Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Jail Commissary Fund, Part I: Marion County Sheriff Frank Anderson Violates Indiana Law to Pay Private Law Firm

Today, begins a series of articles discussing how Marion County Sheriff Frank Anderson has repeatedly violated IC 36-8-10-21 in his handling of the inmate commissary money. I obtained a copy of the report on receipts and expenditures from the Sheriff's Commissary Fund. These articles are based on that report.

As background, the Sheriff's Commissary Fund is separate from the Sheriff's regular budget. Over the past year, it appears that over $3 million dollars has flowed into the Fund, which the Indianapolis City-County Council has little oversight over. However, Indiana law does place fairly strict limitation on how the Sheriff can spend the money. IC 36-8-10-21 only permits commissary money to be spent on the following:
(1) merchandise for resale to inmates through the commissary;
(2) expenses of operating the commissary, including, but not limited to, facilities and personnel;
(3) special training in law enforcement for employees of the sheriff's department;
(4) equipment installed in the county jail;
(5) equipment, including vehicles and computers, computer software, communication devices, office machinery and furnishings, cameras and photographic equipment, animals, animal training, holding and feeding equipment and supplies, or attire used by an employee of the sheriff's department in the course of the employee's official duties;
(6) an activity provided to maintain order and discipline among the inmates of the county jail;
(7) an activity or program of the sheriff's department intended to reduce or prevent occurrences of criminal activity, including the following:
(A) Substance abuse.
(B) Child abuse.
(C) Domestic violence.
(D) Drinking and driving.
(E) Juvenile delinquency;
(8) expenses related to the establishment, operation, or maintenance of the sex and violent offender registry web site under IC 36-2-13-5.5; or
(9) any other purpose that benefits the sheriff's department that is mutually agreed upon by the county fiscal body and the county sheriff. Money disbursed from the fund under this subsection must be supplemental or in addition to, rather than a replacement for, regular appropriations made to carry out the purposes listed in subdivisions (1) through (8).
IC 36-8-10-21 clearly does not authorize the Sheriff to use commissary funds to pay a private law firm. However, between June 24, 2008 and June 23, 2009, public records show that the Sheriff paid his law firms Frost Brown/Locke Reynolds (Locke Reynolds merged into Frost Brown a year or so ago) $471,981.48 over that year period. Let's take a sample month, April 2008. The Commissary ledger shows the following:

04/28/2008 Frost Brown Todd, LLC 08c-141 Jail Litigations $15,354.75
04/28/2008 Frost Brown Todd, LLC 08c-140 Legal Consultation $24,693.74
04/28/2008 Frost Brown Todd, LLC 08c-140 Legal Consultation $132.50
04/28/2008 Frost Brown Todd, LLC 08c-140 Legal Consultation $1,287.80
04/28/2008 Frost Brown Todd, LLC 08c-140 Legal Consolation $1,420.60

During a council meeting a few months ago, I tried to raise questions regarding the spending of commissary money and a questionable budget item authorizing the Sheriff to pay Corrections Corporation of America, the private company that runs Jail #2, several million dollars for an alleged arrearage. The Sheriff's council, Kevin Murray, stood by me during the meeting and continually interrupted me, falsely suggesting I was somehow using the committee meeting to collect information on a pending lawsuit. If anyone wants to know why Murray was doing what he's doing, it is because I was trying to ask questions about two very sensitive topics: 1) the Sheriff's expenditures from the commissary fund (which not coincidentally went to Murray's law firm); and 2) the Sheriff's highly questionable payments to CCA.

Contrary to what Sheriff Frank Anderson apparently thinks, the commissary fund does not exist simply for him to spend as he pleases. There is a law that needs to be followed, a law which the Sheriff has for years ignored. In the days that lie ahead, I will provide additional articles exposing Sheriff Anderson's misuse of the jail commissary fund.


Doug said...

Subdivision (9) would seem to be a potential catch all, but I assume there has been no evidence of approval by the fiscal body.

Also, unless "activity" is defined, there is a lot of wiggle room in "an activity provided to maintain order." Depending on what the legal fees were actually for, they might be able to tie the expenditures to that subdivision as well.

(I'm not taking a position - just thinking out loud here)

Paul K. Ogden said...

Doug you have to read that whole section. It is:

(6) an activity provided to maintain order and discipline among the inmates of the county jail;

You can't forget the "and" and what follows. They have to be for maintaining order AND disciplline aong the inmates of the county jail. I think you would be hard pressed to make any sort of argument that legal fees could fall under that.

#9 is a better option. However, there is no evidence the Council approved these expenditures or any of the others I will detail down the road.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Paul, The legal representation could be performed by the corporation counsel's office at no expense to the City. I suspect the corporation counsel's office has agreed that Anderson should pay those expenses out of the commissary fund if he wants to hire his own counsel so there isn't a hit on the general fund. I agree with Doug. Subsection (9) is pretty much a catch-all.

Paul K. Ogden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul K. Ogden said...

AI, #9 is a catch-all only if the City-County Council approves the expenditures, which they haven't. Even then it would have to be a supplement or an addition to an expense previously approved by the Council.

On just about all the jail cases I have, the Sheriff is represented by City Legal AND the Frost law firm.

Paul K. Ogden said...


If Corporation Counsel is giving Anderson that advice, CC is advising the Sheriff to violate the commissary law.

Paul K. Ogden said...

I would add that the Sheriff paying his attorney out of the Commissary fund pre-dated the current City Legal group..