforcement powers and walks after cutting a $200,000 deal with Marion Co. Prosecutor Terry Curry, who promised to removed the "for sale" sign from the prosecutor's office. Curry's predecessor, Carl Brizzi, got cut in on real estate deals and got to own a piece of a downtown restaurant/bar despite a specific state law barring him from owning an interest in an establishment with a liquor license. All around Lincoln, people were getting their cut without consequences. Why shouldn't he?

And can we fault Plowman, who is not an attorney, for not knowing that he had to disclose his part-time work as a consultant on his statement of economic interest form he signed under penalties of perjury where it asked if he had any self-employment income? After all, the City-County Council President Ryan Vaughn is an attorney who authored the city's ethics ordinance and yet he filed a statement of economic interest claiming that he does not receive compensation in excess of $5,000 from a business that does business with or solicits business from the city or county despite the fact that his employer bills city and county agencies for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of legal work every year. Even new-comer to the council Angel Rivera, who is not an attorney, knew how to answer that question correctly on his statement of economic interest.

I know it sounds strange, but I do feel sorry for Lincoln. He's a small fish as they say in a sea of corruption. Prosecuting him does little to shake things up in what has become a very corrupt environment here in Indianapolis and Marion County. He did wrong and he deserves to pay a penalty for his crime. There are many others, however, who deserve the justice he is getting far more. His cut was peanuts compared to the large haul other more powerful figures are making at the public's expense. I truly hope Joe Hogsett meant what he said today when said "nobody is above the law" and that his office will hold accountable those who have a "for sale" sign hanging from their public offices. The public will anxiously await to see if he keeps his word.

UPDATE: In light of reality, I got a chuckle reading this quote from Ryan Vaughn in Carrie Ritchie's story in the Star today:

Council President Ryan Vaughn, who's also a Republican, said he thinks the council's ethics rules are strong enough to dissuade others from crossing ethical boundaries and to punish those who do.
The council tightened its rules two years ago -- a move Plowman supported. It now has an ethics committee that quickly and publicly reviews complaints against council members, Vaughn said.
"It's not that our process failed," he said, "it's that he failed our process."
Whatever. Is that the same explanation for your ethical lapses in judgment, Ryan?

Lugar Wants To Weaken Little Hatch Act

A press release from the office of U.S. Senator Richard Lugar could not be more untimely. Only hours after a federal jury in Indianapolis found a former high-ranking IMPD officer and City-County Councilor, Lincoln Plowman, guilty on bribery and attempted extortion charges, Lugar's office issued a press release announcing his sponsorship of legislation that would weaken the federal Little Hatch Act as applied to law enforcement officials. From Lugar's press release:

Today, Republican Senator Dick Lugar, along with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), introduced legislation reforming the federal Hatch Act to allow state and local law enforcement officers to run for the Office of Sheriff without having to step down from their job.
“At a time when local law enforcement officers are being called upon to respond to a growing number of criminal, disaster, and homeland security situations, we must ensure that communities have the opportunity to elect the most capable individuals as sheriff,” said Lugar.  “Unfortunately the federal Hatch Act, that is currently applied, often requires capable deputy sheriffs and other officers to leave their current position in order to run for election as sheriff.  The reforms made by our proposal tailor the Hatch Act to the unique situations faced by law enforcement officers.” 
Currently, the federal Hatch Act restricts political activity by state and local employees who have duties in connection with programs financed by federal funds.
The State and Local Law Enforcement Hatch Act Reform Act of 2011 reforms the portion of the federal Hatch Act, as it applies to state and local law enforcement officers.  Because law enforcement agencies at every level of government must coordinate with the federal government for disaster response and homeland security missions and often receive federal funds to do so, many capable officers have been prevented from standing for election as sheriff. 
I've got one simple answer to the law enforcement agencies that want to free up their employees to engage in more political activity during the course of their jobs: Stop taking the federal dollars!

I guess we shouldn't be surprised that this legislation would be offered by Sen. Lugar. He ran one of the most corrupt police agencies in the country when he served as Indianapolis mayor. Anyone who wants to know the real story behind Dick Lugar's years as Indianapolis mayor should read former Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Dick Cady's book, "Deadline: Indianapolis." It recounts at length the shocking corruption Cady and his fellow reporters uncovered in Lugar's police department.  

State Student Assistance Chief Busted For Drunk Driving

The woman Gov. Mitch Daniels put in charge of the State Student Assistance Commission, Claudia Braman, has been busted for drunk driving in Johnson County. The blood alcohol level reported by police is off the charts--0.32, which is four times the legal limit of .08. WRTV reports that Johnson County police stopped Braman because she was texting while driving and her vehicle swerved nearly hitting a mailbox. Braman worked for the Princeton Review and Franklin College prior to joining the Daniels administration in 2008.

Plowman Guilty On Both Charges

U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett speaking to reporters with lead attorney Richard Pilger
A 12-person jury deliberated for less than three hours today before delivering a guilty verdict on both charges against former IMPD officer and City-County Councilor Lincoln Plowman, including bribery and extortion charges, associated with selling of influence activities that unfolded during a 5-month undercover sting operation by the FBI. The government contended Plowman had sought to use his power and influence to obtain favorable zoning approval on behalf of an undercover FBI agent posing as an out-of-state businessman looking to develop a strip club in Indianapolis. Plowman faces a maximum of 30 years in prison, although he is much more likely to receive a sentence closer to the minimum guidelines. The jurors declined to speak to reporters after being dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Larry McKinney.

At a press conference following the announcement of the verdict, U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett told reporters that "public office is not for sale" in Indiana. "No one is above the law," he said. "These words need to be tested and they were in this court." Hogsett said the government intends to hold Plowman accountable for selling influence and soliciting a bribe by seeking the maximum sentence allowed by law. He also had a message for other public officials. "If you are in public life or public office, you will be held accountable by this U.S. Attorney's Office." "It's a message for all elected officials throughout Indiana." Hogsett thanked the government's lead trial attorney, Richard Pilger, and Joe Vaughn, the criminal chief in his office, for their roles in prosecuting the government's case, as well as the FBI team that worked on the case with special mention to Agent Booz Moise. Hogsett would neither confirm nor deny there are ongoing public corruption investigations by his office when asked by reporters.

During a hearing following the announcement of the verdict, Plowman pleaded for mercy from Judge McKinney in allowing him to remain free on his own recognizance until his sentencing. Plowman told the court he is trying to support his family financially by working at a medical device firm in Greenwood, Indiana running a punch press, a job he has held for the last year. The government's lawyers opposed his release and requested his immediate detention, arguing that he had valuable training as an undercover officer producing aliases and false documents and had owned a large stash of high-powered weapons and ammunition. The government said Plowman had travelled to Costa Rica extensively during the years prior to his arrest and had the means to escape his punishment.

Judge McKinney sided with the arguments of Plowman's attorney, Jim Voyles, who noted that Plowman surrendered all of his weapons, had turned over his passport and complied with all of the terms set out by the court since his initial arraignment in September, 2010. Plowman told the court a probation officer had searched his home for weapons to confirm he no longer had any in his possession and that he had reported in to the government weekly since his initial arraignment as required. Judge McKinney subjected his release to home detention, making exceptions for him to travel to work, church, doctor's visits or other places consistent with the federal guidelines for home detention.

During the government's arguments, Pilger indicated that the minimum sentence for Plowman's offenses would be between 41 to 51 months in prison. He hinted that the minimum could be as high as 71 months, or six years, if the government elects to press for sentencing enhancement for what he described as "obstruction of justice" resulting from Plowman's testimony on his own behalf.