New coalition to tackle corrupt public officials

INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller announced the creation of the Public Integrity Coalition Tuesday, which aims to stop corruption among public officials by providing education and training on handling taxpayer money.

The announcement comes after Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney revealed public officials accused of misusing and even downright stealing tax dollars often escape criminal charges and prison time.

Since January 2009, more than $6.6 million in public money has been misappropriated  by public employees, such as clerk treasurers and trustees, and referred by the State Board of Accounts to the Attorney General’s Office for collection.

The Public Integrity Coalition will conduct education and training sessions for officials from counties, cities, towns, townships, schools and libraries.

The training will not be required.

Currently, most public officials are not required to attend training except for county auditors and county assessors.

"Training lets people know what is right and what is wrong, and legal doesn’t make it right or ethical," said State Board of Accounts State Examiner Paul Joyce.

Zoeller said he is not ruling out requesting legislation requiring mandatory training for public officials.

"There may be a real need to have required training at some point," Zoeller said. "We’ve done training on open records, open door, but the people in attendance probably aren’t the ones we end up filing against, it’s those that are missing in action."

Zoeller said Kenney’s Call 6 Investigation helped the AG’s office look at trends when it comes to public corruption.

"The expose on this issue made our office get together and literally track every certified audit over the years I’ve been Attorney General," Zoeller said. "We looked at what are the common denominators, and what can we avoid with better training."

In 2012, the Call 6 Investigators spent months digging into public corruption cases and court records and found that just a third of public employees ever faced criminal charges in missing money cases.

Many financial public corruption cases start with the State Board of Accounts, which regularly audits state and local agencies and points out when tax dollars are misappropriated.

The State Board of Accounts forwards cases to local prosecutors, who have discretion over whether to file criminal charges, and to the Attorney General's Office, which can decide whether to file a civil suit, send demand letters or take other action.

The State Board of Accounts estimates about half of public corruption cases involve government employees outright stealing, while the other half involves public servants just not doing their jobs well, at taxpayer expense.

The Call 6 Investigators analyzed court records and found that many involved in public corruption are facing other pressures, such as foreclosure, bankruptcy and divorce.

Zoeller’s office uses civil lawsuits, demand letters, promissory notes and other means to get people to pay up.

Since January 2009, the AG’s office has collected $4.5 million from current and former officials to reimburse local governments for amounts misappropriated.

More: Top 10 defendants by current balance owed

At this link is the list of recently released State Board of Accounts audit reports: http://bit.ly/PLigvw . If misappropriation is found, then audits are certified to the Attorney General’s Office for collection of the amounts from the individuals identified in the audit.

Requests for training sessions can be made at this link: http://bit.ly/1fNM4yK

Follow Kara Kenney on Twitter: @karakenney6 | Facebook: KaraKenneyNews

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