Friday, February 13, 2015

House Ethics Committee Chairman On Ozdemir's Payroll, Supports Publicly-Financed Soccer Stadium

State Rep. Greg Steuerwald (R-Avon) chairs the House Ethics Committee and has stood front and center in the efforts to tighten up ethics rules governing state lawmakers' conduct following last year's public uproar over former State Rep. Eric Turner's lobbying efforts on behalf of legislation impacting his family's nursing home business. A key change in a new ethics code covering House members' conduct requires them not to vote on or sponsor legislation in which they have a personal financial interest, along with not carrying out any public or private advocacy on such issues.

"That is a very high standard," Steuerwald said in commenting on the new ethics code. "It began as a judicial standard and has slowly incorporated itself for lawyers and now we have put that standard here for the House members." It's also a standard Steuerwald failed to satisfy when he supported and voted on legislation that would have provided public financing of an $87 million soccer stadium for Ersal Ozdemir's Indy Eleven minor league professional soccer team.

No other state lawmaker knows the deepest and darkest secrets of the shadowy Turkish immigrant better than Rep. Steuerwald, who also serves as Assistant Caucus Leader for the House Republicans. Ozdemir and a former business partner, Jason Ellis, have been embroiled in contentious litigation since 2012 in which they've traded serious accusations of misconduct against each other. Ozdemir fired first with the filing of a lawsuit in Marion County against Ozdemir by Barnes & Thornburg's Edward Smid on June 5, 2012, which sought protection against Ellis disclosing confidential business information. The case was moved to Hendricks County the following month on the motion of Ellis' attorney, Scott Treadway, based upon improper venue, where it now sits in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Mark Smith.

Curiously, after the case was moved to Hendricks County, Ozdemir added Steuerwald, who maintains a full-time law practice in Danville, Indiana, to his well-seasoned Barnes & Thornburg-led litigation team. Steuerwald's appearance dated August 17, 2012 lists him as representing Ozdemir and a string of his companies, including Keystone Construction Corp., Keystone Group, LLC, Keystone NCS, LLC, Keystone SBC, LLC and Keystone WFLS, LLC.

Separately, Ellis filed a lawsuit against Ozdemir in Hamilton County the following year, which wound up in Superior Court Magistrate David Najjar's coutroom as a special judge after a change of judge. Judge Najjar entered an order staying those proceedings on December 6, 2013 pending resolution of the Hendricks County litigation, and he also signed an order on February 4, 2014 sealing some of those court records on the motion of Ellis' attorney.

In Ellis' lawsuit, a copy of which the IBJ posted online here, he accused Ozdemir of defrauding Ellis out of his 20% ownership interest in Ozdemir's construction and real estate development business. In his complaint charging Ozdemir with breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, fraud, breach of contract and securities fraud, Ellis claimed Ozdemir had cut him out as a partner and shareholder of his business, created inaccurate accounting records, commingled assets and over-billed clients and customers, among other things. Ellis' lawsuit also accused Ozdemir of billing Keystone for lavish personal expenditures, including a multi-million dollar mansion he built for himself in a gated Carmel community. [Read more at the IBJ's website  on Ozdemir's "No-holds-barred tactics" that lifted him as a construction and real estate developer.]

According to Hendricks County court records, a bench trial scheduled to begin in that contentious litigation on April 13, 2015 was canceled per an order issued by Judge Smith on February 11, 2015. To say this case has been protracted by numerous discovery disputes between the parties is being generous. Protective orders, contempt proceedings and efforts to keep court records sealed have been par for the course. Ozdemir's attorneys were fighting to quash Ellis' attorneys' attempt to depose Ozdemir as late as last year more than two years after the litigation commenced, which Judge Smith granted. Throughout it all, Steuerwald was immersed in this ongoing saga playing out in a Hendricks County courtroom as a part of Ozdemir's litigation team.

All members of the Indiana General Assembly are required to annually file a Statement of Economic Interest. Steuerwald's most recent statement on file with the House Clerk lists his law firm where he's a partner, Steuerwald Hannon Zielinski & Witham, LLP, as his employer and sole business interest. His statement adds a disclaimer at the bottom of the form in which he states: "Pursuant to the Rules of Professional Conduct applicable to members of the Indiana State Bar Assoc. & Indiana Supreme Court, clients & related matters are confidential matters." Members of the public would have no way of knowing Rep. Steuerwald has been representing the person seeking the largest public subsidy before the legislature this year for years by reading his Statement of Economic Interest.

