Tuesday, November 5, 2013

[IN] Porter County - FBI Investigations



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County assessor Jon Snyder cries foul over location of tax hearing
NWI Times
Updated Dec 28, 2016  



VALPARAISO — Porter County Assessor Jon Snyder has taken legal action in hopes of stopping the state from making the unusual move of holding a hearing in Indianapolis for a Hebron apartment complex seeking to retain its tax exempt status.

"They've always been held up here," Snyder said of the hearings before the Indiana Board of Tax Review.

Why this one is being handled differently, he could not say and officials with the tax review board were not readily available Tuesday for comment.

Snyder, through attorney John Bushemi, filed a motion seeking to move the Jan. 18 hearing from the Indiana Government Center South in Indianapolis to the Porter County Administration Center in Valparaiso.

The hearing was triggered when the owners of the Misty Glen apartment complex in Hebron appealed the 2013 decision by the Porter County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals to withdraw the unit's tax exempt status. The three-member board agreed that the owners, Hebron-Vision LLC, failed to show it qualifies for the breaks through charitable efforts.

Snyder's motion says the rules of procedure "permit the hearing before an administrative law judge to be held in the county in which the property subject to the appeal is located, which in this case is Porter County."

Snyder said Tuesday, "In the spirit of transparency the taxpayers of Hebron should have the opportunity to attend this appeal hearing so that they can better understand how their tax bill is impacted by tax exemptions."

The nearly 11-year-old Hebron-Vision LLC company is listed with the state as being based in Indianapolis. A telephone message left for the registered agent was not immediately returned.

The five-building, 80-apartment complex at 99 Misty Lane was granted tax exempt status in 2009 by the Indiana Board of Tax Review.

"The taxpayers need to understand why, if they do it again," Snyder said.

Hebron-Vision LLC argues in its appeal the property is used to provide "safe, decent and affordable housing in a charitable manner for ... low-income and very low-income individuals and families."

"Through those acts, a benefit inures to the public sufficient to justify the loss of tax revenue," according to the appeal

Board of appeals member Nicholas Sommer had said the tax exempt status was pulled because there was no evidence presented during the March 2013 hearing of charitable or educational efforts on behalf of the apartment operators.

Hebron-Vision, which purchased the complex in September 2007, argued at the time it received the exemption that it offers services to tenants such as newsletters, referral programs, holiday parties, access to office equipment and free blood pressure screenings.

Sommer said the rental rates are compatible with the Hebron market and not significantly better than competing units, he said.

Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals member Joe Wszolek said the operators evict residents who are unable to pay their rent.

Sommer said the evidence also showed Misty Glen is generating a profit, which is not being kept in Porter County.

Sandy Bickel, an Indianapolis attorney representing Hebron-Vision, said at the time the affordable housing provided at the complex probably will be lost if the tax exemption is removed.

She said it is very unusual for a county to initiate an effort like this to remove tax exemption granted by the state.













Valpo receives subpoena for University Promenade project
NWI Times
October 01, 2014
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/porter/valpo-receives-subpoena-for-university-promenade-project/article_23604651-6aeb-5947-91c3-c28b2d2c847b.html






VALPARAISO | The FBI delivered a subpoena to the city clerk's office Tuesday asking for documents related to the University Promenade project.

A statement issued by city Economic Development Director Patrick Lyp said the city is cooperating with the investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office but that much of the material requested previously was presented to the federal authorities.

"Back in August, and without the need for a subpoena, the city's Redevelopment Commission voluntarily produced to the FBI a seven-page narrative of the entire Eastgate project dating back to 2006, including all relevant documents," Lyp said in the statement. 

"As part of that voluntary submission, it was agreed that any further document request would be handled between lawyers and without need for a subpoena.

"Although subsequent inquiries were made by the city to the FBI as to whether additional documents were needed, no response was received and no documents or information was ever requested. 

After the subpoena was served (Tuesday), it was discovered the agent who served the subpoena had not spoken to the original agent assigned to the matter and had not reviewed the file, which included the narrative and relevant documents, some of which were the same documents requested in the subpoena."

The city's statement concludes, "The city respects the difficult job undertaken by all law enforcement officials and recognizes that as part of any investigation, resolution will not be immediate. The city will stand by its commitment to operate in good faith and provide whatever information is requested in order to bring the city's involvement to a close."
Items requested Tuesday included "all contracts, purchase agreements, leases, redevelopment agreements associated with the sale of the property," "any and all records of advertising done by the city regarding the request for proposal associated with the property sale" and "meeting minutes of the Valparaiso Redevelopment Commission or any other relevant commission or board associated with the city ... wherein the sale of said property was discussed."

Lyp said many of the items requested were given to investigators in August when the FBI went to the Porter County Auditor's Office. The information from the auditor's office including aerial images of the site and sales disclosure on the six parcels involved with University Promenade. A copy of the check for the sale and a copy of the unsuccessful bid were among those items still to be provided by the city.

Although the request was made to the clerk-treasurer's office, Clerk-Treasurer Sharon Swihart said she was not in the office at the time the FBI appeared. No other subpoenas were delivered to any other offices or individuals. The subpoena covers the period between Jan. 1, 2008, and July 31, 2014.

The commission twice put the property up for sale. The first deal fell through when the recession hit, and the developer was unable to follow through with the agreement. The deadline for second agreement with Al Krygier had to be extended before it proceeded to completion.








Feds subpoena more Valparaiso records 
Post-Tribune 
October 1, 2014 1:32PM 
Updated: October 2, 2014 2:04AM

VALPARAISO -- Clerk-Treasurer Sharon Swihart has been served with a federal subpoena for records, City Economic Development Director Patrick Lyp said Wednesday.

