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CALL 6: Feds, state investigating Indiana Transportation Museum

Seven whistleblowers wrote letter to authorities
Posted: 10:54 PM, Jun 14, 2016
Updated: 2016-06-14 23:07:53-04

INDIANAPOLIS -- State and federal investigations are underway into the Indiana Transportation Museum – known best for the long-running State Fair Train and the Polar Bear Express.

Call 6 Investigates learned volunteers blew the whistle on alleged mismanagement of money and failure to maintain records by the museum.

Seven long-time volunteers at the museum tipped off investigators to the alleged acts by the museum's board of directors.

Tom Nichols is one of those volunteers. He spent 16 years volunteering at the museum, and is the former head of the operations board. That was before he was fired from his volunteer position along with the other whistleblowers.

"We were notified in mid-March, both by an email, then by certified letter that the actions we took constituted as a hostile takeover which could not be tolerated, and it was against, in their opinion, the rules of the museum, so they had no choice but to terminate us permanently and immediately," Nichols said.

Nichols was reluctant to talk at first, saying he didn't want to bring a "bad light" to the museum. But he eventually agreed to share his story of volunteering at the museum.

"The real red flag was financial reports not always agreeing with what the dispatcher's reports were showing in terms of the ridership and just the secrecy surrounding everything," Nichols said.

The letter from the whistleblowers alleges wrongdoing by the museum's board of directors, including questionable financial practices, failure to maintain timely and complete records and an inability to properly manage the museum.

But even though the museum has a whistleblower protection section in their general volunteer manual, the group of seven was still fired.

"It was a huge punch in the gut," Nichols said.

The letter was also sent to the attorney general and the railroad's owner, the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority. It was after the letter that the HHPA decided to call in the Federal Railroad Administration to review the museum's operations, specifically because of one point on the letter.

The HHPA says because of the allegations of failing to maintain records on the train's operations forced them to suspend ITM from using the tracks.

At the same time, the attorney general started investigating the museum, and Call 6 has learned that there are four ongoing, independent investigations into the museum's board of directors.

Call 6 Investigates tried for weeks to get a response from the museum. Eventually, a response was sent Monday night.

In a letter, the museum's directors say the allegations made by the whistleblowers are completely untrue. They also referred to the dismissal of the volunteers as "housecleaning."

The HHPA says it will gladly reopen the line as soon as the museum cooperates with investigators.