Grand jury probe may discover misallocated police funds

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INDIANAPOLIS – When Marion County Grand Jury investigators served a search warrant at the home of Ten Point Coalition member Byron Alston Tuesday they seized a computer and financial records related to Alston’s “Save the Youth” foundation.

In 2009, Alston’s group received $90,000 in city crime prevention grants authorized by the Greg Ballard administration.

An internal audit by Public Safety Director Troy Riggs has revealed that under the authority of his predecessor, Frank Straub, $150,000 was improperly spent from the Asset Forfeiture Fund to support community programs typically funded by crime prevention grants.

“You can only spend 30% of the money on community based programs,” said Riggs, explaining the disbursement of asset forfeiture funds. “It appears that the previous administration spent over that…about $150,000 over that. As a result of that, we’re going to have to either repay $150,000 into our seized forfeiture account or we’re going to have to take it out of future seized forfeitures. Either way, it does have a negative effect on our ability to move forward in some areas.”

Sgt. William Owensby, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #86, was dismayed to learn that money seized from drug dealers and earmarked for fighting the drug trade in Indianapolis was instead spent on unfunded community programs, well deserving though they may be.

“Now it explains a little bit that the asset forfeiture fund was depleted improperly, but, here’s the other situation that we’re now faced with: now we have to take dollars out of our budget to replenish the asset forfeiture fund that could be going toward hiring a human, hiring two or three civilians, buying five police cars or more.”

In June of 2011, when The Indianapolis Parks Foundation, on behalf of the city, announced 26 organizations would be awarded $1,768,000 in crime prevention grants, Ten Point Coalition was not one of them.

Over the previous three years Ten Point received $293,000 to support its community outreach programs.

Ten Point had been one of Mayor Ballard’s favorite community liaison groups, often invited to stand by his side at announcements regarding neighborhood initiatives in the fight against crime.

Rev. Charles Harrison repaid the favor by backing Ballard’s 2011 re-election bid, but in early 2012, Ten Point was growing desperate as its source of funding was cut off and summer loomed with the potential for violence in the streets.

Repeatedly in the winter and spring of 2012, Fox 59 News asked Mayor Ballard how he intended to financially support Ten Point and where would he find the funding?

The mayor responded that his staff was working on a solution.

In early July of 2012, one week before the Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration when Ten Point street teams were expected to walk through downtown Indianapolis to calm young crowds, Harrison belatedly received a check for $50,000 from the Ballard administration with no indication of where the money had been found.

Within a month Straub left his post under a cloud of controversy, leaving millions of dollars of unanswered questions and budget deficits behind.

Owensby remembers the spending crisis of 2012 well.

“Not only did (narcotics detectives) not have buy money, but if you can remember, we were also going without hand sanitizer, we were going without toilet paper, we were going without hand towels in the bathrooms. I mean, officers were literally having to bring toilet paper in.”

Owensby recalled that the previous summer a captain pleaded with an IPALCO crewman to not turn off electricity to IMPD’s East District headquarters because the city’s utility bill hadn’t been paid.

Unmarked, undercover and patrol cars sat in the parking lots of local auto dealers and repair garages unclaimed because the city couldn’t pay the repair bills.

In-service trainers who donated their time to the department could not be reimbursed for their personal expenses while teaching leadership classes to IMPD officers.

Recruit classes were cancelled. Vehicle purchases delayed. Cost overruns were already plaguing the city’s new and unfinished Regional Operations Center as a $16 million dollar public safety budget deficit was predicted.

And narcotics detectives had run out of money to buy drugs.

“They were literally letting narcotics cases go because they couldn’t make narcotics buys to develop a case or go on to a suppler because they didn’t have the money,” said Owensby. “You can’t do business that way in a major metro police department like we are and they don’t have buy money, they don’t even have $25 to go buy a little weed to develop a case?”

One detective asked rhetorically if he should ask the drug dealer to front him both the narcotics and the money to pay for it in order to make a case.

“Asset forfeiture funds have always been in the mid-six figures,” said Owensby.  “It boggled my mind in how they were told that they didn’t have any buy money and we never did get any answers.

“Where’d the money go?”

Public Safety Director Riggs said apparently to Ten Point Coalition and other groups shut out of the crime prevention grant process but still worthy and in need of funding.

“You can only use 30% of it for community based programs within a three year period,” said Riggs whose staff launched an internal audit shortly after he arrived in late 2012. “The Department of Public Safety a few years ago used more than 30%…about $150,000.

“I think some of the shortfall was money being spent on consulting fees and different items.

“We don’t know where all the money was spent. There’s nothing that tells us it was illegal.”

In an exclusive interview, Alston told Fox 59 News that Marion County Grand Jury detectives asked him, “Did a republican offer you a large sum of money?” and whether Ten Point had ever been the target of an extortion attempt.

Alston said the figure $3 million was raised.

Since 2009, Ballard has dispensed nearly $10 million in a crime prevention grant program that was begun under his predecessor Bart Peterson, a democrat.

While Prosecutor Terry Curry confirmed a search warrant was served as part of an ongoing investigation, he wouldn’t divulge details of the probe.

Wednesday afternoon mayoral spokesman Marc Lotter issued the following statement to Fox 59 News.

“Stories about investigators asking questions about the generic term ‘republicans’ are very disturbing. Hopefully Prosecutor Curry’s office can elaborate on the rationale for this seemingly politically motivated line of questioning to dispel rumors that this is just politics as usual.”

Today, Curry fired back.

“We are offended by the suggestion of the mayor’s office that this investigation is politically motivated. It is an insult to not only the integrity of the Marion County Prosecutor’s office but to our law enforcement partners. We have made great strides in the last three years to restore trust and integrity to this office and to suggest otherwise is unwarranted an inflammatory.”

Rev. Harrsion has decried the grand jury investigation as a, “democrat witchhunt,” and questioned why so much time was spent investigating one of his members and his connection to the Ten Point Coalition when the group’s outreach teams are responding to fresh murder scenes on an average of three times a week.

Owensbv said the audit of the asset forfeiture fund misallocation only scratches the surface of errant and unexplained spending that was typical of the Straub administration, including the city’s longterm lease on the ROC, which has been vacant since last September due to fire safety concerns.

“We haven’t gotten to the bottom of the misspending, but yet we’re having to suffer the consequences because of it and you know what…the taxpayers are likely going to have to suffer this for the next 25 years.”

Riggs said his staff has made remarkable progress proposing a balanced budget with the same amount of money Mayor Ballard provided Straub and yet pay for two 2014 police recruit classes, dozens of new civilian workers, additional police cars and equipment and a $15 million computer aided dispatch system.

The director said he still doesn’t know if all the misspending has been uncovered though the practice of hiring consultants, sending officers on expensive out-of-town training, remodeling offices and traveling on weekends on undefined public safety business at the city’s expense has been halted.