Editor’s note: This story has been updated
Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler has been charged with a federal theft count, the seventh person tied to the city to be indicted for public corruption.
Indiana Southern District U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler announced Monday that Tyler, a Democrat elected in 2012, has been charged with theft of government funds after accepting $5,000 in exchange for a “lucrative” city contract.
Tyler was arrested by federal agents Monday morning and was arraigned later in the day before being released on conditions. An automatic not guilty plea was entered on his behalf.
The indictment, which Minkler said was handed down by a grand jury last week, alleges Tyler accepted $5,000 from someone known as “Person A,” who owns “Company A” in Gaston, also located in Delaware County. The money was conveyed to the mayor via Tracy Barton, the former superintendent of sewer maintenance and engineering for the Muncie Sanitary District. Tyler appointed Barton to the position.
According to the indictment, Company A has performed demolition, excavation and construction services for the city.
“Dennis Tyler has held a position of public trust,” Minkler said during a press conference Monday. “It is the highest elected position in the city of Muncie. As alleged in the indictment, between 2014 and August 2016, Mayor Dennis Tyler broke that trust.”
Tyler allegedly accepted the $5,000 cash payment between 2014 and Aug. 25, 2016, though Minkler declined to identify specific dates.
If convicted, the mayor faces up to 10 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines. He also faces a government forfeiture.
The U.S. attorney said the involvement of federal law enforcement became necessary in Muncie as a “pattern” of public corruption within the city’s government emerged.
So far, six other Muncie individuals have been indicted through “Operation Public Trust,” including:
- Craig Nichols, the former building commissioner who pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering and was sentenced to 24 months
- Barton, who is scheduled to go to trial April 3
- Rodney Barber, a local contractor who is scheduled for trial March 13
- Debra Nicole Grigsby, the district administrator of the Muncie Sanitary District, and Tony Franklin, a local contractor, who are scheduled for trial Feb. 10
- Jeff Burke, a local businessman who is scheduled for trial Oct. 28
Paul Holdeman, Indianapolis FBI assistant special agent in charge, said public corruption is the agency’s top criminal priority.
“Public corruption is difficult to investigate,” Holdeman said Monday in making a plea for the public’s help in identifying government corruption. “Oftentimes it involves secret meetings between government officials and outside entities.”
At his arraignment Monday, Minkler said Tyler indicated he would be employed through Dec. 31, 2019, meaning he will continue to serve as mayor until the end of his term. Minkler said he was “bothered” by that statement, saying that though all defendants are innocent until proven guilty, the Muncie indictments paint a “bleak picture” of the city government under Tyler’s watch.
The mayor did not seek reelection this year. He will be succeeded by Dan Ridenour, a Republican city councilman.
Minkler hedged when asked if Tyler was involved in the crimes leading to the other six indictments. Instead, the U.S. attorney repeatedly said Tyler, as the city’s highest elected official, was in charge of overseeing all of the municipal departments. He also repeatedly said the investigation into Muncie, now in its fourth year, is still ongoing.
According to Minkler, the federal investigation into public corruption has included roughly 200 subpoenas, hundreds of interviews, dozens of executed search warrants, hours of physical surveillance and the review of thousands of documents.
The case is United States of America v. Dennis Tyler, 1:19-cr-360.