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Prosecutor ordered lenient deal for business partner's client

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Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi last year intervened in a major drug case to offer a reduced sentence over objections from both law enforcement officers and his own deputy prosecutors.

He insisted on a plea deal for accused drug dealer Joseph Mobareki that would be acceptable to defense attorney Paul J. Page, Brizzi's friend and business partner, law enforcement sources said. Brizzi also directed his staff - in a highly unusual move ­- to return $10,000 in cash seized from Mobareki. The money was routed through Page.

A year earlier, Page had arranged for Brizzi to own 50 percent of an Elkhart office building worth $900,000 without investing any cash or co-signing a loan. Brizzi also had collected at least $5,000 in campaign contributions from Page associates at the law firm Baker Pittman & Page and Page Development, which built the Villagio at Page Pointe condos in Indianapolis.

Brizzi had taken a mostly hands-off approach to individual cases after he became Marion County prosecutor in 2003. But in recent years, he was more active in select matters brought by certain attorneys, including Page, raising concerns among deputy prosecutors and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department detectives.

In fact, those in the law enforcement community who resisted offering Page a lenient plea deal in the Mobareki case figured Brizzi might eventually overrule them, Prosecutor's Office sources said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk with the newspaper.

Internal Prosecutor's Office e-mails, court files, and civil forfeiture documents obtained by the Indianapolis Business Journal support the claims. The IBJ is Indiana Lawyer's sister publication.

"We knew there was a quid," said a Prosecutor's Office source familiar with the Mobareki case. "We just weren't sure about the pro quo."

Brizzi, 41, did not respond to repeated requests for comment, but he said in a March letter that "proper checks and balances have been built within the prosecutor's office to prevent favoritism influenced by either campaign contributions, friendships, or outside business dealings."

In a statement, a Prosecutor's Office spokeswoman said most of the 40,000 cases it files each year result in plea deals. She said Brizzi was on spring break the week of March 29.

"It has never been and never will be the practice of the Marion County Prosecutor's Office to give preferential treatment to defense attorneys for any reason," wrote Susan Decker, who took over for spokesman Mario Massillamany after his March 27 DUI arrest and subsequent resignation. "If anything, the defense attorneys that Prosecutor Brizzi has a personal connection with face greater scrutiny than most others."

Page said in March his decision to co-invest with Brizzi had nothing to do with Brizzi's elected position. He said Brizzi earned his stake in the Elkhart building - an interest he has valued at $50,000 to $100,000 - because he found the deal and asked Page to participate.

In an e-mail statement, Page said "evidentiary issues" in the Mobareki case justified the plea deal. He declined to elaborate, citing attorney-client privilege.

"I can assure you that my co-investment with Carl Brizzi never earned me any preferential treatment from his office," Page wrote.

A plea for justice

Since 2008, the year Brizzi and Page partnered to buy the building, Page has represented clients in 201 criminal cases in Marion County, records show. IBJ reviewed dozens of Page cases. One in particular stands out.

Mobareki, a bodybuilder and personal trainer, was caught with anabolic steroids valued at more than $100,000, five unlicensed firearms, and more than $17,000 in cash, records show. He was charged with seven felony counts of possession and dealing controlled substances and marijuana, for which he could expect six to 10 years in prison based on state sentencing guidelines.

The Prosecutor's Office narcotics unit - in exchange for a plea deal ­- had hoped to extract Mobareki's cooperation in tracking down his customers and suppliers by translating a cryptic roster of partial names, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers.

But as deputy prosecutors worked the case, Page informed them he had reached a deal with Brizzi for a single count of possession of a controlled substance, a Class D felony and the lowest of the seven charges.

Deputy Prosecutor Larry Brodeur, the narcotics chief, practically begged Brizzi in an e-mail to reconsider his decision to allow for the possibility of an eventual reduction of Mobareki's remaining felony charge to a misdemeanor.

Brodeur took exception in particular to the way he learned of the plea deal, through Page directly after a conversation between Brizzi and Page.

"I do not take directions on my cases from defense lawyers," Brodeur wrote to Brizzi on May 20, 2009. (Read the full e-mail here.)

Brodeur made his case for taking a tougher position on Mobareki: He'd been caught with hundreds of steroid pills and bottles of liquid steroids, 700 Xanax pills, almost four pounds of marijuana, and log books listing his customers, including a local high school coach.

