Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Bennett Admits Breaking Ethics Law, Agrees To Pay $5,000 Fine

Under a proposed settlement agreement reached with the state's Inspector General, former Education Superintendent Tony Bennett has agreed to admit that he violated state ethics laws by using state resources to engage in political activities and pay a $5,000 fine according to the Journal-Gazette's Niki Kelly. The Inspector General's report concluded that Bennett was a state officer and not a state employee, which means he could engage in political activity, but he was prohibited from using state materials, funds, property, personnel, facilities or equipment to engage in political activities without a policy or regulation in place that permitted him to do so. Bennett was also cleared of any wrongdoing with respect to the A-F grade changing scandal that cost him his new job in Florida. According to Kelly, Bennett admits that he broke state ethics rules in three ways:

  • Prior to the 2012 election, joint meetings between his campaign staff and department staff were conducted at which they coordinated his political calendar with his knowledge. He then maintained a consolidated calendar of both official and political events using his state-owned and maintained e-mail account.
  • Bennett received e-mails of a political or campaign nature using his state e-mail account. He maintains the e-mails were unsolicited and he does not recall receiving, reviewing or responding to many of them.
  • Following his defeat in 2012, Bennett had his campaign compile a list of contacts for his new position as Florida Education Commissioner, which included three lists entitled, "The 5000", "The Big Hitter List" and the "Red Meat List." Those lists included the names of people who had been relied upon for political fundraising purposes. The lists were maintained on a state-owned and maintained computer server in his office. 
Clearly, the admissions made by Bennett involve violations of criminal statutes, including official misconduct and ghost employment under state law. Former Education Supt. Harold Negley was forced to resign and prosecuted for exactly those same offenses back in 1985 by then-Marion Co. Prosecutor Steve Goldsmith. The state ethics commission can recommend forwarding the findings to the prosecutor for further investigation, but nothing is stopping Marion Co. Prosecutor Terry Curry from acting on his own. It remains unclear why he sat back and allowed the Inspector General's investigation to play out before convening a grand jury to conduct his own independent investigation. Remarkably, Bennett's lawyers at Barnes & Thornburg claim they have an agreement with Curry not to prosecute him, which is a complete outrage if true. Curry claimed he planned to get tough on the prosecution of public corruption cases when he ran for office four years ago, but he declines to take any action in the most brazen cases set in front of him.

It's even worse though. When Charlie White became Secretary of State, he found that this predecessor, Todd Rokita, had stored campaign-related data on computers in his office. He reported his discovery to both the Inspector General's Office and Marion Co. Prosecutor Terry Curry. White personally spoke to David Rimstidt in the prosecutor's office about what he found. Both offices refused to investigate, and the news media treated White's allegations as sour grapes because they were still hell-bent on finding a way to bounce him from office by hook or crook based on their belief Vop Osili and not White was entitled to hold the office. So why would a Democratic prosecutor refuse to act on direct evidence of criminal evidence committed by two statewide elected Republican officeholders?

UPDATE: The state ethics commission has approved the recommendations made by the Inspector General. Read here for more details. A copy of the settlement agreement can be viewed here. The commission also gave the go-ahead to INDOT's Troy Woodruff to negotiate a new job with an INDOT contractor if he follows screening conditions.


Anonymous said...

I only wish Glenda Ritz would resign for the good of the People of Indiana!

Anonymous said...

It may be some 30 years apart, but clearly there is a double standard with respect to prosecution of essentially the same crimes in the same office/department. The difference has to be in the motivations of the county prosecutor. Steve Goldsmith went after Harold Negley for very similar crimes and misdeeds -- but as you point out, Terry Curry is not of the same mind. Is it sheer naked ambition (as in the case of Goldsmith who was trying to make a name for himself) lack of it, incompetence, or what. You are right to point out these very stark differences. Bottom line -- elected officials, both city and state, and their aiders and abetters (the top law firms/lobbyists) etc essentially have their way in this town, statutes be damned. If only we had an independent, ambitious, and fair county prosecutor and/or US Attorney who called them as he/she saw them.

Anonymous said...

I only wish the State Board of Education would resign for the good of the People of Indiana

Paul K. Ogden said...

As far as the bullet points, I don't think No. 1 is a violation. Virtually all state employees coordinate their personal schedule with their work schedule, often using Outlook on the state computers. Statewide elected officials, who actually are not legally obligated to be in the office for than one day a year, believe it or not, have to be able to coordinate their political and personal schedules with their work schedules. I'm not sure how you do that logistically without a unified schedule. You can bet every other state officials have a unified schedule.

As far as No. 2, that's not a violation. You can't control who sends you email or where they send it.

No. 3 is clearly a major violation and possibly worthy of prosecution.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Don't forget the multiple felony ghost employment charges they trumped up against former Supreme Court administrator Dwayne Brown based on the same type of allegations in an effort to destroy him. Julia Carson's cronies got former ISP Superintendent Mel Carroway, who was guilty of his own corruption, to target him because Brown was trying to take on their beloved Julia Carson for Andy Jacobs, Jr.'s congressional seat. When the powers that be in this state and city want you destroyed, they will do whatever it takes to make you out to be a criminal. Look what they did to Charlie White. Hell, he didn't even commit a real crime but they somehow convinced a jury based upon faulty jury instructions and and misapplication of the law to find him guilty of six felonies. We're no better than your garden variety banana republic.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Remember, too Paul, these were the best case facts the Inspector General could put forward to minimize the fallout to Bennett. Dwayne Brown was prosecuted for using state employees in his office to perform political tasks on state time, which is precisely what Bennett was doing. The IG's report focused more on Bennett's personal acts as opposed to the acts of others under his direction. That wasn't the approach taken against Brown, and it certainly wasn't what happened in Negley's case.

Anonymous said...

This is complete crap! Why the Democrats are not out there calling for Bennet's head on a platter is insane! The Dem's are being handed huge chances to do real damage to the Indy GOP but they wont even try! Somebody please run against Terry Curry and beat him! Also someone tell Joe Hogsett to do his job as US Attorney or get the hell out of this state! Wake Up Hoosiers! Let's put an end to this nonsense once and for all!

Gary R. Welsh said...

It's perplexing. The IG claims that a state official can adopt an official policy that permits the use of state resources for campaign purposes and it's okay. We're the laughing stock of the country.