Fortunately, because court records are public, we can learn that Steuerwald is employed by Ersal Ozdemir in litigation critical to his ongoing, extensive construction and real estate development businesses. Yet he wasn't obliged under House rules to disclose that financial relationship he has with Ozdemir when he came before the House of Representatives with a team of powerful lobbyists to convince state lawmakers they should make Indiana taxpayers finance a new stadium for Ozdemir's Indy Eleven soccer team. Steuerwald was one of 58 House members who supported and voted in favor of SB 308 on its third reading passage on February 27, 2014, which included public financing for Ozdemir's $87 million stadium project. A copy of the roll call can be viewed here. The public financing of the stadium was stripped from SB 308 in conference committee before its final passage.

Ozdemir hired Joe Loftus, an attorney at the same law firm Ozdemir has hired along with Rep. Steuerwald to represent his interests in the litigation with his former business partner, to lobby the Indiana General Assembly to approve public funding for a new soccer stadium, along with Faeger Baker Daniels' Murray Clark and Ice Miller's Carl Drummer. Barnes & Thornburg also brought aboard last September as part of its lobbying team, Michael O'Brien, who serves as the Hendricks County Republican Party Chairman where Steuerwald's district is located. I'm sure that doesn't put any added pressure on a judge who must stand for election in a one party-ruled county like Hendricks County. Several attorneys at Barnes & Thornburg have been generous contributors to Steurerwald's campaign committee in the past, including Bob Grand and Bruce Donaldson.

It gets better. Steuerwald's amended Statement of Economic Interest states that his wife began work for Midwest Constructors, LLC in January of this year. According to Midwest Constructors' website, the firm has been or is currently involved in at least three projects involving Ozdemir's companies, including the controversial Broad Ripple Parking garage for which the City of Indianapolis gave $6.5 million in public funds to Ozdemir to build, the publicly-subsidized City Way project's Alexander Hotel on which Keystone Construction served as construction manager and Butler University's parking garage project that Ozdemir's Keystone Construction was awarded a contract to build. Midwest Constructors also participated in the J.W. Marriott publicly-financed hotel project and Lucas Oil Stadium, both of which are within the PSDA area which would be expanded to provide additional funding to the Capital Improvement Board for the Indy Eleven soccer stadium under HB 1273 as introduced. It was also recently awarded work on the $81 million Market Square Tower project that Indianapolis taxpayers are shelling out over $20 million in subsidies to see built. I'm sure Midwest Constructors' hiring of Steuerwald's wife is just a coincidence.

Will the State House press corp asked Rep. Steuerwald about his conflict of interest? Do you think Rep. Steuerwald will still be publicly supporting and voting in favor of HB 1273, the legislation Rep. Todd Huston (R-Fishers) re-introduced this year seeking again to force Indiana taxpayers to publicly-finance construction of Ozdemir's new soccer stadium? The House Ways & Means Committee has scheduled HB 1273 for a public hearing next Monday morning at 9:00 a.m. Stay tuned.
Ersal Ozdemir (Indianapolis Star/Danese Kenon Photo)
UPDATE: An observant reader points out to Advance Indiana that State Rep. Bill Fine (R-Highland) is Michael O'Brien's father-in-law. Fine is a freshman lawmaker this year. Additionally, O'Brien's spouse, Sarah Fine O'Brien, is a Pence appointee to the Indiana State Board of Education. She is a first-grade teacher at River Birch Elementary School in Avon.


Greg Wright said...

Gary, based on the names in you excellent article, it looks like Ozdemir has hired over half of the Tea Party internal list of Greater Indianapolis corrupt political persons. Absent from the group are only a few non-lawyers that sit on our illustrious Indianapolis City Council. But, I bet that the rest of the will get a part of the action or benefit from the next logrolling program.

Anonymous said...

Greg Wright takes the low road and smears the Tea Party by conflating RINO Republican Attorneys and their corrupt crony pals as part of said political movement.

There a plenty of crony corrupt Democrat attorneys who suck at the teat of government "employment", P3 deals, phony "government business partnerships", and the like.

