« Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit denies rehearing en banc in one Indiana case today | Main | Ind. Gov't. - "Lt. Gov-elect Sue Ellspermann says the first order of business in the Pence administration is a moratorium on new business regulations" »

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Ind. Gov't. - State Board of Accounts raises questions in LaGrange County audit report

Tracy Warner, editorial page editor of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, writes today:

A State Board of Accounts audit of the LaGrange County commissioners for 2010 focused heavily on a trust, the trust’s ownership of land LaGrange County was to eventually receive as a future beneficiary and the role of the county attorney, Kurt Bachman.

The audit, in unusually direct language, said the commissioners’ failure to seek County Council approval to dispose of its land interest “constitutes misfeasance on the part of the County Commissioners.” It also said that though Bachman filed a required conflict of interest statement, “there was not a full and adequate disclosure as required.”

The audit said the county did not keep required records of the trust and the land appraisals, and that an agreement between Bachman – who oversaw the trust – and the county “required that the County Commissioners not disclose any documents or information that would disclose the identity of Kurt Bachman.”

State auditors also cited the county for not having a contract with county attorney Bachman, who was paid $20,000 in 2010, or his law firm, Beers, Mallers, Backs and Salin, which was paid $140,631 in 2010.

The commissioners have criticized the field auditor for the State Board of Accounts and contend neither they nor Bachman did anything wrong because the commissioners didn’t own the land at issue. The commissioners hired another attorney, Tim Claxton of Burt, Blee, Dixon, Sutton and Blume to take “over as County Attorney for dealings with the Trust.”

The report, filed Dec. 27, was forwarded to LaGrange County Prosecutor Jeff Wible. In 2011, a special prosecutor who looked into the trust and land deal found no criminal activity, but the State Board of Accounts audit could spur a new investigation, particularly because of its direct accusations.

Here is a link to the SBA Audit.

WTHD 105.5 had this story by Tim Murray on Jan. 4, headed "LaGrange County and state at odds over audit report." Some quotes:

LaGrange County Commissioners are disputing the findings of a State Board of Accounts audit report that calls into question the county's handling of two property transactions.

The audit report released last Thursday accused county officials of misfeasance in the way they handled the transactions relating to the 516 acre Lambright Trust of which County Attorney Kurt Bachman was trustee.

State auditors claim the commissioners and county council failed to treat the transfer of property from the trust to Kurt Bachman as a sale of real property. State law prescribes how government entities must handle such sales and includes a requirement for the county council to approve. They also disapprove of a license agreement to farm the ground which they say should have required the commissioners to take bids.

The audit report also took Bachman to task for what it said was an insufficient conflict of interest statement that lacked specific details of his interest in the real estate transaction and an easement to Oliver Lake.

But a team of lawyers for the county that included Ice Miller of Indianapolis argues the transaction was a transfer of personal property, not real property, and was done legally. They also claim the transactions questioned by the auditors occurred between the trust and Bachman, not between the county and Bachman and do not trigger the statutes cited by the auditors.

Former Steuben County Prosecutor Tom Wilson was appointed as a special prosecutor in 2011 to review the Lambright transaction. Wilson filed a report with LaGrange Circuit Court saying his investigation determined there was no criminal activity in the matter. * * *

Former County Commissioner George Bachman, who was president of the commission at the time and is not related to Kurt Bachman, said Friday the State Board of Accounts violated the law itself by publishing its report without the county's written response.

You can access the * * * County's audit response [here].

Wanda Yoder of the Sturgis Michigan Journal had a brief story Jan. 7.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 9, 2013 10:53 AM
Posted to Indiana Government