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Prosecutor's office misses deadline for seized cash

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The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department likely will have to return more than $273,000 in cash seized as part of a racketeering investigation after the Marion County Prosecutor's Office missed a civil forfeiture deadline.

Law enforcement officers from IMPD, the FBI, Indiana State Police and other agencies in February 2009 raided six Indianapolis scrap yards operated by metal recycling powerhouse OmniSource, collecting evidence and seizing cash and property.

The raids were the culmination of a year-long undercover investigation into the company's purchase of stolen cars, boats, gutters, wiring and other items as scrap metal prices boomed.

Law enforcement officers turned the case over to the Prosecutor's Office Grand Jury division, which continues to investigate. And the Indianapolis-based Garrison Law Firm, which Prosecutor Carl Brizzi hired several years ago to handle select forfeiture cases in exchange for 30 percent of the take, began working on a case under federal racketeering statutes.

But no one—not Garrison nor anyone at the Marion County Prosecutor's Office—filed the paperwork necessary to keep the seized cash within 180 days, as required under state law. Each party blames the other for the oversight.

Law enforcement sources said the case never was referred to the internal Prosecutor's Office forfeiture unit, and that Garrison took responsibility from the start. A series of e-mails among Prosecutor's Office officials, obtained by Indianapolis Business Journal, say the civilian employees who run IMPD's forfeiture division were told Garrison was handling the case and were never notified of a change. IBJ is a sister publication to Indiana Lawyer.

But Greg Garrison said his contract with the county only gives him a cut of forfeited property he recovers directly, so he would not have been entitled to a percentage of the OmniSource cash seized by police on Feb. 23, 2009.

"They seized a bunch of money when they executed those search warrants," said Garrison, a talk-show host on WIBC-FM 93.1 in Indianapolis and Brizzi pal. "That’s not my bailiwick. I don’t have authority over that stuff."

IBJ on Monday requested a copy of the contract that outlines Garrison's role but has not yet received it from the Prosecutor's Office. Brizzi elected to split the forfeiture duties between the private law firm and employees of the Prosecutor's Office over objections from some of his own top deputies, who were concerned about just such a slip-up.

Deputy Prosecutor Larry Brodeur, who heads the narcotics and forfeiture units, reiterated his concerns in an internal e-mail after learning of the missed deadline.

"Without assigning any blame to any particular individual or group of individuals, I would note that this is an inherent problem with having forfeitures done in part internally and in part through outside counsel," Brodeur wrote on March 29, in a message to Brizzi and other top officials. "Sooner or later there is going to be some confusion or miscommunication on a particular case that results in a missed filing or other problem."

A law enforcement source said IMPD is considering filing a disciplinary complaint against Brizzi for failing to file in time to hold the seized cash. At least $273,727 was seized in the raids, according to a tally of amounts listed in IMPD incident reports.

Garrison said he could not discuss a timetable for taking action under the federal racketeering statutes, but he said an asset seizure still is possible even if a grand jury decides against criminal charges.

"Our intention is to seek forfeiture of the assets used in the criminal enterprise," said Garrison, who also handles forfeiture cases for the Metro Drug Task Force.

OmniSource has not yet asked for its cash back but would be entitled to collect the money immediately if it asks, multiple law enforcement sources said.

Marion County Prosecutor's Office spokeswoman Susan Decker said the office cannot comment on active grand jury cases. Top-ranking Prosecutor's Office officials including Chief Trial Deputy David Wyser, who negotiated the Garrison contract, did not return phone messages.

OmniSource, a subsidiary of publicly traded Steel Dynamics Inc., is represented by Barnes & Thornburg partner Larry A. Mackey, who previously served as campaign chairman for Brizzi. Mackey said his relationship with the prosecutor has earned him no favors in the case.

"OmniSource was stunned when it became the subject of search warrants at their Indianapolis facilities more than a year ago," Mackey said in a statement. "Upon conclusion of the MCPO reviews, OmniSource will seek the return of all of its property that was taken during the searches, including a sum of seized currency."

No civil or criminal charges have been brought against OmniSource or any of its employees, Mackey noted. He said OmniSource has worked to eliminate scrap-metal theft and is cooperating with investigators.

Before the raid, OmniSource was one of the largest employers of off-duty IMPD officers. Department brass last year ordered officers to stop working for the company. No charges are expected for the roughly 50 officers who worked for OmniSource.

A spokesman for the IMPD referred all questions to the Prosecutor's Office. Police haven't discussed the case publicly since IMPD Maj. Chris Boomershine told industry newspaper Platts Steel Markets Daily in February 2009 that OmniSource kept documents on how to avoid antitrust violations, hired off-duty IMPD officers to target competitors and bought cars altered to appear stolen from undercover police officers.

Mackey blasted Boomershine's disclosures in a three-page letter to top officials at IMPD and the Prosecutor's Office in March 2009.

"Divulging confidential information in and of itself was wildly inappropriate," Mackey wrote. "Divulging it to Platts Steel Markets Daily constituted a purposeful effort on the Major's part to publicly damage OmniSource and its publicly traded parent."

The fact no action has been taken against OmniSource 14 months after the raid is no surprise to Republican blogger Gary Welsh. He predicted in May 2009 on his Advance Indiana blog that the case would go nowhere under Brizzi.

“These cases drag on and on and when nobody’s looking, they quietly announce there are no charges and is no evidence of a crime,” Welsh said.

Brizzi has refused, through spokeswoman Decker, to answer questions or grant an interview with IBJ in recent weeks, even as he conducted several interviews with other news outlets including WIBC radio.

IBJ has been investigating Brizzi's outside business dealings while in office, including a building he owns in partnership with a prominent defense attorney who has landed favorable plea deals from the Prosecutor's Office. Brizzi, a Repubican whose second term ends in December, is not running for re-election.

"When there is a tangible and meaningful request for additional information, Prosecutor Brizzi would be willing to sit down for an interview," Decker wrote. "During and after the WIBC interview, Prosecutor Brizzi fully addressed all of the issues and the answers speak for themselves."
 

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