INDIANAPOLIS – With a long-term goal of reducing the number of public corruption cases, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller today announced the Public Integrity Coalition has been created to educate and train local government officials in Indiana on the best management practices for handling taxpayers’ money.
“The vast majority of those who serve in public office are honest and strive to serve constituents efficiently, and only a small minority violate the public trust and enrich themselves with taxpayers’ money. Some public corruption might have been prevented with greater supervision and training for officials and employees, so that there is deterrence of wrongdoing and incentive to do the right thing. Our objective is that with more education, training and enforcement, there ultimately will be fewer instances of government misappropriation which will result in greater confidence in public servants,” Zoeller said.
Zoeller today was joined by David Capp, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, as well as representatives from the State Board of Accounts (SBoA), the Association of Indiana Counties (AIC) and the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns (IACT) who have partnered with the Office of the Attorney General as the founding members of the Public Integrity Coalition. Announced today during the Attorney General’s annual Civil and Criminal Justice Summit, the coalition anticipates expanding in coming months to include other interested entities and stakeholders.
Zoeller’s special guest at the summit today was Colorado Attorney General John W. Suthers, who gave a presentation on coordination of state and federal investigations of public corruption.
“Attorney General Zoeller serves Indiana well by establishing the Public Integrity Coalition and ensuring that government officials are provided the training to avoid any impropriety and always act ethically,” Attorney General Suthers said. “I am honored that Attorney General Zoeller turned to Colorado as a leader on how to unite state and federal investigators to ferret out and deal with any bad actors.”
Indiana’s Public Integrity Coalition will conduct education and training sessions for officials from local units of government – the category that includes counties, cities, towns, townships, school systems or library districts – on the best management practices for ethical standards and internal accounting controls when managing public funds and resources. Coordinating the effort resulting in today’s summit is Doris Anne Sadler, an attorney, former Marion County clerk and former state deputy auditor. Sadler has worked with other coalition partners to develop training programs that will be presented to elected officials and their staffs at their regular government association meetings.
Zoeller noted the State Board of Accounts conducts audits of local government units at regular intervals. If SBoA examiners in their audit determine money is misappropriated from an office and a particular individual is responsible, then they notify law enforcement and the county prosecutor or U.S. Attorney who can consider filing criminal charges against the defendant. SBoA also certifies the audit to Indiana Attorney General’s Office, authorizing the AG separately to take civil action to collect misappropriated funds to reimburse the public treasury.
The Attorney General’s Office does this by filing a type of civil lawsuit against the individual responsible: a complaint to recover public funds. Through such lawsuits the Attorney General’s Office can obtain civil judgments, freeze bank accounts, attach liens on property and seize assets that can be liquidated to recoup the misappropriated amount from the defendant, a process called “civil prosecution.” Under a 2009 state law Zoeller advocated for, certain elected officials now are required to obtain larger surety bonds of at least $30,000. Surety bonds are a type of insurance policy against theft of public funds, and if the SBoA audit discovers misappropriation, then Zoeller’s office can seek to redeem the bonds to reimburse the public treasury more quickly. Any amounts not covered by bonds are the defendants’ personal responsibility, and the Attorney General’s Office will pursue defendants in civil court for years if necessary to obtain repayment.
Since January 2009, 232 certified audits identifying more than $6.6 million in misappropriation have been referred by the State Board of Accounts to the Attorney General’s Office for collection. In total, the Attorney General’s Office has sought to collect more than $11 million misappropriated, including amounts from certified audits that pre-date Zoeller’s administration. In that same time frame since 2009, the Attorney General’s office through filing approximately 100 lawsuits and other efforts has collected approximately $4.5 million from current and former officials to reimburse local governments for amounts misappropriated. The total 134 certified audits referred to the AG’s Office that are currently open and subject to collection include a total 170 defendants, with some audits involving more than one individual.
In coming months, the Public Integrity Coalition that meets quarterly will focus on outreach including training sessions for elected officials and their staffs, and will work toward other projects such as offering a model ethics code to local governments, with a long-term goal to encourage best practices so that fewer problem audits result that necessitate lawsuits. Zoeller thanked U.S. Attorney Capp and other stakeholders in the coalition who offered their insight and expertise.
“Our partnership in the Public Integrity Coalition will help ensure officials at the State and local level are accountable to the public in the performance of their duties and their use of the public tax dollars. Public corruption is an obstacle to any community as they seek economic growth and look for ways to expand public services available to their citizens. Whether we are educating state and local officials on their roles and responsibilities, informing the public when these officials don’t follow established laws or prescribed guidelines or enforcing laws and regulations, our training, our reporting and our prosecuting are much more efficient and effective when we work together. State and local government foundations should be built and fostered through principles based on integrity, accountability, and transparency. Together, this coalition can help ensure that officials, elected or appointed, live up to these principles and those that don’t are held accountable when they fail,” said State Examiner Paul Joyce of the State Board of Accounts.
"While the vast majority of municipal leaders are governing above reproach, as in any profession there will be a small percentage who make some bad decisions. We applaud Attorney General Zoeller’s efforts to emphasize continuing education as a means for reducing errors among local officials and IACT stands ready to assist in any way we can," said Matt Greller who serves as the executive director and CEO of Indiana Association of Cities and Towns.
“County governments are so close to the communities we serve that any time a local official suffers any suspicion about their integrity in office, the issue becomes more than just a newspaper headline. It becomes an inevitable element of everyday life. It becomes the minutes spent standing in the checkout line, or the time spent along the sidelines of the local school team, when we come face-to-face with our constituents. County officials need to carry out the practices that reassure the public that decisions are made fairly, without self-interest. We encourage all county government officials and employees to pursue education AIC offers that helps them stay abreast of ever-changing public expectations and legal standards, to make sure that county government retains the trust of the people we work, live, and worship with,” said Jeff Quyle, president of the Association of Indiana Counties or AIC.
“While corruption is not rampant in local governments in Indiana, it takes only a few bad apples to reinforce negative perceptions among the public of all public servants, which is unfortunate. By undertaking this extra effort with our partners across all aspects of government to encourage proper and ethical practices, we are optimistic that in the long run the overall number of problem audits and resulting lawsuits the State must file can be reduced,” Zoeller said. As Indiana Attorney General, Zoeller serves on the Executive Working Group (EWG) of the U.S. Department of Justice through which state attorneys general, federal prosecutors, county prosecutors and district attorneys collaborate on criminal justice issues.
The Attorney General's annual Civil and Criminal Justice Summit, held today at the Indiana Government Center South, brought together attorneys from throughout Indiana to hear presentations from experts including the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission. The summit counted as Continuing Legal Education (CLE) for attorneys, including five hours of general credit and one hour of ethics credit.
NOTE: Attached is a chart on the Attorney General’s Office’s collection activity recovering misappropriated amounts from January 2009 to present, based on State Board of Accounts certified audits that were referred to the AG’s Office.
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://forms.indianaconsumer.com/SpeakerRequestForm/