Friday, April 25, 2014

Ballard Administration Gets An Assist From The Media In Covering Up Another Corruption Scandal

Yesterday, another embarrassing scandal reared its head briefly when WRTV broke a story during its evening news broadcast of another Ballard administration crony, Matt Hendrix, being fired from his job as head of the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee for allegedly embezzling more than $90,000 in city funds. Oddly, WRTV dropped the headline story with which it opened its evening news broadcast from later broadcasts and failed to upload the story to its website as it continued to update the website with other stories. Other local news organizations ignored the corruption story without exception.

Advance Indiana recounted the Hendrix embezzlement case as reported by WRTV in a blog post that immediately attracted a lot of Internet traffic according to the site's meter, while prodding an investigative reporter with WRTV for an explanation of the story being dropped by the news station. In the meantime, around noon today the Indianapolis Business Journal published an online story by Kathleen McLaughlin, which included a confirmation from GIPC's chairman, J. Murray Clark, Jr., that Hendrix had been fired in early March over differences; however, he claimed the organization did not learn of any potential impropriety until after his departure and that upon making the discovery referred the matter to law enforcement for further investigation. "After he left, we discovered some things that impacted GIPC and asked the police to investigate it," Clark told the IBJ. "If there is a financial loss to GIPC, I know it will be unfortunate, but it will not have a meaningful impact on the entity," Clark said. Clark refused to explain why Hendrix had been fired in March. His comments could be characterized more as damage control than anything.

After the IBJ posted its story, WRTV finally uploaded its original story by Drew Smith that had seemingly fallen into a black hole. In that story, Smith reported that Indianapolis police were investigating Hendrix for embezzling between $90,000 and $100,000 over a three-year period. Yesterday morning, police served search warrants on the Lebanon home of Hendrix and his former girlfriend, Jennifer Armstrong. So much for requiring public employees to live within the city's limits. Smith reported that investigators believe that Hendrix and Armstrong funneled GIPC money to a bogus home health care business they controlled. Smith also said that GIPC officials had questioned him about a $5,000 credit card charge for a cruise he took, which he claimed was charged to the organization's account accidentally. More disturbing was Smith's claim that GIPC had made a $17,000 severance payment to Hendrix when he was fired on March 5. So was there an initial attempt to cover up the embezzlement scandal altogether?

It didn't take long to figure out why the news media was shying away from discussing this latest scandal in the Ballard administration, which will no doubt try to distance itself from Hendrix, claiming that he works for an independent organization. Don't be fooled. GIPC is funded with taxpayer dollars and has its offices on the 19th floor of the City-County Building. As the organization's full-time leader, Hendrix coordinated all of GIPC's efforts with the Ballard administration. The elitists who populate GIPC's governing board act as shadow government, exerting more control over city-county government than the mayor or the council, both of which seem to be entirely under their thumb. During his time in that position, Hendrix came and went from the mayor's office on a regular basis participating in top-level discussions. GIPC's latest coordinated efforts with the administration were unveiled last December, when the organization touted a plan to build a new criminal justice center outside the downtown core, freeing up lots of space in the existing City-County Building occupied by the courts and clerk staff and opening up prime downtown real estate now occupied by the sheriff's department and the two jails for redevelopment.