“This is the only subpoena received by any entity associated with the City and no other subpoenas were served on anyone, nor have the FBI agents interview(ed) (or asked to interview) anyone associated with the City,” Lyp stated in an email Wednesday.

The subpoena ordered that the city turn over documents related to the Eastgate project, now known as University Promenade, a pair of condominium complexes.

The complexes sit on either side of University Drive between Lincolnway and Valparaiso University.

The FBI requested all documents on the sale of the land to Al Krygier, the developer who bought the land, from January 2008 through July 2014.

This included minutes from the Valparaiso Redevelopment Commission meetings, records of bids and requests for proposals, all contracts and purchase agreements and records for advertising the sale.

In a statement Wednesday, Lyp and the city stated Valparaiso’s policy of full cooperation with the FBI remains.

The city adopted this police in August when FBI agents requested information on University Promenade from the Porter County Assessor’s office. At that time, the city gave FBI agents a seven-page narrative of the project from 2006 on, including information on the original Eastgate project.

Some of the documents the subpoena requested were ones the city handed over already, according to the statement.

The Assistant United States Attorney in the case “apologized for the unnecessary public action,” according to the city’s statements.

When the city originally handed the seven-page narrative to the FBI in August, it also released a press release stating the Valparaiso Redevelopment Commission and its staff would “fully cooperate with the FBI.”

Lyp said the city did that because “it seemed pretty apparent they’d want to request documents from us.”

Eastgate was a project to beautify east Lincolnway by razing older buildings and offering grants for new facades in 2006.

The block now has seven university-style apartment buildings and with retail stores on the bottom and a Horizon Bank branch.

The Plan Commission currently has a request for a four-lot subdivision of the University Promenade property.








Auditor’s deputy admits sending campaign email on county computer 
Post-Tribune 
September 30, 2014 
Updated: October 1, 2014 


VALPARAISO – The chief deputy in Porter County Auditor Bob Wichlinski’s office used his work email in late September to send a candidate questionnaire, apparently at Wichlinski’s behest.

The federal court system has statutes against campaigning during business hours, said Bob Ramsey, supervisory special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“It’s an offense that could be charged if it’s proven. It has caused problems for politicians and impacted their political life and their personal life,” he said. “Is it proper to do? I think you’re flirting with some danger there, given what’s happened to politicians in the past.”

Wichlinski did not return a call seeking comment.

In Lake County, former Surveyor George Van Til is awaiting federal sentencing for using employees in his office to campaign during the work day, among other offenses.

The Post-Tribune received a copy of the email, sent during the workday on Sept. 19 from Ryan Kubal’s Porter County email address, through a public records request to County Attorney Elizabeth Knight.

The email contains the subject line “Robert J. Wichlinski Candidate Questionaire” (sic) and is addressed to Joe Wszolek, chief operating officer for the Greater Northern Indiana Association of Realtors. It was sent at 1:04 p.m.

The attachment is a three-page response to the Realtors Political Action Committee trustee candidate questionnaire, used by GNIAR to determine which candidates to support for the Nov. 4 general election.

Kubal confirmed that he sent the document.

“Bob asked me,” Kubal said. “He gave me something earlier in the day, so I scanned it in and forwarded it to (Wszolek). I have no clue what it is. Bob asked me to scan it in and send it, so I did.”

Wszolek said his office often speaks with political candidates looking for endorsements at election time, as do other organizations.

His role is to gather that information, which is confidential, so members can decide which candidates to support, he said, declining to confirm or deny he received the email. GNIAR’s membership includes real estate agents throughout the area, including Porter County.

The incident also may be a breach of the county’s personnel handbook.

While employees can engage in political activity when they are not at work, the manual prohibits employees and elected officials from using “county materials, funds, property, personnel, facilities or equipment for any purpose other than for official county business.”

The manual also states that employees and elected officials “shall not engage in or direct others to engage in work other than the performance of official duties during work hours.”

Wichlinski, a Republican, is seeking a second term in office against Democrat Vicki Urbanik. 

The matter troubled Urbanik.

“The issue is, did Bob direct his employee to do this on county time?” she said. “To me, it’s an absolute violation of common sense and ethical behavior of an official.”










Valpo commission vows to cooperate with FBI
NWI Times
August 13, 2014

VALPARAISO | The city's Redevelopment Commission issued a statement Wednesday promising full cooperation with the FBI investigation of the University Promenade project.

On Tuesday, the FBI got aerial images of the project site and sales disclosure information from the Porter County auditor's office on the six parcels along University Drive between Lincolnway and LaPorte Avenue that were part of the sale to developer Al Krygier.

The finished project will provide a north entrance to Valparaiso University and includes two mixed-used buildings with commercial uses on the ground floor and condominiums on the upper two floors. A small park was built at the northwest corner of Lincolnway and University Drive and sold to the city.

In its statement, the commission said, "Redevelopment efforts (including public improvements) commenced on East Lincolnway in 2006 with the East Lincolnway streetscape beautification project. As a result, the area has seen a transformation with the construction of seven 'university style' apartment buildings and a Horizon Bank branch location.

"Other property owners have taken advantage of facade grants (matched by private investment) to enhance the outside appearances of their buildings. As to the University Promenade project, all agreements were publicly approved by the redevelopment commission and executed on Aug. 13, 2010. The closing on the real estate took place on or about Sept. 24, 2010.

"All records as to University Promenade are public and available for inspection. If asked, the redevelopment commission and its staff will fully cooperate with the FBI."