I am deeply disappointed that Mr. Wright confuses being snarky with being intelligent.

Anonymous said...

Murray Clark and the other JD's are Tea Party members?!?

Definitely ROTFLMAO on that asinine statement!

Gary R. Welsh said...

I think you both misread Greg's comment.

Anonymous said...

It is what it is. Corrupt and blatantly open for all to see.
Problem is...what's going to be done to stop the madness?

Anonymous said...

I suspect State Rep. Todd Huston knows more about Ozdemir's "deepest and darkest secrets" than Steuerwald. Good luck trying to pry those secrets out of him.

Anonymous said...

BOUGHT AND PAID FOR. We have the best Democrat and Republican attorneys and politicians money can buy.

Greg Wright said...

anon 12:57,
sorry for not being clear. my understanding is that the local tea party is circulating a list for its members to vote on the local republicans that they consider most corrupt. gary's article mentioned about half of the persons that i recall were on the tea party list.

sure hope that gary keeps up the good work keeping us informed. do not recall ever meeting ozdemir and have not done any business with his organization.

LamLawIndy said...

Gary, just a correction: Judge Najjar's a Magistrate.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Thanks for the correction, Carlos. He's acting as a special judge following the change of judge.

Anonymous said...

Greg Wright has as about as much credibility as a door knob. His big claim to fame was trying to take out McAtee on a Hatch act..that sure didn't work out well for Gary...Saying that Bob Grand is Tea Party guy just shows how much Greg doesn't know. Murry Clark ..Tea Party? Really Gary? Joe Loftus ..Tea Party?..what rock have you been living under Gary?

Gary R. Welsh said...

Apparently some of you commenters are incapable of reading. Wright is not saying they are Tea Party folks; he's talking about the list of people on the Tea Party's list of miscreants.

Flogger said...

My Stars this is like going to Reptile Zoo and finding all the snakes are loose.

Perhaps this has always been SOP in the Indiana Government. It is breath taking though how utterly Brazen these People are. I do not expect them to have any sense of shame for these scams. The Brazenness in attitude they have is truly astounding.

Flogger said...

This is interesting from the Guardian Paper - Oregon governor John Kitzhaber to resign. Among other allegations, Kitzhaber is accused of steering contracts to his fiancee’s environmental consulting firm. His fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, is accused of using public office to further private interests. In the past two weeks, the Oregonian learned that close associates of Kitzhaber may have attempted to “make jobs” for Hayes. The paper called for the governor’s resignation.


Anonymous said...

Time for DOJ integrity division to take over for Hogsett since it's all here in plain sight for them. Line em up and let's watch them fall.

Paul K. Ogden said...

I've looked up the issue before, but as I recall attorney-client privilege does not cover the fact you represent a client. What it covers is what you talked about during that representation. You can be required to disclose who you represent.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Perhaps Greg Wright is typing too fast and that's why people can't read his comments accurately.

Gary R. Welsh said...

I noticed that Speaker Bosma included that same disclaimer in his Statement of Economic Interest. The New York State Assembly Speaker's recent federal indictment accusing him of masking bribes as legal referral fees points up the need to require attorney-lawmakers to provide more complete disclosure than the current law requires of them.

Anonymous said...

It's painfully obvious now why Steuerwald appeared to be walking on egg shells throughout the Eric Turner ethics scandal.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the most accurate conclusion is that representative democracy is a failed experiment.

Perhaps it is even more precise to say that democracy cannot exist in the presence of campaign funding.

Perhaps we ought to scrap democracy altogether. If we are to keep democracy, perhaps we should ban all forms of campaigning. A single mailing and a single webpage, each created by the government could possibly be allowed. Debates have even become a worthless exchange of ideas.

"What is your position on taxpayer funding for sports stadiums?"

"That's an excellent question, Sally, but first I want to thank you for inviting me, and I want to thank the Indiana Press Club for hosting this debate. I'd also like to thank every person in Indiana for living in the state, and I will now thank each Hoosier personally, in alphabetical order."

Debates are worthless.

Eric Morris said...

Anon 802. Just get rid of government and then you won't have to worry about debates, democracy, lobbying, ethics in government, etc.

Anonymous said...


A constitutional monarchy might arrive at the same end.

Sir Hailstone said...

