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Audit shows Indy may have used illegal funds to pay for electric car deal

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (June 2, 2015) - The Marion County Auditor discovered nearly $200,000 was diverted out of a storm water fund to pay for the city's new electric car program. A letter released Tuesday morning shows an additional $93,000 was diverted out of the same fund to cover other expenses related to the rented vehicles. Both payments, according to the Marion County Auditor, are prohibited by city law.

"I think this administration has just ignored that fact they are diverting these funds in spite of the fact that these repairs need to be done, regardless of how much need there is they still felt like this was a better use of these dollars even though it was illegal and improper," said Councilman Zach Adamson.

Mayor Greg Ballard's spokesperson, Jen Pittman, said the city received the auditor's report after news broke that the funds had been diverted. Pittman went on to explain the city took a loan out of the storm water fund to meet financial obligations and assured FOX59 the fund has been made whole. She admitted the process should have been reviewed by council but was not and offered no explanation as to why Mayor Ballard chose to bypass the city's fiscal body.

Pittman also said the $93,000 payment was appropriate and was used to lease equipment related to storm water operations and maintenance.

"I won’t tolerate this I don’t think anyone wants it to be tolerated they need to hear that we are going to investigate everything, work through it and ultimately do what’s right for the city," said Councilman Jeff Miller.

Council members expressed concern that money was moved out of a fund meant to improve the city's infrastructure. Councilman Jeff Miller said he constantly hears from residents who are experiencing storm water issues. He explained how council members recently voted to increase storm water fees to tackle a backlog of important projects, not to pay for electric cars.

"I think for me the biggest concern is what is the impact on residents who are waiting for their projects to get done. I think we need to stay laser focused on the fact that the money was raised for that and we need to spend it on that," said Miller

The Marion County Auditor said she is waiting on a full explanation from the city. Based on the findings, the auditor will determine if an outside review is needed. An external audit would be conducted by The State Board of Accounts or an outside firm.

City-County Council members and FOX59 started raising questions about the contract back in April. Since then a council committee has voted to sue the city over the deal. The council’s own attorney claims the city bypassed ordinances, policies and violated state statutes.

A FOX59 investigation uncovered multiple versions of the contract that was signed back in February 2014. The contract to rent 425 electric cars is valued at anywhere from $25 to $32 million. The city has already received 200 electric vehicles but the company has stopped delivering additional cars in response to the recent controversy.

Last week, Vision Fleet's CEO spoke to the media for the first time since the controversy surrounding the deal to rent electric cars. CEO Michael Brylawski said he was surprised by the negative comments surrounding the deal. During the interview he was supportive of Mayor Ballard but the statement he issued on Tuesday indicated the company is questioning its future with the city.

"Vision Fleet has always acted in good faith and in compliance with all laws regarding this contract and the highly successful program it supports. To date, we have been paid back just $1.5 million of our $9 million investment in modernizing the city's aging, inefficient fleet. We are very proud of the program that's been in place for more than a year in Indianapolis, and we are working with stakeholders to address any concerns as we continue to operate the Freedom Fleet.

"It's worth noting, however, that we are not politicians, and we would be grateful if those engaged in that fight would stop long enough to have a conversation about what needs to be addressed and how we can work together. This political fight is unfairly defaming our company and its reputation and imperiling a successful program. We want to solve problems and foster innovation that can be replicated in other fleets across the nation, and we are growing increasingly concerned about our ability to continue that work in Indianapolis."