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East Chicago casino case still alive

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A years-long court battle over millions of dollars in East Chicago casino revenue remains alive after a Marion County judge vacated an earlier dismissal of the civil suit and blocked the release of $8 million in disputed funds that had been part of a settlement.

Marion Superior Judge David Shaheed on Thursday issued the latest decision in City of East Chicago and State of Indiana v. East Chicago Second Century Inc., No. 49D01-0504-PL-014394. He agreed with Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller that approximately $8 million in casino-revenue funds should not be released while the litigation is ongoing. He decided July 15 to set aside his earlier ruling in April that had dismissed the suit, because the city and for-profit organization known as Second Century didn’t include the AG in settlement negotiations.

The case dates back more than a decade to the administration of now-convicted former Mayor Robert Pastrick, who set up the casino money and local development agreement with Second Century and similar organizations. But the AG’s office has tried for years to delve deeper into that financial transaction to determine how that money has been spent once received.

In February, Mayor George Pabey announced he had reached a deal with Second Century, a for-profit economic development organization that would redirect $1.5 million in annual casino revenue from Second Century to the city. In return, the city would release its claim to approximately $4 million in payments intended for Second Century that have been delayed since 2005 while the lawsuit was pending.

But Zoeller objected to the settlement because he claims Second Century has not adequately shown how it has spent some $16 million in casino revenue it has received over the years.

The settlement was approved April 8, but Judge Shaheed's latest ruling stops the settlement from proceeding and permits the attorney general to participate in the revived lawsuit.

"From the beginning of the Second Century case, the goal of the Indiana attorney general's office has been to ensure that funds intended to benefit the citizens of East Chicago actually do so," Zoeller said in a statement. "The public needs assurances that these funds are not squandered or diverted back to political cronies or to an administration under investigation for corruption."

Pabey was indicted by federal officials in February on charges he conspired to embezzle city money and unlawfully used city workers for personal projects. His trial is scheduled for September.
 

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