What the Ballard administration and the news media feared was that the corruption scandal involving GIPC's key employee would overshadow an announcement made by Mayor Greg Ballard this afternoon that his administration has chosen the former GM stamping plant site southwest of the downtown core on the other side of White River along West Washington Street for the new criminal justice complex. From the IBJ:
“After hosting six public meetings, consulting with dozens of stakeholders, and upon the unanimous recommendation of key users of the facility, the city today informed pre-qualified development teams to begin design of a new Marion County Justice Center on approximately 40 acres in the northwestern corner of the GM Stamping Plant location,” the Mayor’s Office said in a prepared statement.
The project, which will replace existing facilities in disparate locations in the southeast quadrant of downtown, could cost as much as $500 million.
The three development teams have been asked to design plans that include 34 criminal court/hearing rooms and offices for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and the Probation Department.
The center is expected to include a 3,500-bed detention facility (an increase of 1,100 beds from current capacity), 750 community correction beds (a 250-bed increase), 1,500 parking spaces and room for future expansion.
“The City appreciates the input received from many people and three decades of study on this project,” Mayor Greg Ballard said in a prepared statement. “The many stakeholders of this facility agree the GM site offers better access for the general public, can be developed at less cost, and will produce significant private development opportunities in the surrounding area.”
The idea that any public input was sought from these so-called "six public meetings" is laughable. Originally, the Ballard administration's incompetent but high-paid consultant (whose firm was also bidding to build the criminal justice center) recommended a site on the county line near the Indianapolis International Airport. After Marion County judges erupted in anger at the proposed move and after the Ballard administration was reminded of a recent Supreme Court decision that cast doubt on its ability to unilaterally dictate a new site for the county's courts without consulting the judiciary, the administration backed down and started talking up the GM stamping plant site. Contrary to the mayor's office claim, the public has not been engaged in the least bit in any of these discussions that have largely been made behind closed doors with political insiders.

The Ballard administration had no trouble in its efforts at suppressing the GIPC public corruption scandal. GIPC's board of directors includes WTHR's President & General Manager John Cardenas, Fox 59's General Manager Larry Delia, IBJ Media's President, Greg Morris and WISH-TV's General Manager Jeff White. The Star's managing editor, Karen Crotchfeld, formerly served on GIPC's board but is not currently listed. With the exception of the IBJ and WRTV, the other news organizations suppressed any mention in today's news cycle of the GIPC scandal. Each, without exception, gave big play to the Ballard administration's announcement this afternoon that it had chosen the GM stamping plant site for the new criminal justice complex.

GIPC's website highlights its role in developing the blueprint for the planned criminal justice complex proposed for the GM stamping plant site. GIPC's fired executive director coordinated those efforts and served on the task force that made the recommendations being carried into action today so you can see why the media doesn't want to discuss the GIPC scandal. From the organization's website:
The City of Indianapolis and the Marion County Sheriff’s Department tasked GIPC with creating a Criminal Justice Center Task Force to study the issues surrounding facility usage. Public safety and criminal justice professionals in Indianapolis and Marion County have faced facility constraints for more than 25 years that have led to federal intervention, numerous studies, a patchwork of locations, safety concerns and higher costs due to inefficiencies.
The task force was charged with:
  • Evaluating the need for a criminal justice center
  • Proposing the critical components of a center
  • Identifying and evaluating the potential locations for such a center
  • Evaluating the potential costs associated with such a center, using a phased approach
  • Evaluating the cost savings and other efficiencies gained by a center
  • Evaluating financing methods to cover the costs of a center
  • Identifying best practices and key success factors from other communities which have centralized into modern facilities
Members of GIPC’s Criminal Justice Facilities Task Force include:
  • Chair Don Altemeyer, BSA Lifestructures
  • Moira Carlstedt, Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership (INHP)
  • Walter Freihofer, Freihofer Inc.
  • Philip Genetos, Ice Miller LLP
  • Abbe Hohmann, Site Strategies Advisory, LLC
  • John Kirkwood, Krieg DeVault LLP
  • William Shrewsberry, Shrewsberry and Associates
  • Kevin Murray, Marion County Sheriff’s Department
  • Louis Dezelan, Marion County Sheriff’s Department
  • Amy Waggoner, Office of the Mayor
  • Matt Hendrix, Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee
Now you see how it rolls in Indy? You can't expect any objective news coverage whatsoever on this proposed criminal justice center. We can't even get answers from this administration on how it could have possibly entered such an ill-fated, one-sided agreement for the Regional Operations Center that will cost taxpayers dearly over the next 25 years to pay for a building that is not even suited for its purpose. Yet this far more costly undertaking has already been cut behind closed doors just like that ROC deal conceived to line the pockets of a politically-connected developer, and the Indianapolis media is on board to push this costly and poorly-conceived plan through to fruition this year regardless of how the public feels about it or how much it will cost Indianapolis taxpayers.

