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Judge to decide fate of Sidewalk 6 defendants

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The Indiana Attorney General personally attended a civil racketeering court hearing this morning in Hammond, a rare in-person appearance that comes in the civil case against a former East Chicago mayor and a top aide.

Special prosecutor for the state, Patrick Collins, asked U.S. Senior Judge James T. Moody to enter default judgments against former Mayor Robert Pastrick and James Fife III, who didn't appear today in person or through counsel at the public hearing.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller attended the hearing. It's rare for an elected attorney general to appear personally, but this civil racketeering case is unprecedented and warrants the appearance, agency spokesman Bryan Corbin said.

The judge will likely rule on the case in the next week before considering what possible civil penalties should be assessed, according to the AG's office. A public hearing is scheduled for June 9.

Zoeller has said previously that he doesn't expect the state will be able to collect all of the $24 million at issue in the case, but he hopes the suit will prove how deep the East Chicago corruption ran in those years.

A three-week jury trial was set to begin today, but that was canceled after Pastrick and Fife last week filed notice they wouldn't defend themselves and wanted to waive their jury trial on the state claims brought under the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Former Attorney General Steve Carter filed the suit in 2004, alleging that Pastrick and other city officials ran a scheme to illegally spend $24 million of public money in a paving-for-votes program during the May 1999 Democratic mayoral primary election. That scandal 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 allegedly misspent money, and the Attorney General's Office reports 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, Fife, and a former aide Timothy Raykovich were the holdouts. Raykovich settled with the state May 13 - a week before the other two decided not to defend themselves in court - and the charges against Raykovich have been dismissed with prejudice.

According to the public settlement agreement with the Attorney General's Office, Raykovich admitted in an affidavit that as a special assistant to the mayor he had knowledge of the illegal paving contracts prior to the May 1999 primary - contractors were paid based on invalid, expired bids; Fife had pre-existing knowledge of that activity; and Raykovich concluded that the paving program's "primary motivation ... had been to ensure that Mayor Pastrick was re-elected in the 1999 mayoral election."

Though an official gag order hasn't been issued, the judge has instructed parties not to discuss details of the case out of court and so the only public information comes from the public records, court filings, and docket entries.

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