Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Republican Council Members Continue To Aid Ballard Administration Stonewalling In ROC Investigation
As a life-long Republican, I am utterly ashamed by the actions of the Republican members of the ROC Investigating Committee to aid and abet the Ballard administration in its efforts to stonewall attempts to get to the bottom of the extremely corrupt and one-sided development/lease agreement that the Department of Public Safety under the leadership of Frank Straub entered into with entities controlled by Alex Carroll, the politically-connected developer and owner of the former East Gate Consumer Mall property, for the department's regional operations center ("ROC"). After four months of attempts to obtain a plethora of documents related to this transaction, the city's Office of Corporation Counsel and Alex Carroll have refused to turn over the most relevant documents, including the basic agreements between DPS and Carroll's business entities.
At tonight's meeting, the council's counsel, Fred Biesecker, sought permission from the ROC Investigating Committee to issue supboenas to city legal and Alex Carroll commanding the production of the requested documents. Biesecker noted that during a meeting with David Brooks, attorney for Carroll, and city legal, Brooks made clear that he believes that his client is under no legal obligation to produce the financial documents pertaining to a credit lease agreement he entered into with the city to finance improvements for the ROC facility, while the city of Indianapolis continues to pay rent to Carroll's business entity for space it cannot occupy after Public Safety Director Troy Riggs ordered agencies and employees working at the facility to vacate the premises last fall. Incredibly, every single Republican member of the ROC Investigating Committee (Pfisterer, Hunter, Sandlin, Freeman and McHenry) voted to block the issuance of the subpoenas, choosing instead to attack Biesecker, a highly-respected attorney in the Indianapolis legal community.
Councilor Ben Hunter, in particular, who is not an attorney but has pocketed large campaign contributions from Alex Carroll and a business that he controls and helped engineer council approval of the original ROC lease agreement prior to the 2012 Super Bowl, lambasted Biesecker's professionalism and questioned the legal form of the subpoena he asked council members to approve. Hey, Ben, laying aside your obvious conflict of interest in participating in this investigation, you aren't an attorney and you don't know what the hell you're talking about so stop playing one at council meetings. And Mr. Freeman, go back to law school. There's much you obviously didn't learn there, particularly pertaining to discovery in civil proceedings. The committee's job tonight was to approve a motion authorizing Biesecker as the council's counsel to issue subpoenas requesting specific documents from city legal and Carroll, not to draft and vote on the actual subpoenas to be issued. And lest we forget that these are all public records that the public is entitled to have produced under Indiana law without a subpoena. This was just another red herring the Republicans waited to raise at the last minute as an excuse for not authorizing the issuance of the subpoenas.
What is quite apparent is that there is a major criminal scandal that the Republican members are desperately trying to keep under wraps. The intervention of David Brooks, a highly-partisan Republican attorney who is defending a highly-partisan and legally questionable redistricting plan the Republican-controlled council rammed through following the 2011 election to prevent the newly-elected Democratic majority counsel from drawing a redistricting plan in 2012 as provided under Indiana law, has only increased suspicion that the Ballard administration is desperate to keep the facts regarding the execution of the ROC deal from coming to light.
What we know is that Frank Straub rammed this deal through the council based on total misrepresentations with the assistance of Councilors Ben Hunter and Mary Moriarty Adams, both of whose districts encompass the area of the ROC property only months after he arrived from White Plains, New York with this big vision for a regional operations center under one roof at this particular location. One of Alex Carroll's business partners in the property is a Marvin Slomowitz, a prominent real estate/mall developer from Kingston, Pennsylvania, who is an investor in a large real estate trust, Acadia Realty Trust, which is based in Straub's former hometown of White Plains, New York. Someone ordered the destruction of all video recordings of the Board of Public Safety during which Straub made presentations concerning the ROC agreement. When Straub left DPS on August 1, 2012 to take a new job as chief of the Spokane, Washington police department after being forced out by Mayor Ballard under pressure from critics on the City-County Council, key DPS files regarding the ROC agreement disappeared and city legal claimed not to have any copies of the file.
Emergency management officials moved into the ROC facility in January, 2012 just weeks ahead of the Super Bowl despite the fact that construction work had not been completed on the facility or that a certificate of occupancy had been issued for the building. The east district command for IMPD moved into the building in April, 2012. The owners did not submit a certificate of completion and compliance for the building until September, 2012, nine months after occupancy. In October, 2012, the Department of Code Enforcement issued a stop work order after an inspection turned up numerous code violations, including the lack of a certified, operating life safety system. That prompted DPS to request 24/7 fire watch services be performed by the Indianapolis Fire Department, which cost DPS close to $90,000 over a five-month period before the life safety system was finally certified as operational.
In September, 2013, Straub's replacement, Troy Riggs, ordered the ROC facility vacated due to ongoing structural, plumbing and workplace safety issues. Yet, the city of Indianapolis has been paying lease payments of $57,000 a month to Carroll's business, along with other maintenance and utility expenses regarding the ROC property under the terms of a grossly-one sided 20-year lease agreement in Carroll's favor that city legal claims Straub entered into with Carroll without their assistance or approval. The investigating committee has learned that numerous change orders were approved modifying the original build-out plan for the space at the ROC; however, no documentation regarding those changes or the costs of those change orders have been produced to the committee. Carroll obtained financing from Wells Fargo for the real estate development agreement under a credit lease agreement in order to take advantage of the city's credit rating to obtain a lower rate of interest. Yet Carroll's attorney, David Brooks, is taking the position that the investigating committee has no right to receive the credit financing agreements his client entered into with Wells Fargo despite the fact that the lease agreement puts city revenues on the hook to make lease payments to satisfy the loan payments due to the bank.
The Republicans' decision to block this investigation leads me to conclude that they have concluded within their internal discussions--after they booted the only independent-thinking member from their caucus, Councilor Christine Scales--that serious criminal wrongdoing took place and they are doing everything they can to prevent those facts from coming to light to prevent harm coming to Republicans in the 2015 municipal election. It's time for professional prosecutors in this town to step up and do what they should have done months ago and start hauling these stone-walling public officials before a grand jury where they will have to testify under penalties of perjury. Perhaps the Republicans on the council don't care that tens of millions of our public tax dollars were pilfered in this fashion, but this Republican sees it quite differently and expects that those responsible for allowing this to happen are held to account for their actions or inactions. It's obvious if this investigating committee is going to have any success, then it will be necessary for the Democratic-controlled council to adjust the membership on the committee to give the Democrats a majority of the membership rather than an even split as it currently is. It's obvious the Republicans have no intention of carrying out this investigation in good faith. The council leadership should start by booting Ben Hunter from the committee, who the Republicans should have had the good sense not to appoint to the committee from the outset due to his obvious conflict of interest.