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Deal proposed in ex-schools chief's ethics case

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The State Ethics Commission is set to review a proposed settlement Thursday in the ethics case against former Indiana Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett.

Inspector General David Thomas filed charges last November alleging Bennett violated state ethics laws by using public employees and state resources for "political campaign fundraising, responding to a political opponent's assertions, scheduling campaign meetings, scheduling campaign telephone calls, and/or other political and/or personal activity."

Both Thomas and Bennett's defense attorney, Jason Barclay, declined to discuss the details of the settlement before Thursday's commission meeting. It will be up to the five-member ethics commission to decide whether to approve the settlement.

An Associated Press investigation found that Bennett and his staff had kept copies of Republican Party fundraising lists on state computers. One list, dubbed "The Big Hitter List" included contact information for mega-donor Christel DeHaan and a suggestion that Bennett press her for more money.

Bennett secretly changed Indiana's school-grading system in 2012 to benefit DeHaan's Indianapolis charter school, Christel House Academy. Bennett resigned as Florida's schools chief last August, shortly after the AP published emails showing his efforts to benefit DeHaan.

In both the ethics case and the grade-change scandal, Bennett has said he did nothing wrong. Bennett hired two of the state's most prominent defense attorneys, Larry Mackey and Jason Barclay, to represent him in the ethics case. Mackey previously led the prosecution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and Barclay rewrote the ethics laws in 2005 that Bennett is accused of breaking.

Mackey has become the state's most prominent white-collar criminal defense attorney, defending convicted Ponzi-schemer Tim Durham at the start of his case and successfully defending developer John Bales against fraud charges last year.

It is unclear if anyone else is investigating Bennett. A spokeswoman for Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, whose office handles prosecutions of state officeholders, did not return a request for comment Monday. Tim Horty, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett, said he could neither confirm nor deny any federal investigation of Bennett.

"We are aware of the IG's investigation and the existence of a report," Horty said.

It is against the law for public officials to use state resources for campaign work. Almost 30 years ago, former Schools Superintendent Harold Negley was indicted on charges of ghost employment and misuse of state resources for having his employees perform campaign work. He submitted a guilty plea in 1985, and was fined $1,000 and forced to do 2,000 hours of community service.

In one email from Bennett, dated August 28, 2012, he asked then-Chief of Staff Heather Neal, then-Deputy Chief of Staff Dale Chu and other top staffers to dissect a campaign speech from his opponent, Democrat Glenda Ritz. Ritz upset Bennett in the 2012 election a few months later.

"Below is a link to Glenda's forum in Bloomington. It is 1:35 minutes. I would ask that people watch this and scrub it for every inaccuracy and utterance of stupidity that comes out of her mouth," Bennett wrote.

Bennett's calendar also listed more than 100 entries of "campaign calls" during the day, although it is not clear if he made the calls from inside the Statehouse -- a violation of state law -- or somewhere else.

Bennett's former Communications Director Cam Savage downloaded one of the fundraising lists to a Statehouse computer in 2009. In other emails, Bennett's staff talked about doing campaign work during normal work hours. Neal resigned as Gov. Mike Pence's chief lobbyist two weeks after the grade-changing scandal was uncovered and took a job with Savage at the campaign firm Limestone Strategies.

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  1. Don't we have bigger issues to concern ourselves with?

  2. Anyone who takes the time to study disciplinary and bar admission cases in Indiana ... much of which is, as a matter of course and by intent, off the record, would have a very difficult time drawing lines that did not take into account things which are not supposed to matter, such as affiliations, associations, associates and the like. Justice Hoosier style is a far departure than what issues in most other parts of North America. (More like Central America, in fact.) See, e.g., http://www.theindianalawyer.com/indiana-attorney-illegally-practicing-in-florida-suspended-for-18-months/PARAMS/article/42200 When while the Indiana court system end the cruel practice of killing prophets of due process and those advocating for blind justice?

  3. Wouldn't this call for an investigation of Government corruption? Chief Justice Loretta Rush, wrote that the case warranted the high court’s review because the method the Indiana Court of Appeals used to reach its decision was “a significant departure from the law.” Specifically, David wrote that the appellate panel ruled after reweighing of the evidence, which is NOT permissible at the appellate level. **But yet, they look the other way while an innocent child was taken by a loving mother who did nothing wrong"

  4. Different rules for different folks....

  5. I would strongly suggest anyone seeking mediation check the experience of the mediator. There are retired judges who decide to become mediators. Their training and experience is in making rulings which is not the point of mediation.

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