Anon 8:02 - would you rather have the likes of Kim Jung Un? I'm sure emigrating to DPRK could be arranged.

Anonymous said...

Many in the local so-called Tea Party were co-opted by TJ and DB years ago; some ran for office not realizing they were being used. I am unsure that there is primarily "one" Tea Party state/local group but rather there are many and from what this Conservative heard occurring and said at some of those meetings does not align with true Conservatism.

In liberal quarters it is highly fashionable to mock and throw hate at real Conservatives in the unthinking knee-jerk way liberals deflect to throwing out the name 'George Bush' when liberals
are losing an argument. I now and then see some of that here in the Comment section of Advance Indiana. Liberals are so "cool" to make the snarky remarks about Conservatism one would never hear made against an ethnic group or a left liberal Democrat.

America is now lorded over by an oligarchic, crony, career ruling class where the Republicans are completely indistinguishable from the Democrats. There is no where for true Conservatives to go when their ostensible "representatives" like to them during campaigns.

Many of the commenters here haven't the slightest clue how to correctly define, compare, and contrast the various political systems humans lived and often suffered under throughout the ages.

Which brings us back to Ersal Osdemir's apparent wholesale purchase of Democrat AND Republican politicians, judges, and personnel.

Eric Morris said...

Anon 1026. By constitutional monarchy, do you mean like Britain which is really a parliamentary monarchy? Hans Hermann Hoppe argues that "Democracy: The God that Failed" is less preferable to monarchy because the politicians take shorter sight since they are renting office rather than owning and passing to children as a monarch would. Hoppe argues a contract based society is best, though, through voluntary covenants actually signed by the living rather than the long dead, such as the Founding Fathers.

In many ways our current system is a temporary monarchy, with presidents reigning for 8 years. This is not D or R, Obama or whomever. Just look at how roads were shut down for his visit, and the next one will be either a Clinton or Bush reigning for his (or her) allotted 8 years.

Anonymous said...


Your deep thinking, keen insight, broad education and global understanding of political issues that correctly causes you to understand that every issue can be narrowed to a choice between "USA or Kim Jong Un" is probably best appreciated over on

That regiment of philosophers usually takes the well-reasoned perspective of "either love cops or get out of America" or the more common "either USA or Muslim."

As America is supposed to be a Christian nation, and as Kim Jong Un is a bit of an atheist, he's not really the threat to Evangelical America that the devout of other religions are.

Still, your polarization would be welcome, but do expect to get steered toward recognizing the true enemy of America.

Once you're with your proper academy of thinkers, I'll expect future posts to be something along the lines of "either USA or ISIL;" "we can send you to Kurdistan if you don't like it here."

Anonymous said...

"Anon 1026. By constitutional monarchy, do you mean like Britain which is really a parliamentary monarchy?"

Then I wouldn't mean that, would I?

A monarch restrained by a constitution seems preferable to a monarch supplanted by the yammering idiots in the green chairs.

"Hoppe argues that "Democracy: The God that Failed" is less preferable to monarchy because the politicians take shorter sight since they are renting office rather than owning and passing to children as a monarch would."

I'm lately finding that I tend to concur and that a fantastically wealthy monarch, removed from the pressures to curry favor to hold office, but bound by a constitution, would likely be less destructive than our democracy.

"Hoppe argues a contract based society is best, though, through voluntary covenants actually signed by the living rather than the long dead, such as the Founding Fathers."

I'm not as keen to supplant prior wisdom with current tastes. Lady Gaga's unlistenable number, "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga has 614 million views on Youtube.

Nobody who listens to Lady Gaga should have a say in governing.

Eric Morris said...

Anon 913, potentially also Anon 1026, I like your thinking and especially your point about Lady Gaga fans governing. How would this monarch be chosen or arise? Also, I'd prefer each monarch to reign over much smaller geographically and by population areas, rather than the whole continental US. More like New England, NY, Mid Atlantic, Texas, Cali, and so forth. I'd be comfortable with King Gary Welsh the I of the Middle West!

Anonymous said...

What a damn shame our Government has become. No longer do we get a voice in the Statehouse via election. It's a shell game for the power hungry. I'm ashamed to be a Hoosier. I emailed Rep. Steuerwald, who I proudly voted for last election, to let him know how disgusted I was at his behavior. Would any member of the local media be willing to expose these clowns?