Valpo Promenade project getting FBI scrutiny, auditor says
Chesterton Tribune
August 13, 2014
http://chestertontribune.com/PoliceFireEmergency/valpo_promenade_project_getting.htm

Porter County Auditor Robert Wichlinski told the Chesterton Tribune this morning that FBI agents have been regularly coming to his office to collect copies of various contracts, payroll information, sales disclosures and other documents since their investigation into local governments began a little less than a year ago. 

“They let me know when they want to see something. I just give them what they ask for and don’t ask questions and they don’t tell me anything,” said Wichlinski.

Their most recent visit to the Auditor’s office, late Monday morning according to Wichlinski, was to obtain information related to the Promenade development, located between Lincolnway and LaPorte Ave. to the north of Valparaiso University. 

Specifically, the FBI obtained two sales disclosures on the six parcels that make up the promenade and various aerial images of the property generated by the County’s GIS System. 

According to Wichlinski, the Valparaiso Redevelopment Commission is listed as the seller on sales disclosures and a private developer as the buyer. 

The project has been under development since 2010.

Wichlinski said the FBI also asked for a “handful” of other “stuff” Monday, but would only confirm the documents related to promenade as what the FBI sought. 

The Auditor’s Office holds copies of tax information from the assessor and recorder’s office, deeds and records for sales transactions across the county, which Wichlinski said is why the FBI frequently consults his office. All the information at the auditor’s office is public record, said Wichlinski, adding that the FBI has not accused him of any wrongdoing.

He said agents make requests for documents “typically every other week” from his office.

Wichlinski in April reported that the FBI asked him for copies of 2013 payroll records of the Expo Center.

The FBI has reportedly visited other offices within the Porter County Administration Building. Last month, agents stopped in at the Voters Registration Office to collect campaign finance reports for Portage Mayor James Snyder. 

In March, agents collected copies of building permits for Porter Regional Hospital, and its adjoining medical center, from the Porter County Plan Commission. They also downloaded records from the Plan Commission office from the County’s computer server in the IT office.

In addition, the bureau has sought documents related to the December 2012 contract between the County Commissioners and Porter Hospital for clinical services in the County’s Employee Health Plan, conflict of interest disclosure statements filed in the County Clerk’s office from 2007 to 2013, and project bid proposals related to 2010 and 2011 contracts with the County Highway Department.











Valpo's Promenade Development targeted by FBI
NWI Times
August 12, 2014

VALPARAISO | The University Promenade development in Valparaiso is the latest local target of an FBI investigation.

FBI agents visited the Porter County auditor's office on Monday seeking aerial images of the site and sales disclosure information on the six parcels between Lincolnway and LaPorte Avenue, Auditor Bob Wichlinski said Tuesday.

The auditor's office maintains records of county property descriptions, ownership and tax billing.

The Promenade development, at the north entrance of the Valparaiso University campus, was developed by Al Krygier, who purchased the 2.8-acre site from the city's Redevelopment Commission.

Krygier said Tuesday he knew nothing about the FBI investigation and said he wanted to look into it before commenting.

Calls placed Tuesday to the Valparaiso Redevelopment Commission and other Valparaiso city officials were not returned.

The University Promenade development has a mixed use of retail, commercial and condominiums.

The development is the latest target in what has been a growing investigation by the FBI into local government.

Federal agents have recently been digging into Portage Mayor James Snyder's use of campaign funds to reimburse the city for plane tickets and other expenses related to a city economic development trip to Europe.

Snyder said the city was reimbursed in the time allowed for the trip, which was used to promote Portage and visit the Austria headquarters of a company operating in Portage.

FBI agents have also pulled payroll records over the past year for the Porter County Expo Center and have visited numerous other county departments including information technologies, plan commission, highway, clerk of the courts and the county's insurance servicing agent.













Shackles, high-profile raids highlight visual assault on region public corruption
April 19, 2014 10:30 pm 
Marc Chase
Bill Dolan 
NWI Times








HAMMOND | The clanking of shackles around wrists and ankles of elected officials charged with public corruption sends a sensory message, whether intended by law enforcement or not.

A message also comes across with the massive billboard-sized FBI logo on the sides of an evidence truck parked outside a local government building being raided.

At least one region defense attorney contends -- and some federal agents agree -- authorities here are sending a more visual, public message these days in a crack-down on alleged public corruption and other offenses.

Criminal defense attorney Scott King took note last year when his client, former Lake County Surveyor George Van Til, was led into Hammond federal court -- shackled hand and foot -- for his initial appearance on public corruption charges.

At the time, King said it was the first time he could remember seeing a client accused of nonviolent offenses marched into court in chains.

But it wouldn't be the last.

King also is representing Lake Station Mayor Keith Soderquist and the mayor's wife on charges of stealing from campaign and city food pantry funds, among other accusations. On Thursday, the U.S. Marshals Service led Soderquist, his wife and stepdaughter, who also face charges, into Hammond federal court with the defendants clad in wrist and ankle chains.

King said he vehemently disagrees with the practice of shackling defendants charged with nonviolent crimes before they've been convicted of doing anything wrong.

He said he went on record with the complaint last year, sending a formal letter of protest to Northern District of Indiana U.S. Chief Judge Philip Simon.

Simon was unavailable for comment Friday.

The U.S. Marshals Service, the agency providing federal courtroom security, would not comment on any security measures or decisions, agency spokeswoman Pamela Mozdzierz said.

But to King, the shackling practice is a visual splash that presumes guilt of nonviolent offenders before they've been tried or convicted.

