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Sidewalk 6 trial off; judge to decide penalty

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Less than a week before a state civil racketeering trial was set to begin, a former East Chicago mayor and one of his closest aides have waived their right to defend themselves before a jury in court.

That means U.S. Senior Judge James Moody will decide the fates of former Mayor Robert Pastrick and James Fife III, the only remaining defendants in the four-year-old "Sidewalk 6" suit that was the first of its kind in Indiana and involved a paving-for-votes scandal dating to 1999.

A trial was scheduled to start May 26 in U.S. District Court, Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division, and was expected to last three weeks. The judge will now decide the case and rule on the amount of damages Pastrick and Fife must pay back to the city and state.

Papers filed Wednesday by Pastrick's attorney, Michael W. Bosch of Highland, and Fife, pro se, indicate they waived their right to a jury trial and that they wouldn't wage a defense in court. The move comes a week after a third co-defendant and former city official, Timothy Raykovich, settled with the Indiana Attorney General's Office and was removed as a defendant.

The case was filed in 2004 under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and alleged that Pastrick 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, but Pastrick, Fife, and Raykovich were never criminally charged.

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.

Inheriting the case from his predecessor, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has said 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.

Attorneys involved in the case are bound by a gag order and not allowed to speak about details, so the only public information comes from the court filings and docket entries.

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