A grand jury in South Bend has returned a 14-count criminal indictment against two attorneys and a real estate broker from central Indiana over a state lease deal in Elkhart.
The deal was first revealed as part of an Indianapolis Business Journal investigation. The IBJ is a sister publication of Indiana Lawyer.
The complaint alleges real estate broker John M. Bales, his partner and general counsel William E. Spencer and Indianapolis developer and attorney Paul J. Page defrauded the state and an unnamed bank. The charges, brought by the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, allege each man committed eight counts of wire fraud, three counts of mail fraud, one count of bank fraud and one count of conspiracy to defraud. Page also faces a charge of making false statements to influence the actions of a bank insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
The state hired Venture Real Estate Services in 2006 to handle leasing for state agencies in a contract that explicitly banned Venture and its partners and employees from “any ownership interest” or any “attempt to acquire” properties to be leased by the state.
But as IBJ reported last year, the politically connected real estate broker over the years has acted as a developer for several public-sector tenants he represents — putting government agencies into buildings he owns or those owned by his friends and associates.
The indictment points to one transaction in particular that prosecutors allege ran afoul of Bales' agreement with the state: A lease deal in Elkhart for the state's Department of Child Services in a building jointly owned by Page and former Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi. The government has not charged Brizzi.
According to the indictment, Page bought the office building through a company called L&BAB LLC, then leased it to the state's Department of Child Services. Page paid no money to buy the building, but put up $361,000 in cash for the property, which had been wired from Bales' account under an entity called BAB Equity.
"Page promised to repay BAB Equity and to give it 25 percent of the profits when the Elkhart building was resold, even though Bales and Spencer could not have any sort of ownership interest in the building and even though Venture told the state that it would only be compensated through commissions," U.S. Attorney David Capp said in a .
The indictment alleges that Page also used $531,000 from a bank without noting the details of his arrangement with BAB Equity.
Venture was paid an $88,400 commission on the lease deal, then took more than a year to rebate $22,100 to the state as required under its deal. The firm also received a $28,875 broker's fee and a $22,700 development fee, the indictment alleges.
The charges follow an FBI investigation that lasted more than a year. The U.S. Attorney's Office anticipates that the defendants' initial appearance will be at 2 p.m. Thursday in the South Bend Federal Courthouse.
According to the Indiana Roll of Attorneys, Page, who was admitted to the bar in 1990, has been disciplined in the past, but currently is active in good standing. Spencer was admitted in 2002 and has no disciplinary history. He is also active in good standing.
This story originally ran on IBJ.com Dec. 14, 2011.