"Historically, in cases of people accused of nonviolent offenses, you didn't see this practice," King said.

"It's a visual act that I don't think is justified by any real security threat. They're bringing people into the courtroom in chains at a stage where they're presumed innocent."

In the case of Van Til, he ultimately pleaded guilty to charges of using county government resources to further his campaign and then directing the destruction of evidence to cover it up.

But Van Til, who is free on bond awaiting sentencing in his case, had not yet been convicted in May 2013 when he entered a federal courtroom with shackled wrists and ankles that also were connected to a chain around his waist.

King acknowledged that since Van Til's initial appearance, he is seeing more use of shackles for all defendants during initial appearances on criminal charges in Hammond federal court.

Though the U.S. Marshals Service declined to comment on the practice of shackling inmates, another federal agency's office admits a concerted effort to become more publicly visible in some of its operations.

Last month, the 600 block of Connecticut Street in Gary was closed down, and a large white truck with a prominent FBI logo was parked outside the Calumet Township trustee's office.

FBI and IRS had closed down the office and were seen carrying boxes and at least one computer out of the trustee's facility while serving a federal search warrant.

Throughout the morning, and in spite of an intermittent cold rain, a few people living in the nearby neighborhood came out to gawk at the truck and snap its picture in front of Trustee Mary Elgin's place of business.

Though no charges or reason behind the raid have yet been made public, the FBI made no secret it was there.

And according to a local FBI supervisory agent, that's partly by design.

"We are going to be visible and active, because part of our success is our visibility in the community -- like when our personnel are actively engaged in investigations, collecting evidence and serving subpoenas," said Bob Ramsey, supervisory agent for the FBI's Merrillville office.

"It's a good indication we are out there working hard and protecting the public's interests. "There haven't been any directives specifically from Indianapolis. Just our mindset up here is that there is work to do, and we are going to be aggressive."

Ramsey acknowledged crime deterrence is one of several reasons for the agency's high-profile look.











EDITORIAL: 
Lake County needs to join era of ethics
Doug Ross 
Times of Northwest Indiana Editorial Page Editor
4/16/2014 - 7:25:00 PM

Lake County government is now alone in declining to pay for ethics training for employees. That's shameful. Porter and LaPorte counties have already committed to joining the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission. [ http://www.sharedethics.com/index.htm ]

At the commission's invitation, a majority of Lake County Council members signed a pledge presented to all Northwest Indiana candidates for municipal and county offices.

"If elected to the office I seek, I commit myself to being an advocate for ethical practices within my realm of responsibility," the 2014 candidate ethics action pledge says.

The pledge further commits the candidate to making formal training available to employees, adopting an ethics code and protecting whistleblowers.

That ought to be an easy pledge, especially after dozens of area public officials have been prosecuted on public corruption charges.

FBI raids in Porter County and Calumet Township offices add to the urgency to sign this pledge.

At least five of the Lake County Council members — Ted Bilski, D-Hobart; Dan Dernulc, R-Highland; David Hamm; D-Hammond; Jerome Prince, D-Gary; and Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point — have signed the pledge. Prince is seeking the county assessor position but sits on the council now.

Yet every time Shared Ethics Advisory Commission President Calvin Bellamy has asked the County Council to appropriate money for the commission to pay for training, he has come away empty-handed.

Lake County citizens and taxpayers should be furious.

How can public trust in county government — which is already at a low level — be rebuilt when the County Council refuses to pay a paltry sum for ethics training?

The Shared Ethics Advisory Commission has no paid staff and no office to maintain. All the dues go toward training materials.

The $5,000 entry fee and an even lower annual fee are a bargain in a county where there have been many ethical lapses — and not just the criminal ones that have led to high-profile prosecutions.

Officials note that Lake County offers in-house ethics training, provided by a consultant, but joining the ethics commission and fully participating would send a stronger signal of the commitment to ethical behavior in county government.

Hamm said he would like joining the commission to be considered by the council "And I'll carry the matter," he said.

Councilmen who signed that pledge should support Hamm on this. Lake County residents should demand it.











FBI looking at 2013 County Expo Center payroll info
Chesterton Tribune
April 09, 2014

The FBI is still actively conducting its investigation of Porter County government and appears to be interested in last year’s payroll information for the Porter County Expo Center.

County Auditor Robert Wichlinski confirmed this morning that an agent came to his office at about 1 p.m. Tuesday to obtain the Expo Center’s payroll records from 2013.

The agent did not indicate why he wanted to see the information and did not take anything else, Wichlinski said. 

Wichlinski told the Chesterton Tribune that the agent also inquired about what records, claims and “a laundry list of other documents” in the auditor’s office were available to the public and if there was any information that would require a subpoena. 

Wichlinksi said he told the agent that all the information in his office is public.

According to Wichlinski, this is the first time an agent with the FBI has come to him for information. 

Since November, numerous County offices have reported visits by FBI agents collecting information. 

In March, agents collected copies of building permits for Porter Regional Hospital and its adjoining medical center from the Porter County Plan Commission. They also downloaded records from the Plan Commission office from the County’s computer server in the IT office. 

In addition to the hospital building permits, the bureau so far has taken documents related to the December 2012 contract between the County Commissioners and Porter Hospital for clinical services in the County’s Employee Health Plan, conflict of interest disclosure statements filed in the County Clerk’s office from 2007 to 2013, and project bid proposals related to 2010 and 2011 contracts with the County Highway Department. 











FBI visits Porter County auditor's office
NWI Times
April 08, 2014 

VALPARAISO | FBI agents made yet another visit to Porter County government offices, stopping Tuesday at the auditor's office.