By my estimation, the half-billion dollar criminal justice complex as conceived will cost taxpayers at least $2 billion over the next 30 to 35 years. The City will need at least $60 million annually to cover the costs once the complex is ready for occupancy. There is no way the current proposed public safety tax increase will fund anything close to 500 new police officers. We'll need every dollar just to meet current and future budget outlays without hiring a single new police officer. The public safety tax being debated as we speak is not as advertised. It is not for the purpose of hiring more police officers. That is a lie just like every prior tax increase sold to you as a public safety tax increase was a lie. Theses additional dollars aren't needed to fund more police officers; they're needed to fund the large new budget outlays planned for this new criminal justice complex.

All three finalists under consideration by the Ballard administration involve foreign entities that will provide the necessary financing for this latest P3, making it particularly difficult to trace the flow of dollars to the powers that be that are ramming this proposal down our throats. The payoffs and kickbacks to the downtown mafia for their latest scheme could prove to be one of their biggest thefts of public funds to date for their personal self-enrichment in a long line of similar such schemes. No piss ant scandal involving the theft of public funds by one of their own will get in the way when there's money to be made.

UPDATE: Just minutes ago, the Star finally got around to uploading a short story by Tim Evans on its website that you can only find by entering a search since it's not listed as a top news story. It includes a confirmation from IMPD of the existence of an ongoing investigation and Clark's repetition of his claim that no irregularities were uncovered until after Hendrix' firing in March. Clark claims the organization, whose offices are housed in the City-County Building, is supported by membership dues and no longer relies on public funding for its operations. "Its operations are funded by member dues and, Clark said, the committee has not in recent years received any public funds," Evans writes. "The committee does serve as the administrator for some public grants, he added, but only handles those funds for other groups." Clark declined to comment on whether any missing funds involved membership dues or government grants. Evans was so proud of his story it didn't even warrant a mention or link on his Twitter page.


Anonymous said...

Great reporting and more. Thanks for not being pressured to not print and publish the facts.

Anonymous said...

You deserve a Pulitzer.

In what city can the Mayor get a story pulled? Emanuel, Daley or Bloomberg can't even get that done.

This city is corrupt in every last nook and cranny.

Anonymous said...

The links of recent reports of late since the burying of this story (except by you...) in print and on-line since you exploded this article has gone viral. Reporter's must know that the links to prior knowledge of at least the last ten years has their editor's accountable for fraud and corruption and a new day is coming for accountability and transparency with many of those editors and more connected with the Koch media. Glad rtv came out again and glad ibj and more are feeling the heat...Great work Gary.

Chas. M. Navarra said...

When I read this news story shortly after its posting, I was viscerally sickened.

Thank God we have access to real news reporting at Advance Indiana. Local media [for me, and I suspect others] is useful for streaming weather reports but generally not so good for incisive investigation and analysis.

I agree with Anon 9:59 that "this City is corrupt in every last nook and cranny" but I note that it can only be so because both sides of the political aisle profit at the expense of the citizens. Both sides.

Anon 10:23 nails it as well. And if I were a member of any segment of the local "news" media seemingly more focused on cotton candy-type human interest features, your consistent, spot-on reporting would be embarrass me down to my bone marrow.

Thank you Gary for the courage to speak truth to power- you stand up to them with the disinfectant of the light of day and they cannot stand the truth.

Unknown said...

Abdul, did you get canned from WRTV?

Gary R. Welsh said...

Funny, Peter. It crossed my mind that someone was trying to use WRTV to tip off the suspects about the search warrants being served.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Also, Abdul's silence on the subject is deafening.