Former Marion County Chief Deputy David Wyser to face federal charges

Hogsett: Justice is not for sale

INDIANAPOLIS - A former chief trial deputy under ex-Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi may testify against the embattled former prosecutor in a bribery probe as part of a deal with the U.S. Attorney's Office, Call 6 Investigator Rafael Sanchez has learned.

David Wyser, 53, will plead guilty to federal bribery charges involving a 1991 murder case in which a woman was originally sentenced to 110 years in prison, but had her sentence dramatically reduced after her father donated thousands to Brizzi's and Wyser's campaigns.

Paula Willoughby was convicted in a murder-for-hire plot to kill her husband, Darrell Willoughby, after prosecutors said she and her lover, Douglas Steuber, paid a man $700 to kill Darrell Willoughby.

Paula Willoughby was sentenced to 110 years in prison, and, on appeal, the Indiana Supreme Court reduced her sentence to 70 years.

In June 2009, the sentence was modified to 40 years, a move agreed to by Brizzi's office, and Paula Willoughby was released in July 2009 for time served.

But from 2006 to 2008, prior to the sentence modification, Willoughby's father, Harrison Epperly, donated $29,000 to the Brizzi campaign and gave $2,500 to Wyser's failed campaign for Hamilton County prosecutor, records show.

Jenny Lukemeyer, who was Paula Willoughby's attorney at the time, also held a fundraiser for Wyser at her home that raised $2,500.

U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett's office said Wyser had a conversation with Paula Willoughby's attorney to discuss a possible campaign contribution, and that the money was a reward for his sentence modification recommendation.

"Justice is not for sale," Hogsett said at a news conference Monday.

Defense attorney Bob Hammerle, who represented Steuber in the case, said they always suspected something not right. He said Brizzi's office never granted sentenced modifications at the time.

"You were always told, 'No, don't even come to us.' It was a door that was locked. Then, all of a sudden, Willoughby surfaced right before an election, and a person who denies their guilt doing 70 years, she gets a modification," Hammerle said. "As a person who was involved in that case representing a kid that was cooperating, it was just unimaginable."

As part of his plea agreement with Hogsett's office, Wyser will fully cooperate with federal investigators.

Bribery carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. If convicted of a felony, Wyser would no longer be able to practice law.

"It's very sad to prosecute a prosecutor, but I think the entire Department of Justice thinks this is an important case, and we're committed to getting results," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Zach Myers.

Wyser, who joined the Marion County Prosecutor's office in 2001 and was promoted to chief trial deputy under Brizzi in 2005, worked at the Madison County Prosecutor's Office from 2011 until earlier this year.

Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings told Sanchez that he could not speak to any allegations against Wyser.

"David was an outstanding prosecutor while working in this office. His association with Carl Brizzi is what got him involved in the federal investigation," Cummings said. "(David) did not use best judgment in taking a campaign contribution that most public officials would not be aware is a violation of federal law."

The Marion County Prosecutor's Office had no comment Monday morning.

"David Wyser was a staff member under the prior administration of Prosecutor Carl Brizzi. It is thus inappropriate to comment upon any criminal charges which have been brought against him," Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said in a statement.

Brizzi did not return messages left for comment Monday.

Wyser's initial court appearence was set for May 23.

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