Porter County Auditor Bob Wichlinski confirmed one agent was at his office about 1 p.m. Tuesday.

Wichlinski said the agent requested and was given payroll records involving the Porter County Expo Center.

Wichlinski said the agent was also asking about a long list of other records to determine whether they are public information.

FBI agents have visited county government several times since last year, visiting numerous departments including information technologies, plan commission, highway, clerk of the courts and the county's insurance servicing agent.











Biggs and Yelton vie for GOP nomination to County Council to represent Duneland
Chesterton Tribune
April 04, 2014

Porter County Councilman Jim Biggs faces a challenge from Kyle Yelton in the race for the 1st District County Council seat in the upcoming Republican primary election.

Biggs is running for a second term on the Council while Yelton is a newcomer to County politics. 

Election Day is Tuesday, May 6, and early voting begins on Tuesday, April 8. 

Council District 1 includes all precincts in Liberty, Jackson, Pine, and Westchester Townships with the exception of a portion of Westchester 17. It also contains Portage Twp. precincts 4 and 6 and Center Twp. precincts 11 and 25.

Only residents living in those precincts may vote in the District 1 race.

The Chesterton Tribune invited both candidates to respond to a questionnaire. 

The Tribune set word limits for each question and reserved the right to cut off any response in excess of the limit....

#8. The FBI has requested and received documents from a variety of county departments. What are your thoughts about the FBI’s interest in county government? (100 words)

Biggs: The FBI’s webpage states; “It’s our top priority among criminal investigations--and for good reason. Public corruption poses a fundamental threat to our national security and way of life. It impacts everything from how well our borders are secured and our neighborhoods protected to verdicts handed down in courts to the quality of our roads, schools, and other government services. And it takes a significant toll on our pocketbooks, wasting billions in tax dollars every year.” My thoughts are that all county officials should support any effort to insure that the public’s trust in our county government is protected - without exception.

Yelton: To my knowledge, the FBI has requested documents and records that are readily available to the public. Examination of public records by anyone, whether it is a governmental organization or just a citizen, should be welcomed. Porter County has a proud history of open and ethical government, and we should not rush to judgment until the review is completed. But, these types of inquiries do challenge the public perception of government. I applaud the Commissioners’ decision to strengthen the public trust in County government by joining the Shared Ethics Commission, and will actively participate in the Commission’s training programs.











FBI raids NW Indiana township trustee office
Posted 3/28/2014
Chesterton Tribune

GARY, Ind. (AP) — Federal and state agents have searched the northwestern Indiana office of what is among the largest township government units in the state.

Agents from the FBI, IRS and Indiana State Police obtained a warrant for Thursday's search of the Calumet Township trustee's office in Gary as part of an ongoing investigation, said Robert Ramsey, the supervisory agent for the FBI office in Merrillville.

Details about the warrant have been sealed by a federal judge, Ramsey told The Times of Munster and the Post-Tribune of Merrillville.

Agents left the offices with several boxes and a computer, but no one was detained.

Calumet Township Trustee Mary Elgin has faced scrutiny recently over the office's spending on assistance to Gary's low-income residents and the use of take-home cars.

Township attorney Ragen Hatcher said in a statement that Elgin is cooperating fully with investigators.

Elgin is suing the state to stop enforcement of a law approved by the General Assembly last year that would significantly reduce her control over more than $5 million in annual spending if she doesn't reduce administrative costs.

That law sets up a process for the town of Griffith to possible withdraw from the township — a move that could cost the trustee's office at least $1.7 million. Griffith officials and residents have claimed for years that they put in far more revenue to the township than is returned in services.

Griffith Town Council President Rick Ryfa said he didn't know what impact the investigation would have.

"I am waiting as eagerly as anybody else to find out what they have found because I have no clue," he said.

Elgin said in a recent interview that fighting the 2013 legislation was among the reasons she decided to seek re-election this year. 

She is being challenged by Gary Councilwoman Kimberly Robinson in the May Democratic primary.

"I feel very strong about the township, township assistance, and helping the needy," Elgin said. "I feel very comfortable about what I've accomplished, but to leave that unfinished, I think that's a battle we have not finished yet."











FBI returns to county to download computer files
Chesterton Tribune
March 25, 2014

The FBI returned to the Porter County Information Technologies Department Monday to collect computer data pertaining to the plan commission. 

IT Director Sharon Lippens confirmed the presence of FBI agents in her office from about 10 a.m. to about noon on Monday. 

“They came in and said, ‘We need access to whatever the Plan Commission has access to.’ I didn’t ask why and they didn’t tell me,” Lippens told the Chesterton Tribune this morning. 

Lippens said the FBI did not tell her what data they were searching for but that she gave them the access they requested. The Plan Commission computer servers hold electronic copies of issued building permits. 

The FBI brought in their own hard drive to download the information to and were once again brought in by Plan Commission Executive Director Robert Thompson, Lippens said.

Thompson took FBI agents to the IT Department last Wednesday to ask Lippens specific details on the Plan Commission’s computer server such as the serial number, the make and model. 

Thompson has declined to comment to avoid impeding the investigation.

He did say earlier this month that the FBI has entered his office on more than one occasion asking for copies of the building permits for Porter Regional Hospital and the 60,000 sq. ft. medical office building attached to it. 

While newer versions of the permits are available, the original handwritten copies for the two buildings have reportedly gone missing from the plan commission office. 

The hospital is located in Liberty Twp. on the northwest corner of Ind. 49 and U.S. 6. 

