Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi says his office is looking into whether a special prosecutor will be needed to investigate the deal that is putting a bar in the Carson Center. Brizzi says his office is conducting research to see if there were any statute violations concerning the agreement and zoning. If criminal charges have to be filed, Brizzi says a special prosecutor would have to fully investigate because he is a Republican and majority of the players involved in the bar are Democrats.
According to Star editorial writer RiShawn Biddle, the Star's editorial revelation on Friday that Center Township Trustee Carl Drummer didn't even bother to execute a lease with the political insiders before he turned government building space over to the group of political insiders to pursue their private venture is what prompted Brizzi's preliminary investigation. Biddle writes:
The initial inquiry, according to Brizzi, was prompted by revelations in Friday's Star editorial that Drummer allowed construction of the bar without actually having a lease in place, which at the least, violates a cannon of the real estate business. Landlords in general don't even allow tenants to build out or even walk onto the property until a lease is signed; after all, the landlords are held liable for, say, an injury to a carpenter or other adverse actions on the site.
Brizzi says his office is only conducting 'research' on the matter because there are questions as to whether the possible violations have any related criminal statutes. As with, say, regulations from the state Department of Environmental Management, a violation of state law may not always be a criminal -- and therefore, prosecutable -- offense. If there are any possible statutes, then Brizzi will appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the conduct of Center Township Trustee Carl Drummer and the rest of the players in the proposed bar.
Brizzi expects to have an answer in the next couple of days. Meanwhile, expect Drummer and Co., all Democrats, to make an issue of the fact that the prosecutor is a Republican and possibly in a tough re-election bid against Democrat rival Melina Kennedy.
Let me begin by saying that Brizzi's suggestion that he must appoint a special prosecutor to handle the matter if his preliminary investigation warrants a criminal prosecution because he's a Republican and the people being investigated are Democrats is a load of crap. The Marion Co. Prosecutor's office should have the best resources in the state for investigating public corruption, particularly since the seat of state government and the city's largest municipality is situated in Marion Co. The fact of the matter is that his office has been lousy at prosecuting political corruption and is pretty much devoid of any public integrity division to handle these types of matters. If it's his position that he cannot lead an investigation simply because the target of the investigation is a member of the opposing party, then he should just get the hell out of the office and turn it over to someone with the moxy to get the job done.
It's funny that Brizzi didn't have any trouble investigating every conspiracy theory his former boss Rep. Dan Burton could imagine about former President Bill Clinton, including the "Hillary murdered Vince Foster theory", when he worked on the House Government Reform Committee, but he has completely buried his head in the sand when it comes to investigating obvious cases of public corruption as the state's leading, elected prosecutor.
There is absolutely no question that public laws have been broken to bring about this bar/private club in government-owned property. Firstly, Indiana law does not give Drummer authority to hand over public property to private investors to use for their own pecuniary gain without following the statutory requirements for leasing public property. By giving over control of government-owned property to the political insiders on a mere handshake agreement, Drummer flat out violated Indiana law. In addition to violating state laws governing leases of public property, he permitted the political insiders to perform construction work without obtaining the property permits, without obtaining rezoning/variance approvals and without following state and local building code regulations. He could be prosecuted for official misconduct under I.C. 35-4-1-2 for those acts alone.
A more thorough investigation would have to be conducted to determine whether the actions of Drummer, zoning officer Judith Conley, City-County Councilors Lonnell Conley and Monroe Gray and other public officials on behalf of the investors were motivated by anything of value they were offered in exchange for their services in violation of the state's bribery statute (I.C. 35-44-1-1) or conflict of interest statute (I.C. 35-44-1-3, as well as the official misconduct. These are all felony statutes by the way. Drummer could also be liable to the township if he is found to have misused public funds for this private venture. And of course, let's not forget Indiana's RICO statute. Because it required the cooperative efforts of several individuals to bring about these illegal acts, conspiracy charges may be in order.
Frankly, I have no confidence that any investigation conducted into this matter by either the Marion Co. Prosecutor's office or an appointed special prosecutor will get to the bottom of this matter based upon past performance. Only the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office are capable of effectively handling this type of investigation. Enough evidence has surfaced in the public arena to warrant an independent investigation by federal prosecutors. Time and time again the feds have proven far more effective at cleaning up public corruption throughout the country at the local level than local prosecutors. This has been particularly true in our neighboring state of Illinois.
It's time for the FBI and the U.S. Attorney to take action to protect the public. I'm not at all confident that will take place either. Despite apparent corrupt influence involving federal funds at the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute under the direction of former executive director Heather Bolejack, the feds stayed on the sidelines while Brizzi referred that matter to a special prosecutor. You've seen what's happened there all these months later in spite of all the publicly available evidence--absolutely nothing. I would not be surprised at all to see this public corruption matter get swept under the rug just like it has been in the past.