Thursday, August 20, 2009

Just Answer the Questions, Sheriff Anderson

Last night I attended a meeting of the Public Safety Committee at which the budgets of the Prosecutor's Office, the Marion County Courts, the Clerk's Office, and the Sheriff's Department were discussed.

I arrived to ask the Sheriff's about the money he was receiving off the Evercom Correctional Billing Services aka Sercurus contract. The Sheriff contracts with the private company to provide phone services for inmates in the Marion County jail. As one might expect considering the company has a monopoly and a captive audience with loved ones desperate to keep in contact with inmates, the cost of the phone calls are extremely expensive.

In exchange for entering into the Evercom/Sercurus contract, the telephone company is required to, in addition to providing the service, pay money to the Sheriff. (The Sheriff is real sensitive to the term "kick back" but that is the term normally used to describe such provisions in privatization contracts.) The payments consist of two different types, referred to as Option 1 AND Option 2. I didn't have the language governing how Option 1 payments were to be calculated. But I did have a 2008 amendment to the contract, which changed Option 2 to $91,300 paid to the Sheriff every month, or $1,095,600 annually.

That money, and whatever is paid under Option 1, according to the contract gets paid into the Sheriff's commissary fund, which basically falls outside the normal budgetary review of the council. Both Republican Sheriff Jack Cottey and now Democrat Sheriff Anderson have engaged in questionable spending out of the commissary fund. In a story published by the Indianapolis Star last year, it was revealed that the Sheriff Anderson has used the commissary fund to pay over $1.5 million in legal fees to the law firm Locke Reynolds (which is now Frost Brown Todd), which is where the Sheriff's private attorney Kevin Murray works. Gary Welsh at Advance Indiana has reported how Sheriff Anderson funnels legal work to Murray's firm.

There is a question first whether the telephone money should be funnelled into the commissary account which the Sheriff and not the council has primary control over, and second whether the money is being spent appropriately. For example, IC 36-8-10-21 certainly does not appear to allow for commissary funds to be spent by the Sheriff to hire private outside legal counsel, which not coincidentally is a major campaign contributor of his. A side question is why the telephone contract was handled as one for "professional services," which normally covers such things as legal and accounting work, etc. Typically contracts for professional services do not have to go through the same bidding process as other contracts, and not coincidentally end up going to companies that are campaign contributors. One would not think that a phone service provider should be classified as a "professionial service."

During the course of the Sheriff's presentation, it came out that in the category of "Other Services and Charges" was an increase of $6,166,352 in the Sheriff's budget. During questioning it was explained that approximately $4,800,000 of that amount included payment to Correctional Corporation of America, which runs Jail #2 off of Washington Street. The claim was that the Sheriff's Office had for years been behind on paying CCA under its contract, to the point where now the Sheriff was three months and millions in arrears. Supposedly the Sheriff got behind because of a difference in the count of inmates housed at Jail #2. Having read the Sheriff-CCA contract, the claim had a phony ring. Under the contract, CCA provides a count every month and the Sheriff is billed accordingly.

Further, there is another reason the $4.8 million arrearage claim has a phony ring. As I previously reported, in November of 2008, the Sheriff's Department came before the Council making the claim that they needed to transfer money so from one category to another in its budget, so as to pay out to CCA nearly $223,683 that Sheriff's spokesman Doug King said was owed to CCA. Again, the proposal was included in a non-descript resolution that failed to even mention the name of the private jail contractor. The resolution claimed the money was to go for "inmate meals" and "contractual costs." During the Sheriff's presentation, King explained that the "contractual costs" was because CCA had decided to take an inflation adjustment on the contract and the Sheriff needed the money to pay for meals at Jail #2.

Whether King personally knew it or not, the assertion was bogus. The inflation adjustment in the CCA-Sheriff contract is automatic on 1/1 of every year. It's not something one "chooses" to take or not. As far as the inmate meals at Jail #2, under the contract that is specifically included in the per diem paid to CCA. Never was there a mention to the Public Safety Committee at that time of being behind on paying the CCA contract. Last night though the Sheriff's people claimed that they had been behind for years and are now trying to catch up.