County officials have reported numerous visits by the FBI since November. 

The bureau has taken documents related to the December 2012 contract between the County Commissioners and Porter Hospital for clinical services in the County’s Employee Health Plan, conflict of interest disclosure statements filed in the County Clerk’s office from 2007 to 2013, and project bid proposals related to 2010 and 2011 contracts with the County Highway Department. 











FBI taps into Porter County computers
NWI Times
March 24, 2014
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/porter/fbi-taps-into-porter-county-computers/article_6d0c1185-595b-50bc-ad98-a547d992fbcf.html

VALPARAISO | FBI agents downloaded computer information Monday as part of their ongoing investigation into county government.

Four agents spent several hours at the county's information technologies department during the late morning downloading data files from the county server to an external hard drive they brought, said department Director Sharon Lippens.

Lippens did not know exactly what information was targeted by the agents.

The FBI declined comment when contacted Monday afternoon.

Plan Commission Executive Director Robert Thompson, who also confirmed the presence of the FBI at the county administration center Monday, has had agents visit his office multiple times recently.

Thompson said neither he, nor to his knowledge anyone he supervises, have done anything inappropriate.

"I am fully cooperating with law enforcement authorities," he said.

Thompson declined further comment to avoid impeding the investigation.

FBI agents have made numerous visits to county government during the last several months.

Agents were at the IT department last week seeking information about models and makes of computer servers used by the county, Lippens had said.

Agents have also appeared at the plan commission office seeking copies of building permits for the new Porter Regional Hospital and the nearby medical office building at Ind. 49 and U.S. 6.

Thompson has said his office is unable to locate the original building permits for those two buildings.

The FBI has also visited the county highway department, where agents sought records of materials purchased by the Porter County Board of Commissioners in a competitive bidding process in 2010 and 2011.

Porter County Clerk Karen Martin said in December an FBI agent showed up at her office seeking copies of conflict of interest disclosure forms designed to reveal a public servant's financial interest in contracts or purchases involving their government offices.

The FBI also took possession late last year of records related to the county commissioners' decision Dec. 18, 2012, to switch the provider of wellness and clinic service for county employees from HealtheACCESS to Porter Regional Hospital's CareEXPRESS











FBI seeks computer info in latest visit to Porter County government
Chesterton Tribune
March 21, 2014

The FBI is continuing to investigate the Porter County Plan Commission. Wednesday agents inquired as to what kind of computer equipment it uses.

County ITS Director Sharon Lippens told the Chesterton Tribune this morning that the FBI visited her office mid-afternoon escorted by Plan Commission Executive Director Robert Thompson. 

“They asked (Thompson) what kind of server his office ran on. He didn’t know so that is why they came and asked me in my department. They asked for the serial number, the make and model of the server,” Lippens said. “That’s all what happened.”

Lippens said the FBI did not tell her why they wanted the information.

Thompson told the Tribune “no comment” when asked about Wednesday’s events. 

FBI agents also visited the Plan Commission office March 7 and March 10 to take copies of building permits issued for Porter Regional Hospital and the 62,000 sq. ft. medical office building connected to it owned by Sanders Trust. 

At that time Thompson confirmed the FBI visits but would not give further comment. 

The building permits have played a part in the County Council’s ongoing discussion of a 10-year tax abatement for the new hospital located at Ind. 49 and U.S. 6 in Liberty Twp.

County Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, presented to the press printed copies of building permits that the County Assessor’s Office had on file that indicated Porter Hospital LLC as the property owner for both the hospital and medical office building.

The original handwritten permits for the buildings have reportedly been missing from the Plan Commission office, Biggs said, and he’s urged closer scrutiny on the Council’s part when considering the abatement. 

County officials have reported numerous visits by the FBI since November. Agents have taken documents related to the December 2012 contract between Porter County and Porter Hospital for clinical services in the County’s Employee Health Plan, conflict of interest disclosure statements filed in the County Clerk’s office from 2007 to 2013, and project bid proposals related to 2010 and 2011 contracts with the County Highway Department. 











FBI visits Porter County IT department
NWI Times
March 20, 2014 

VALPARAISO | The FBI continued its investigation into Porter County government Wednesday with a visit to the information technologies department.

Department Director Sharon Lippens said the agents, who were brought to the department by Plan Commission Executive Director Robert Thompson, asked about models and makes of computer servers used by the county.

They did not request any specific data, she said.

The FBI has visited numerous county departments since at least late last year.

Agents appeared earlier this month at the county plan commission office seeking copies of building permits for the new hospital and the nearby medical office building at Ind. 49 and U.S. 6.

Thompson has said his office is unable to locate the original building permits for those two buildings.

The FBI has also visited the highway department, where they sought records of materials purchased by the Porter County Board of Commissioners in a competitive bidding process in 2010 and 2011.

Porter County Clerk Karen Martin said in December an FBI agent showed up at her office seeking copies of conflict of interest disclosure forms designed to reveal a public servant's financial interest in contracts or purchases involving their government offices.

The FBI also has taken possession of records related to the county commissioners' decision Dec. 18, 2012, to switch the provider of wellness and clinic service for county employees from HealtheACCESS to Porter Regional Hospital's CareEXPRESS, Mike Anton, who serves as the servicing agent for the county's health plan, said in November.











FBI eyeing building permits for Porter hospital office building
Chesterton Tribune
March 11, 2014

The FBI would now appear to be interested in the construction of the new Porter Regional Hospital and the 60,000-square foot medical office building built on adjacent property.

On Friday and again on Monday, FBI agents entered the Porter County Administration Building and requested copies of the building permits for those two structures.

