. . . Ozdemir has charmed elected officials with big ideas--and hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions.
His networking helped yield millions of dollars in subsidies for his developments in Indianapolis and Carmel, legislation tailor-made to save him property taxes, designation as a minority business enterprise that appears to stretch statutory definitions, and more than $4 million in federal stimulus funds to develop dozens of rental properties he owns outright.
He's the master of public subsidy--getting public dollars into projects, said a former high-ranking Keystone employee who spoke with IBJ on condition of anonymity. "But he wants everything to be closed book. His experience tells him you can do both.Schouten's special report describes how Ozdemir used his political muscle with the Ballard administration to capture nearly 15% of the $29 million federal grant the city of Indianapolis received through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. I thought these monies were supposed to be used to deal with the abandoned housing problem stemming from the onslaught of housing foreclosures following the 2008 economic meltdown. Ozdemir got close to $4 million which he used on projects like the affordable apartment project that his Keystone Construction built at 1400 S. Madison Avenue. A Department of Metropolitan Development employee, Paul Lambie, who was charged with supervising the distribution of the federal grant money, quit his job in protest over favoritism the Ballard administration was granting to Ozdemir. "From the start, I wasn't comfortable with the amount of profit that Keystone was making, fully funding their projects with public money while taking zero risk," Lambie told IBJ. "Lambie said one payment request was so egregious that he passed it off to his supervisor." According to Lambie, Keystone had been awarded money $387,299 for a project outside the eligible area for the federal grant program and was permitted to re-route it to the Madison Avenue project in violation of federal program rules, a move Lambie called "a handout for nothing."
On that smelly Broad Ripple Parking garage deal where Mayor Ballard gave Ozdemir's Keystone $6.5 million in taxpayer dollars yielded from the sale of the city's parking meter assets, Schouten finds that indeed the project's advertised price tag of $15 million was grossly exaggerated. Ozdemir's former construction manager, Jason Ellis, tells the IBJ that the parking garage/mixed retail structure actually cost $8 million to construct. Ozdemir paid $2.4 million for the two parcels of land on which it was built. Adding in other costs, the development cost about $12 million but Ozdemir borrowed $8.7 million based on a $15 million project, a figure he arrived at by charging "a huge monster development fee" according to Ellis.
According to Schouten, Ozdemir has lost two key employees in recent years, including his brother Sain and his company's CFO. Ellis is suing him, accusing him of commingling funds, overcharging clients and billing the company for lavish personal expenses, including his Carmel mansion located in a gated community. Ellis quit his job after he says that Ozdemir beat him out of his partnership interest in the firm. Despite the fact that Keystone's website and numerous e-mails described him as a partner, Ozdemir cut him out. Ozdemir's younger brother, Sain, similarly left the company after he had a falling out with Ozdemir over what he believed was a promised partnership interest in the company. Ellis claims that Ozdemir paid off Sain several hundred thousand dollars after he left the company over the dispute, an event Ellis' lawsuit claims has been "confirmed by multiple witnesses."
Ozdemir is being defended in Ellis' lawsuit, which was filed in the Hamilton Superior Court, by Barnes & Thornburg, including Larry Mackey, a white collar criminal defense attorney best known for prosecuting the so-called Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Mackey also defended real estate broker John Bales in his federal corruption trial up in the northern district of Indiana over a corrupt deal he brokered for the state of Indiana with Paul Page and former Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi. Page pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges, while Bales and his business associate were acquitted after the federal prosecutor handling the case, a former Barnes & Thornburg attorney, failed to offer some of the more explosive evidence of public corruption surrounding the case to prosecute Bales. The law firm has pretty much controlled every major decision made by administration of Mayor Ballard in its role as a paid counsel to his office and has used that influence to benefit the law firm's clients. Ozdemir is seeking a declaratory of judgment against Ellis declaring that he's not a shareholder. "They have secured an unusually broad protective order barring public disclosure of discovery materials, claiming trade secrets," Schouten writes.
Schouten explores the questionable MBE certification that the Turkish businessman was awarded for his company by the state of Indiana and the city of Indianapolis. According to Schouten, Ozdemir's initial certification a number of years ago was turned down. Ozdemir appealed the decision, arguing that he should be considered an Asian "since his native Turkey spans Europe and Asia." "Ozdemir hails from Mersin, a city on the Mediterranean Sea, where his family runs a construction and development business," Schouten writes. After the state agreed to certify his business as an MBE, the city of Indianapolis added his business to the list of certified MBEs in March 2010. Schouten adds this interesting observation: "Out of the 977 companies on the list, only Keystone has no entry in the 'ethnic field'--which specifies the ethnicity of the owner. Mayor Ballard's MBE director, Greg Wilson, refused to discuss Ozdemir's application.
Although Ozdemir insists that his political contributions play no role in all of the public subsidies and government contracts his firm has won in recent years, Schouten takes note of the size of those contributions. Over the past decade, he and his firms have made about $250,000 in campaign contributions, including $46,500 for Gov. Mike Pence, $30,000 to the Indiana Republican Party, $23,800 to Gov. Mitch Daniels and at least $25,000 for Mayor Ballard. Ozdemir accompanied Ballard on at least one overseas junket. In 2013, Schouten describes special legislation that was put into a bill sponsored by Sen. Pete Miller (R-Avon) that granted a $34,700 retroactive tax exemption on "leased property located in Marion County to the bureau of motor vehicles," which was for the Keystone-owned building next to his subsidized apartment project on south Madison Avenue leased to the BMV. Sen. Miller told Schouten he did not know who inserted the language into his bill, and Ozdemir pleaded ignorance when asked about it by Schouten. The story notes that Ozdemir is hedging his bets in the event a Democrat retake the mayor's office. He recently hired U.S. Rep. Andre Carson's sister-in-law, Jasmin Shaheed-Young, as a marketing director.
Schouten made amends for his first expose' that overlooked Ozdemir's failed business deals a little more than a decade ago before he suddenly became flush with all kinds of cash to spread around to the politicians. He notes that his first company, Aymir Construction, "faltered, leaving behind a string of failed projects, lawsuits and more than a million dollars in local and federal court judgments." Ozdemir started up his new construction company, Keystone Construction, in 2002. Ozdemir has publicly credited his success in Indiana to his mentor, the late Beurt SerVaas, a former long-time City-County Council President who formerly served as an OSS officer during World War II and later worked as an off-the-the-books agent for the CIA with close ties to one of the biggest spies of the 20th Century, William Casey, former CIA Director under President Reagan. If one digs deeper, I'm almost certain a CIA tie to Ozdemir and his family back in Turkey can be unearthed. His career in the U.S. has closely paralleled Syrian immigrant Tony Rezko, a civil engineer who became one of the biggest and most successful political operatives in Chicago before he was convicted by federal prosecutors for public corruption deals within the administration of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. It was later learned that a billionaire Iraqi businessman, Nadhmi Auchi, had funneled as much as $200 million to Rezko's businesses in Chicago. Federal prosecutors ignored the evidence of the money Rezko received from Auchi, who had been convicted in a French court of crimes several years earlier regarding the "Oil For Food" scandal with Iraq.