"Paul Page has contended, throughout the pendency of this case, the [sic] Mobareki is nothing more than a body builder who foolishly uses steroids," Brodeur wrote. "That is completely incorrect."

'Ill-gotten gains'

The investigation began in February 2008 when IMPD narcotics detectives, acting on a tip from a UPS employee, intercepted a package of steroids bound for Mobareki. They trailed Mobareki after he left the Center Grove Health Club on State Road 135 in Greenwood and later obtained search warrants for his home, car, and a storage unit.

Police reports show they found steroids hidden inside an exercise ball, cereal box, and jar of protein powder at his home, and seized five unlicensed guns including an SKS assault rifle. Detectives also confiscated $17,550 in cash - most of it hidden inside a bag of chicken in Mobareki's freezer.

"It is drug money and neither Mobareki nor Paul Page should profit from it," Brodeur wrote. "I have been working hard to convince police agencies that the [Marion County Prosecutor's Office] has both the ability and the motivation to strip drug dealers of their ill-gotten gains. Returning the money to Mobareki would certainly undercut that effort."

Mobareki, 35, spent two days in jail and paid $365 in fines, records show. He got $10,000 of the seized cash back, with the rest going to cover law enforcement expenses in a nod to those who had fought the release of the money. He has the right after a year on probation to request a misdemeanor sentence modification.

'A disturbing pattern'

Cases where the prosecutor's business deals and campaign contributions could have influenced the outcome should be reviewed by an outside investigator, said Gary L. Miller, a former Marion Superior Court judge.

The mere appearance of impropriety could damage the credibility of the Prosecutor's Office, he said.

"It seems like, if you have one incident, someone could stand up and explain it away," said Miller, now a partner in Miller Meyer LLP who teaches legal ethics at Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis. "If you have two or three or more, it becomes more difficult to say this was just an error in judgment. It appears to be a pattern, and it's a disturbing pattern."

Another case that concerns Miller is one he presided over in 1991 - that of Paula Epperly Willoughby, who got a 110-year sentence for hiring someone to kill her husband.

In 2006 and 2007, Brizzi collected $28,500 in campaign contributions from Epperly Willoughby's father, millionaire businessman Harrison Epperly, and a company he runs called EMSP LLC. Brizzi accepted the cash at the same time attorney Jennifer Lukemeyer of Indianapolis-based Voyles Zahn Paul Hogan & Merriman was seeking Epperly Willoughby's early release from prison.

Brizzi's office supported the sentence modification, and Paula Epperly Willoughby was freed in July 2009. The prosecutor later returned the contributions and said they were not a factor in his decision.

Lukemeyer and partner James H. Voyles Jr. also have been regular Brizzi donors, giving more than $6,000 since 2004, records show.

Case by case

IBJ found two other criminal cases where the Prosecutor's Office supported modifications of felony charges for well-connected attorneys, including Page. But there was nothing in court files that suggests the changes were out of line from standard operating procedure.

One of the cases involves Rob Odendahl, the sales and property manager for Page Development. He was charged with rape, battery, and criminal confinement for an incident involving an ex-girlfriend in June 2005. In November 2006, Odendahl pleaded guilty to criminal confinement, a Class D felony, and got 365 days of home detention and two years of probation.

The following year, Odendahl hired a new attorney, Paul Page, to pursue a sentence modification. In May 2008, the Prosecutor's Office and a judge agreed to end Odendahl's probation term early and change his conviction to a misdemeanor, citing good behavior, a stable job, and custody of his son.

The deputy prosecuting attorney on the case, Courtney Curtis, said she didn't find the victim's story credible and figured a jury would have doubts as well, so she offered the initial plea deal. She did not object to the modification - and says she did not feel any pressure from her bosses.

"It was just a really crappy case," said Curtis, who now handles intellectual property cases for Overhauser & Lindman, which is based in Greenfield.

In another case, Prosecutor's Office Chief Deputy David Wyser supported modification of a 1999 felony murder conviction the Indiana Supreme Court had upheld on appeal in 2001.

Defendant Guilford Forney, then 19, had been involved in a drug deal in which his cousin wound up dead of a gunshot wound. Forney, who had not fired the gun, was sentenced initially to 55 years before winning a reduction to 45 years supported by former Prosecutor Scott Newman.