At the end of the Sheriff's presentation, the public was invited to make comments and ask questions. As I stood at the front of the room, I quickly found myself joined by Murray, only inches away. As I tried to speak, he almost immediately began interrupting. He said that I had "pending litigation" against CCA and the Sheriff and that I was attempting to "conduct discovery" through a council meeting.

My understanding is that Murray is not a trial attorney and thus may not understand that there is no way you could do "discovery" during a council meeting. Further, I would note that not a single quesiton I attempted to ask the Sheriff or his representatives had anything whatsoever to do with any matter in litigation. I would add that my law firm has yet to make a penny on any of the CCA/Sheriff litigation. I can't say the same for Murray's law firm which is still, despite the Indianapolis Star story, representing the Sheriff on cases where the Sheriff is also already represented by City Legal. I can only assume that, once again, the Sheriff is using the commissary fund to pay Murray's law firm, even though the statute does not allow for the that fund to be used for the payment of legal fees to a private law firm.

Bottom line, neither the Sheriff nor the Sheriff's representation offered any documentation regarding the alleged $4.8 million arrearage owed to CCA, which makes up part of the $6,166,352 increase in "Other Services and Charges" in the Sheriff's budget. I asked for answers regarding how much inmate telephone money from the Evergreen/Securus contract was being channelled into the Sheriff's Commissary fund. No answer was provided. I did not get to ask how the commissary money has been spent. I asked whether the Sheriff has ever enforced the indemnity provision in the CCA and other private contracts to recover legal expenses he paid out when he gets sued because of something the contractor allegedly did. The Sheriff and his representatives would not answer the question.

It could be that Sheriff Anderson has ready explanations to all these questions. But when a person acts like they have something to hide, my experience is that the person generally has something to hide. In light of the pay-to-play scandal of our sister state, Illinois, it is time that Sheriff Anderson be asked direct questions regarding the money going into and out of the commissary accounts and the Sheriff's questionable pay outs to private contractors, including his personal law firm. If Sheriff Anderson is unwilling to answer the questions, and provide financial documentation to back up his answers, then he should not be in public service.

See also:

A Hostage Situation Waiting To Happen: Marion County Sheriff Frank Anderson Houses Inmates Charged With Violent Felonies At Low Security CCA/Jail #2 (Wednesday, August 12, 2009)

Sheriff Frank Anderson's Jail Contract Monitor for CCA/Marion County Jail #2 is Nowhere to Be Found; Call for Department of Justice Investigation (Wednesday, July 22, 2009)

How Private Correctional Companies Use Phony Industry Group Audits to Mislead Government Officials: the ACA Audit of Marion County Jail #2 (Monday, January 5, 2009)

Did Sheriff Anderson Mislead the Council Into Giving Private Jail Company Nearly a Quarter of Million Dollars It Was Not Entitled To Receive? (Monday, December 15, 2008)

Where Indianapolis Can Get Money for Crime Surveillance Cameras: Enforce Indemnity Provisions in Private Correctional Contracts (Thursday, December 11, 2008)

Message to Indianapolis City County Council and Other Elected Officials: No Transfer of Annex Inmates to CCA/Jail #2 (Thursday, December 4, 2008)

5 comments:

Freedom Fighter said...

He should have never been in public service. It is clearly Pay to Play Politics. We all need to request a Justice Department and Attorney General investigation of Frank Anderson and his merry band of corrupt men.

Paul K. Ogden said...

FF,

Unfortunately this type of politics is par for the course for both Republicans and Democrats. It appears that FA is simply taking it to a new level.

HOOSIERS FOR FAIR TAX said...

Paul? If this is par for the course for the Republicans and Democrats, then why do you remain a Republican? Why not join the Libertarian party which operates on its principles?

Paul K. Ogden said...

Sorry, Melyssa, I don't agree that either major party needs to behave like this. I believe the best way to bring about change is to work for change in the party. My Republican Party doesn't stand for corruption and self-dealing, just some people in the party do.

With all due respect to my Libertarian friends, the Republican country club types fear reform Republicans a lot more than they fear Republicans who abandon their party and become Libertarians. That's not to say I don't understand why people make that choice.

Jon said...

I have said this before and it is worth saying again, it is time for Republicans to act like Republicans. That means a return to 'true' fiscal conservancy, smaller government and less intrusive government.

All we get from either party now are sound bites and false promises.