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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Ind. Gov't. - "AP Exclusive: Bennett Probe Called for Prosecution" [Updated]

Tom LoBianco of the AP reports in a long story this afternoon that:

A months-long investigation into former Indiana schools Superintendent Tony Bennett's use of state staff and resources during his 2012 re-election campaign found ample evidence to support federal wire fraud charges, according to a copy of the 95-page report viewed by The Associated Press.

Despite the recommendation that charges be pursued, Bennett has never faced prosecution for such charges[,] which could have carried up to 20 years in prison.

The investigation, which was completed by the inspector general's office in February, found more than 100 instances in which Bennett or his employees violated federal wire fraud law.

That contrasts sharply with an eight-page formal report issued in July that said the office found minimal violations, resulting in a $5,000 fine and an admonishment that Bennett could have avoided fines by rewriting rules to allow some campaign work on state time. * * *

The report also cites the successful prosecution of former Lake County Surveyor George Van Til as a blueprint for prosecution. Van Til, a Democrat, pleaded guilty last December to six counts of wire fraud and admitted to using county employees for campaign work between 2007 and 2012.

From a second AP story, also by LoBianco:
The Indiana inspector general's office built a strong case in alleging former schools Superintendent Tony Bennett engaged in wire fraud through extensive use of public resources for his 2012 re-election campaign, according to a document viewed by The Associated Press. A local prosecutor declined to take the case, and the office settled with Bennett for $5,000 in July. [ILB emphasis]

The inspector general's investigation, which covers the 2012 calendar year, found more than 100 instances among 14 employees to support the wire fraud allegations. Former Bennett chief of staff Heather Neal had 17 violations, the document showed[,] the most among employees.

Among the findings:

  • Misuse of state-issued/campaign SUV and driver:

    The investigation checked mileage logs, fuel card purchases and Bennett's calendar to come up with 21 instances in which Bennett misused the state vehicle. * * *

  • Staff used for political work on taxpayers' dime:

    Indiana's ghost employment laws bar state workers from doing political work on state time and prohibit state officials from directing their employees to do campaign work. But the investigation found multiple instances of state employees doing political work while being paid by taxpayers. * * *

  • Payments constituting wire fraud violation:

    Wire fraud charges are frequent in public corruption cases, built by showing that the state transfer of payment to employees via their bank violates federal rules.

    The investigation includes detailed automatic financial transfers between the state of Indiana and banks for the 14 employees and Bennett. The biweekly paychecks violated federal wire fraud law because they covered time spent on political activities, the report says.

  • [Updated Dec. 3] See also this front-page Indianapolis Star story by the AP's LoBiano, that reports:
    Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, tasked with investigating public corruption at the Statehouse, said his investigators looked at evidence collected by the state and their own investigation but decided it was "minimal" and "inappropriate to pursue any type of criminal charges." He added that the inspector general's punishment made it less likely for his office to pursue charges.

    A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office declined comment Tuesday.

    Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 2, 2014 04:11 PM
    Posted to Indiana Government