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May 28, 2013

Scandal and corruption! Here in Indiana

A former Elkhart Truth colleague of mine – the grizzled police reporter David Schreiber – used to say that you could sum up 90 percent of crime in four categories: Greed and gross greed; stupidity and gross stupidity.

When it comes to political corruption, I might add three other categories to explain another 8 or 9 percent: Ambition and gross ambition, and just plain laziness.

While the headlines in recent days have Washington datelines with an array of arrows pointed at the Obama administration, Indiana also seems to be going through a corruption phase, centered, it appears, at city halls and county seats.

In the past few months, we’ve watched former St. Joseph County Democratic Chairman Butch Morgan and Jennings County Democratic operative Mike Marshall convicted of elections law felonies, former Marion County deputy prosecutor David Wyser plead guilty to bribery, Lake County Surveyor George Van Til indicted, Lake County Coroner Thomas Philpot convicted and jailed for public corruption, Hammond Councilman Al Salinas plead guilty to bribery, former Indianapolis Councilman Paul Bateman Jr. sentenced to 27 months on a fraud charge, and Gary Councilwoman Marilyn Krusas pleading guilty to tax evasion.

And most recently, FBI agents hauled away boxes from the Indianapolis City-County Building in an investigation of the Indy Land Bank, with assistant administrator Reggie Walton arrested along with four others.

        

This corruption convulsion echoes an assessment made by author John Bartlow Martin in his 1947 book Indiana: An Interpretation, where he observed that “Indiana had lost its way” in the 1940s and ‘50s, with just about every week bringing news of a new corruption case, indictment, or sentencing of a public official.

    

In addition to all the activity over the past month, in recent years, we’ve watched the conviction of Republican Secretary of State Charlie White on felonious election law violations, and Republican Indianapolis Councilman Lincoln Ploughman convicted in 2011 of bribery and attempted extortion charges. There also were Democrat East Chicago Mayor George Pabey, Democrat Calumet Township Trustee Dozier Allen Jr., Lake County Councilman Will Smith Jr., former Democratic Congresswoman and Gary Clerk Katie Hall and her daughter, Junifer, all on public corruption charges.

    

Add in the dozen or so cases every year of theft and misappropriated funds by township trustees and small town clerk-treasurers and you find officials who fail to recognize that the State Board of Accounts routinely scrounges up missing and misappropriated funds.

    

The good news here is that beyond Charlie White’s hapless crimes, the Indiana Statehouse has — apparently — kept on the straight and narrow. So have, for the most part, city halls in our bigger cities like Fort Wayne, South Bend, Lafayette, Evansville, and Terre Haute. Until the Indy Land Bank arrests, Indianapolis has had very little corruption since the creation of Unigov four decades ago.

        

In watching this parade of convictions, indictments, and probes, it’s worth noting that the rogue behavior afflicts both major political parties. It appears to be concentrated – at least for now – at city halls and county seats. And if you’re a public official, the cold hard fact is that officials — from the SBA to District Attorneys Joe Hogsett and David Capp — are watching. Hogsett has a corruption hotline number at 229-2443.

    

As I’ve told my sons, sometimes you have to state the obvious and so here is today’s lesson: Public service is a bad place to seek riches and cut corners on elections. If you want to get rich, don’t run for office. In the election fraud cases, it appears to have been driven by sheer laziness and dirty tricks. The forged 2008 Clinton and Obama presidential ballot petitions were turned in days before deadlines.

    

In April 2011, Hogsett announced the formation of the Public Corruption Working Group.

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