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AG targets East Chicago corruption

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The Indiana Attorney General's Office wants a federal court to order an audit of East Chicago that might reveal the need for more oversight of a city that's endured a racketeering vote-buying enterprise carried out by a former mayor and multiple city officials.

Filing a memorandum on damages and injunctive relief in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Indiana, late Tuesday, a Chicago attorney acting as a special deputy attorney general for the state seeks the audit in the 5-year-old case against former East Chicago Mayor Robert Pastrick and top aides. The defendants have now all settled and admitted civil liability for at least a portion of the $25 million in public funds used in a vote-buying scheme a decade ago.

Using the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, Patrick Collins, special deputy attorney general - on behalf of Attorney General Greg Zoeller - is proposing that the State Board of Accounts conduct an expedited audit of city government to "review, assess, and report" to the court its findings as to the full economic damages caused mostly by a "Sidewalks for Votes" scandal, and any injunctive relief or remedy that may be warranted. The audit would review the current financial conditions of East Chicago, the amounts and purposes of casino funds disbursed, and any other structural or systemic problems in the city.

The brief stops short of asking for a specific resolution but indicates there is a range of civil remedies available to the court once the agency's audit is complete. Options used in other cases and jurisdictions include asset forfeiture, as well as the appointment of a trustee or constructive trust to monitor and oversee the business involved in racketeering.

If a receiver or trustee method was used and the State Board of Accounts continued in an auditing role, it would essentially mean the agency and the presiding judge would be guarantors of public confidence by monitoring the city's financial decision-making.

While the brief doesn't allege any corruption by the current administration, it says the current city government and members of the public are still burdened by the pattern of corruption that's existed in East Chicago through the years during the Pastrick administration.

Senior Judge James T. Moody in the Northern District of Indiana's Hammond Division will consider this request and hear testimony about the proposal during a hearing at 9:30 a.m. CST June 9.

Former Attorney General Steve Carter launched the suit in 2004 against East Chicago's former Democratic Mayor Robert Pastrick, multiple city officials, and contractors on claims that the group dubbed the "Sidewalk Six" misspent public money on a scheme to pave sidewalks and driveways for election votes. That eventually led to a federal indictment of more than a dozen of Pastrick's administration officials and contractors. This civil suit sought to recoup the misspent money, and the Attorney General's Office reported that most defendants have settled and about $1.2 million has been collected from them. The state has also obtained another $18 million in default judgment orders against other defendants.

But defendants Pastrick, James Fife III, and Timothy Raykovich were the holdouts. Raykovich settled with the state May 13 - a week before the other two decided to not defend themselves in court - and the charges against Raykovich were dismissed with prejudice. Pastrick and Fife officially waived their right to a jury trial May 26. Judge Moody entered default judgments Tuesday against the pair, as well as another co-defendant Frank Kollintzas, a former city councilor who has since been convicted in the related criminal case; authorities believe Kollintzas has fled the country.

Zoeller has said previously he doesn't expect to recover the $25 million - or any larger amount including any possible treble damages - in this case but instead hopes to use this suit to show how deep the East Chicago corruption went and find a way to restore public confidence, locally and statewide.

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