Defense attorney Bruce D. Donaldson, of Indianapolis-based Barnes & Thornburg LLP, last year persuaded Wyser to support a modification of the murder conviction justified by good behavior and an impressive educational track record while in prison. Forney was released on April 4, 2009, and is slated to serve two years on work release, followed by one year on probation.

Miller, who handled the case, said he doesn't remember enough details to know whether an early release was appropriate.

Records show Barnes & Thornburg has given Brizzi at least $12,000 since 2004, and the firm's partners have given thousands more individually. The firm also has served as registered agent for at least two LLCs on real estate deals in which Brizzi is a partner.

Wyser said in an e-mail that an IMPD deputy chief suggested he review the Forney case, but he could not recall the details.

"I don't show preferential treatment to any defense attorneys," Wyser wrote. "Every case is determined on its own merits."

Damage done?

Allegations about Brizzi's influence peddling may already have damaged the reputation of the Prosecutor's Office.

During jury selection for a robbery case in February, defense attorney Patrick Stern brought up the Epperly case, telling potential jurors that those who donate to Brizzi can get a break on sentencing. He compared the donor-prosecutor relationships to that of a witness who had agreed to testify against his client in exchange for a lighter sentence.

On Stern's next case, the Prosecutor's Office asked Judge Bob Altice to ban Stern from discussing Brizzi's political contributions. Judge Altice sided with Stern.

"Their whole conduct is disrespectful to everyone who works in the court profession," said Stern, who said no one will listen when he wants felonies dropped to misdemeanors. "A lot of people think you can hire the go-to guys and get a good result. If you came to me and said your son was in jail and had a 70-year sentence and you wanted me to get a modification, I'd charge at most $500 and after the prosecutor told me to go screw myself, I'd say there's nothing I can do."

Repairing the reputation of the Prosecutor's Office first would require "absolute and complete disclosure" of outside business dealings involving the prosecutor and staff, said Miller, the former judge and prosecuting attorney.

The second step would be strict avoidance of any appearance of impropriety - recognizing that even one violation of the public trust taints both the office and the elected official.

"Prosecutors have a legitimate amount of discretion they can exercise and, if they use it improperly, it just taints everything else they do," Miller said. "Unfortunately, you can't read someone's mind to tell if they were doing things for the right reasons. That's the whole problem with one bad act."

The FBI has been asking questions about Brizzi's real estate and other business dealings while in office and how they might have influenced his official actions.

Areas of interest include Brizzi's investment ventures with businessman Tim Durham, the target of a separate securities fraud investigation and a $108,000 donor to the prosecutor's 2006 re-election campaign. Brizzi's real estate investments, including stakes in the site of a Broad Ripple bank branch and the restaurant Harry & Izzy's - a portfolio he has built without much in the way of cash or obvious assets - also have raised questions.

Many of the real estate deals were in partnership with John M. Bales, a principal in locally based Venture Real Estate who gave more than $10,000 for Brizzi's 2006 campaign and represented the Prosecutor's Office in its lease deal at 251 E. Ohio St.

Not stepping down

Brizzi has resisted calls from former supporters to resign, and he has a personal interest in sticking around: Brizzi will be eligible for a public pension if he finishes his second term, which ends in December. With eight years of service, he will be entitled to earn 24 percent of his highest annual salary of $125,000, or about $30,000 per year once he reaches retirement age, by IBJ's calculation.

Top local Republicans discouraged Brizzi from seeking re-election to a third term - a decision Brizzi announced in January - and later stepped in to push aside his chief of staff, Helen Marchal, after she announced plans to run. Marchal cited family reasons when she said she would not seek the office.

Instead, the party recruited Mark Massa, the former general counsel to Gov. Mitch Daniels. Wyser, Brizzi's chief deputy, is running for Hamilton County prosecutor.

A high-ranking Republican official said some have argued Brizzi should resign before his term ends so the governor can appoint Massa. But others felt Massa would be too busy addressing ethical concerns to run a campaign.

"At some point, you tend to assume when you see icebergs you don't see all of them," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It's the part you don't see that gets you."

Top deputies in the Prosecutor's Office are sharpening resumes, expecting a Democrat could take the office for the first time in 16 years. Candidates include former deputy prosecutor Terry Curry and Marion County Assessor Greg Bowes.

Expect all the candidates - including Massa - to present themselves as a more ethical alternative to Brizzi.

"If necessary," the Republican official noted, "Mark will be the first to call Brizzi's record into question."

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  1. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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