“I will simply say that I can confirm the FBI was in here Friday afternoon and again on Monday morning,” Plan Commission Executive Director Robert Thompson told the Chesterton Tribune today. “They took copies of building permits for both Porter Regional Hospital and for the medical office building. I will give no further comment.”

Those records have also recently received scrutiny from members of the Porter County Council as it works to understand the details of a 10-year tax abatement granted to Porter Regional Hospital.

County Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, held a press conference last week where he expressed concern about the medical office building, contesting that it should not be included as part of the abatement because the building is owned by someone other than the hospital: The Sanders Trust of Birmingham, Ala. That firm has not approached the council to request an abatement, Biggs said at the time.

Some of the materials Biggs shared with the media were in fact the building permits for both facilities. Both indicate only Porter Hospital LLC as the property owner and both were applied for by The Robins and Morton Group of Birmingham, Ala.

The Robins and Morton Group was contracted for construction work on the two structures. 

The permit for the hospital was issued in August 2010 while the one for the office building was issued in September 2011 by the Porter County Planning Office.

This is the second reported instance where the FBI has seized Porter County government documents relating to Porter Regional Hospital.

On the first occasion, the FBI requested documents related to the contract for clinical services between Porter County Commissioners and the hospital signed in December 2012 as part of the county’s employee health plan. FBI agents obtained those documents in November from the Anton Insurance Agency, which services the plan.

Mike Anton of Anton Insurance said at the time that the FBI approached him after someone had suggested to federal investigators that there was something questionable about the contract. Anton, however, said that there is nothing to hide as the deal was completely transparent and above board.

In December, an FBI agent turned up at the Porter County Clerk’s office and took miscellaneous records containing conflict of interest disclosure statements filed within the municipal units of the county from 2007 and 2013.

Also, County Highway Supervisor Al Hoagland said the FBI came to his department in November and gathered copies of various bid proposals from projects done in 2010 and 2011.











FBI pulls hospital construction records from Porter Co. government offices
NWI Times
March 10, 2014 

VALPARAISO | The FBI has resumed its investigation into Porter County government, this time targeting records involving the construction of Porter Regional Hospital.

Plan Commission Executive Director Robert Thompson confirmed that FBI agents visited his office Friday afternoon and again Monday morning seeking copies of building permits for the new hospital and the nearby medical office building at Ind. 49 and U.S. 6.

FBI agents have made surprise visits at various other county departments over the past several months, including the highway department, where they sought records of materials purchased by the Porter County Board of Commissioners in a competitive bidding process in 2010 and 2011.

Porter County Clerk Karen Martin said in December an FBI agent showed up at her office seeking copies of conflict of interest disclosure forms designed to reveal a public servant's financial interest in contracts or purchases involving their government offices.

The FBI also has taken possession of records related to the county commissioners' decision Dec. 18, 2012, to switch the provider of wellness and clinic service for county employees from HealtheACCESS to Porter Regional Hospital's CareEXPRESS, Mike Anton, who serves as the servicing agent for the county's health plan, said in November.

Hospital officials on Monday declined to comment.

The medical office building targeted in the FBI's most recent visits was in the news last week when Porter County Councilman Jim Biggs, R-1st, announced he intends to have the structure removed from the hospital's 10-year tax abatement because it has a different owner.

There is nothing in the 2009 abatement agreement indicating the hospital's intention to include more than its main building, Biggs said.











FBI investigation includes Porter County highway bids
NWI Times
December 13, 2013

VALPARAISO | The FBI's investigation into Porter County government continues to widen with agents taking possession of bidding records from the Highway Department.

County Highway Department Supervisor Al Hoagland said the federal investigators requested copies of competitive bids received by the Porter County Board of Commissioners for various materials purchases in 2010 and 2011.

Hoagland did not want to elaborate on the exact information sought, but minutes from the Nov. 16, 2010, commissioner meeting lists various road materials and diesel fuel as the items put out for bid.

Hoagland said he was not subpoenaed to testify in a grand jury proceeding.

Porter County Clerk Karen Martin said earlier this week she was presented with a subpoena seeking records from her office that makes reference to a grand jury hearing on a criminal case to be held Wednesday at the federal courthouse in Hammond.

Martin said it was her understanding she could be called in to testify.

An increasing number of reports are surfacing about FBI agents showing up at various county government offices over the last couple of months seeking records and interviewing officials and staff.

Martin said the agent who showed up at her office wanted copies of conflict of interest disclosure forms designed to reveal a public servant's financial interest in contracts or purchases involving their government offices. The agent also obtained a copy of the general index listing that officials filed these forms over the past years, she said.

The FBI also took possession last month of records related to the Porter County Board of Commissioners' decision Dec. 18, 2012, to switch the provider of wellness and clinic service for county employees from HealtheACCESS to Porter Regional Hospital's CareEXPRESS, said Mike Anton, who serves as the servicing agent for the county's health plan.












FBI takes more records from Porter County Clerk and highway department
Chesterton Tribune
December 12, 2013

The FBI continues to investigate records of Porter County Government and has reportedly seized more documents, this time from both the County Clerk’s office and the County Highway Department.

County Clerk Karen M. Martin told the Chesterton Tribune this morning that an FBI agent came to her office December 3 and asked for “books containing miscellaneous records” that held Indiana Form 236s, or conflict of interest disclosure statements for all types of local government units in Porter County, from 2007 to 2013. 

