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RICO case against former East Chicago mayor nets $108M in damages

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A federal judge has ordered an ex-mayor and top allies to pay more than $108 million in damages for a voting scandal a decade ago, but in doing so he's rejected the Indiana Attorney General's most novel and far-reaching legal arguments in a landmark civil racketeering case centered on public corruption in East Chicago.

In issuing his 53-page decision in State of Indiana and City of East Chicago v. Robert A. Pastrick, et al., No. 3:04-CV-506, March 11, U.S. District Court Senior Judge James Moody criticized the state's top attorney for failing to flush out legal arguments or provide enough rationale, trying to basically bypass due process in targeting non-parties, and going beyond the scope of federal and state law regarding civil racketeering offenses.

But attorney experts specializing in racketeering law say that the recent ruling is one of first impression that's clearly a victory for the state and East Chicago, and it will be imitated nationally in cases targeting public corruption.

"We now know how much the corrupt administration cost the city, and I am confident that the litigation will be a precedent for other suits by other AG's," said G. Robert Blakely, a Notre Dame Law School professor who was an attorney on this case based on his experience as the nation's foremost expert on the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act. "To my knowledge, no other AG anywhere has successfully used federal RICO and his state RICO to sue a corrupt city administration and corrupt businesses to recover for the damages inflicted on the city."

The ruling comes in a 6-year-old case involving the decade-old "sidewalks-for-votes" scandal that helped end a Lake County titan's 33-year political career. The civil racketeering case went after the former mayor Robert Pastrick and his top aides for misusing $24 million in public money to pave sidewalks and driveways to gain votes in the 1999 Democratic primary.

While criminal cases ensnared most involved, former Attorney General Steve Carter in 2004 sued Pastrick and allies using the federal and state RICO statutes. Most defendants eventually settled, except for Pastrick, former aide James Fife III, and the now missing former city councilman Frank Kollintzas who almost pushed the matter to trial last year. But in days before that trial was to happen, Pastrick and Fife waived that right and the court entered a default judgment against them for running a corrupt enterprise in East Chicago. Judge Moody held a damages hearing in June, and he's been considering the damages amount and remedy since then.

In assessing the damages, Judge Moody counted the $27.3 million originally totaled from the sidewalks-for-votes scheme - $24 million plus legal fees and other financial costs - and added $8.7 million in prejudgment interest, which is four years worth at an 8 percent interest rate. With treble damages that he determined was allowed through his interpretation of state and federal law, the total came to $108,007,584.33. The judge also found that six corporations, all found liable for the sidewalk scheme in a separate decision by U.S. District Court Judge Allen Sharp, are now jointly liable with Pastrick and his aides for chunks of the $108 million.

But as current AG Greg Zoeller has publicly explained in the past, this case wasn't as much about money as it was about weeding out public corruption and finding a remedy to provide transparency and confidence for those in East Chicago. On that front, the AG's Office didn't get the judge's support.

In the legal points the AG made beyond the misused public money, Judge Moody rejected those proposed remedies and essentially told the state agency it was overstepping its authority. Most of the second-half of his order focuses on this, pointing out in multiple spots that the AG has failed to offer authority or missed the point of caselaw.

Judge Moody determined that the city couldn't recover salary or compensation from Pastrick or those aides because that isn't allowed by the civil RICO statute, that plaintiffs couldn't recover money paid to Fife's consulting firms, and that the court wouldn't issue an injunction banning the defendants from holding any public office anywhere in the U.S. He also admonished the AG for trying to open up the finances of for-profit and non-profit organizations - non-parties - that received casino money and provided some of that for local development projects. The AG had offered possible remedies the court might impose, such as civil forfeiture, a state-ordered "forensic audit" of non-party organizations, and having the court serve as a receiver if any money might be recouped from them.

"The obvious and most critical problem with plaintiffs' request is that it cannot be reconciled with principles of due process," Judge Moody wrote, relating to one of the AG's proposed remedies about a forensic audit. "These core, intertwined due process issues prevent the court from ordering the remedy plaintiffs seek in this case."

Chicago attorney Howard Foster, who runs a two-person firm specializing in civil RICO cases, said the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals hasn't set precedent on various aspects of RICO law raised by the Indiana AG and so the judge's rulings were consistent with what other District Courts have done. He described this as an impressive victory for Indiana, and this was how both the federal and state RICO statutes were meant to be used.

In the days following the decision, the Attorney General's Office was still reviewing the judge's ruling and declined to comment about specifics or whether it might be appealed on any points, spokesman Bryan Corbin said. But Zoeller described the decision as a victory for the state.

"I am enormously pleased that the federal judge awarded triple damages against former Mayor Pastrick and the other remaining defendants as a symbol of how brazen and shameless the public corruption was in the municipal government of East Chicago during the Pastrick regime," he said in a statement.