Indiana Code requires public officials to file disclosure statements within 15 days prior to final action of a contract or purchase to the County Clerk’s office and the Indiana State Board of Accounts, Martin said. The forms ask officials to disclose descriptions of the contract or purchase and their financial interest as well if it is a single transaction or an annual disclosure statement.

Martin, who did not identify any public officials who had filed a disclosure form, said the FBI did not indicate what the interest of the investigation was but did tell her “the clerk’s office had done nothing wrong.” 

The FBI also subpoenaed Martin to appear before a grand jury in U.S. Federal Court’s Northern District of Indiana, located in Hammond, on Wednesday, Dec. 18 pertaining to the investigation and to bring with her certified copies of the disclosure statements. 

Martin said she did not know what she would be questioned on since this is her first time before a grand jury. “This is all new to me,” she said. 

Porter County Highway Superintendent Al Hoagland also told the Chesterton Tribune this morning that the FBI had come to his department on Nov. 14 and took copies of “various bid proposals on projects from 2010 and 2011.”

Hoagland, for his part, said that all of the information seized was public information and also on record at the county auditor’s office. 

The FBI did not tell Hoagland why they were searching his records.
The Chesterton Tribune reported on Nov. 26 that the FBI subpoenaed records from Anton Insurance relating to the Porter County Commissioner’s contract with Porter Regional Hospital for clinical services provided to the county employee health plan, which was signed in December 2012. 

Both Mike Anton of Anton Insurance and County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, told the Tribune that the contract process and proposals collected were done in a transparent and open manner and they were unsure why the FBI was investigating. 









FBI takes more records from Porter County government
NWI Times
December 11, 2013

VALPARAISO | The FBI has made another surprise visit to Porter County government in search of records.

The target this time were conflict of interest disclosure forms designed to reveal a public servant's financial interest in contracts or purchases involving their government offices.

Porter County Clerk Karen Martin, whose office maintains the disclosure forms for public servants of county, municipal and other units of local government, said the FBI agent served her with a subpoena for the records Dec. 3.

Martin said the agent made it clear her office had done nothing wrong, yet she did not know the target of the investigation. The agent, she said, had interest in specific disclosure forms and the general index listing everyone, who had filed.

The FBI had taken possession last month of records related to the Porter County Board of Commissioners' decision Dec. 18, 2012, to switch the provider of wellness and clinic service for county employees from HealtheACCESS to Porter Regional Hospital's CareEXPRESS, said Mike Anton, who serves as the servicing agent for the county's health plan.

The subpoena served to Martin calls on her to testify before a grand jury in a criminal case Dec. 18 at the federal courthouse in Hammond.

The conflict of interest disclosure form in question begins with a paragraph explaining it is a Class D felony for a public servant to knowingly have a financial interest in or derive a profit from a contract or purchase carried out by the government entity they serve.

The public servant filling out the form is then asked whether the disclosure of financial interest applies to a single transaction or a yearlong event. Details of the contract or purchase in question is called for, as is information about the public servant's financial interest.

An attorney with the Indiana State Board of Accounts, which is to receive a copy of the disclosures along with the county clerk within 15 days of the event in question, declined comment on the purpose and role of the forms.

It appears five county officials filed conflict of interest disclosure forms in 2013.









FBI probing county wellness contract
Posted 11/26/2013
By JEFF SCHULTZ and KEVIN NEVERS
Chesterton Tribune

The FBI has seized documents related to the Porter County Commissioners’ decision in December 2012 to contract with Porter Regional Hospital to be the county’s new wellness program provider, after terminating a previous contract with HealtheACCESS.

Mike Anton of the Anton Insurance Agency, which services Porter County’s employee health plan, told the Chesterton Tribune this morning that, two to three weeks ago, he was approached by the FBI and advised that “someone had come to them suggesting something questionable about that contract.”

“They referred to it as a wellness program but it’s really a contract for clinic services,” Anton said.

Anton subsequently spoke to investigators for approximately an hour and then, last week, provided the FBI with requested documents, he said.

“We don’t have anything to hide,” Anton said. “It’s not that big a deal. The whole process for RFPs for a clinic service to be provided to county employees as a benefit was completely transparent and above board and in the best interests of the county.”

That request for proposals (RFP) was issued following disappointing results from the wellness program which HealtheACCESS was providing, Anton said: roughly 10 percent of county employees were actually availing themselves of it, at a monthly up-front cost of $18,000 or roughly $200,000 paid in total for access. “After a couple of years of an experiment put in place by (former County Commissioner Bob) Harper, it was suspect as to value.”

That RFP ultimately resulted in five proposals, Anton said: from Franciscan Alliance, from HealtheACCESS, from IU Health, from Porter Regional Hospital, and then a joint proposal from Franciscan Health and HealtheACCESS.

But all of those five proposals but one--Porter Regional Hospital’s--had “up-front” as opposed to visit costs, Anton said. And it was unclear, in those four proposals, whether county employees would actually be seen by physicians or by nurse-practitioners or physician-assistants.

The program proposed by Porter Regional Hospital, in contrast, provides for a flat fee per visit to the Care Express, where county employees “will see docs,” Anton said.

In short, under Porter Regional Hospital’s program, the county “is only paying for what it’s getting” and the Commissioners “don’t have to be concerned with utilization issues,” Anton said. The other proposals, “to varying degrees, had an up-front access fees.”

County Commissioners President John Evans, R-North, similarly told the Tribune today that the process was conducted openly. He declined further comment, however, as the FBI continues its investigation.

Commissioner Nancy Adams, R-Center, for her part told the Tribune that she hadn’t heard of the FBI’s interest in the RFP and said that she didn’t know why the FBI would be investigating. 

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