The state will now focus on collecting that judgment, which defense attorney Michael Bosch described as being mostly uncollectable - last year he'd dismissed the state's damages request and mocked the AG about treble damages, saying the judge should award $1 in damages and triple that amount.

Corbin said a bill of costs will be filed this month, which will include the $581,038 total invoiced by Chicago law firm Perkins Coie that represented the state; attorney Patrick Collins there served as a special deputy attorney general on this case. The AG now can file its brief outlining attorney fees and costs associated with the case.

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  1. Actually, and most strikingly, the ruling failed to address the central issue to the whole case: Namely, Black Knight/LPS, who was NEVER a party to the State court litigation, and who is under a 2013 consent judgment in Indiana (where it has stipulated to the forgery of loan documents, the ones specifically at issue in my case)never disclosed itself in State court or remediated the forged loan documents as was REQUIRED of them by the CJ. In essence, what the court is willfully ignoring, is that it is setting a precedent that the supplier of a defective product, one whom is under a consent judgment stipulating to such, and under obligation to remediate said defective product, can: 1.) Ignore the CJ 2.) Allow counsel to commit fraud on the state court 3.) Then try to hide behind Rooker Feldman doctrine as a bar to being held culpable in federal court. The problem here is the court is in direct conflict with its own ruling(s) in Johnson v. Pushpin Holdings & Iqbal- 780 F.3d 728, at 730 “What Johnson adds - what the defendants in this suit have failed to appreciate—is that federal courts retain jurisdiction to award damages for fraud that imposes extrajudicial injury. The Supreme Court drew that very line in Exxon Mobil ... Iqbal alleges that the defendants conducted a racketeering enterprise that predates the state court’s judgments ...but Exxon Mobil shows that the Rooker Feldman doctrine asks what injury the plaintiff asks the federal court to redress, not whether the injury is “intertwined” with something else …Because Iqbal seeks damages for activity that (he alleges) predates the state litigation and caused injury independently of it, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not block this suit. It must be reinstated.” So, as I already noted to others, I now have the chance to bring my case to SCOTUS; the ruling by Wood & Posner is flawed on numerous levels,BUT most troubling is the fact that the authors KNOW it's a flawed ruling and choose to ignore the flaws for one simple reason: The courts have decided to agree with former AG Eric Holder that national banks "Are too big to fail" and must win at any cost-even that of due process, case precedent, & the truth....Let's see if SCOTUS wants a bite at the apple.

  2. I am in NJ & just found out that there is a judgment against me in an action by Driver's Solutions LLC in IN. I was never served with any Court pleadings, etc. and the only thing that I can find out is that they were using an old Staten Island NY address for me. I have been in NJ for over 20 years and cannot get any response from Drivers Solutions in IN. They have a different lawyer now. I need to get this vacated or stopped - it is now almost double & at 18%. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.

  3. I am in NJ & just found out that there is a judgment against me in an action by Driver's Solutions LLC in IN. I was never served with any Court pleadings, etc. and the only thing that I can find out is that they were using an old Staten Island NY address for me. I have been in NJ for over 20 years and cannot get any response from Drivers Solutions in IN. They have a different lawyer now. I need to get this vacated or stopped - it is now almost double & at 18%. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.

  4. Please I need help with my class action lawsuits, im currently in pro-se and im having hard time findiNG A LAWYER TO ASSIST ME

  5. Access to the court (judiciary branch of government) is the REAL problem, NOT necessarily lack of access to an attorney. Unfortunately, I've lived in a legal and financial hell for the past six years due to a divorce (where I was, supposedly, represented by an attorney) in which I was defrauded of settlement and the other party (and helpers) enriched through the fraud. When I attempted to introduce evidence and testify (pro se) in a foreclosure/eviction, I was silenced (apparently on procedural grounds, as research I've done since indicates). I was thrown out of a residence which was to be sold, by a judge who refused to allow me to speak in (the supposedly "informal") small claims court where the eviction proceeding (by ex-brother-in-law) was held. Six years and I can't even get back on solid or stable ground ... having bank account seized twice, unlawfully ... and now, for the past year, being dragged into court - again, contrary to law and appellate decisions - by former attorney, who is trying to force payment from exempt funds. Friday will mark fifth appearance. Hopefully, I'll be allowed to speak. The situation I find myself in shouldn't even be possible, much less dragging out with no end in sight, for years. I've done nothing wrong, but am watching a lot of wrong being accomplished under court jurisdiction; only because I was married to someone who wanted and was granted a divorce (but was not willing to assume the responsibilities that come with granting the divorce). In fact, the recalcitrant party was enriched by well over $100k, although it was necessarily split with other actors. Pro bono help? It's a nice dream ... but that's all it is, for too many. Meanwhile, injustice marches on.

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