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Marion County prosecutor won't file charges in Veterans Affairs scandal

Posted at 5:31 PM, Jan 03, 2020

INDIANAPOLIS — The Marion County Prosecutor’s office will not file criminal charges against a former state senator or against the former leaders of the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs, much to the opposition of veterans who had called for criminal prosecution against them.

The prosecutor’s office reviewed an Indiana Inspector General report, released in April 2019, that found “a significant need for improved policies and practices” at the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs, an embattled state agency that’s faced criticism for misusing funds meant to help struggling veterans.

Marion County prosecutor Ryan Mears’ office did not enough evidence to warrant criminal charges against IDVA’s former leaders.

Although the office did not name the targets of the probe, veterans pushed for charges against IDVA’s former director Jim Brown and deputy director Matthew Vincent.

“After further investigation by this office and review of information provided by the Inspector General and other agencies, we have not found conduct that would support criminal charges,” Michael Leffler, spokesperson for the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, said.

The decision also means former Indiana lawmaker Allen Paul will also not face charges for his unregistered lobbying efforts for IDVA.

Paul has faced criticism for not registering as a lobbyist after he retired from the General Assembly, but took an annual salary of $37,707 from IDVA to push their legislative agenda.

Veteran Lisa Wilken, who was among the first to raise concerns about IDVA back in 2018, said she was surprised the prosecutor did not criminally charge anyone involved with the IDVA scandal.

“Am I surprised by it?” Wilken said. “Yes, because I saw the records and I have seen the reports. As time went by, I became alarmed, but had confidence in the employee who interviewed us when he said he would let us know if their office was not going to move forward.”

Wilken was interviewed by the prosecutor’s office in May 2019, she said.

“I guess you can falsify applications for aide for yourself and allow friends to get benefits they aren't eligible for if you work for the right state agency,” Wilken said. “As for retired Senator Allen Paul, the whole thing is disappointing. First, to have an elected official, a respected lawmaker ignore a law he helped to pass is bad enough, but then to see how he received a lump sum payment for the lobbying work he did during the required cooling off period is disheartening."

Brigadier General James Bauerle also expressed frustration Friday at the decision not to charge former IDVA director Jim Brown nor Allen Paul.

“Very disappointing to say the least,” Bauerle said. “Both committed crimes, yet neither to be prosecuted. White collar crime is worth it at the state level, I guess. Too bad prosecutors care more about other crimes and not these!”

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Call 6 Investigates left a message for former lawmaker Allen Paul on Friday, and we are waiting to hear back.

Despite criticism of IDVA in its 18-page report, the Inspector General said it found insufficient evidence to support an ethics complaint against any current or former IDVA employees.

In November 2018, Call 6 Investigates reported IDVA employees received benefits from the Military Family Relief Fund, above the $2,500 limit while the state agency denied other veterans.

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MFRF money is generated from specialty license plates and is meant to help veterans with food, utilities and other needs.

The Inspector General also investigated allegations of the agency’s misuse of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds meant to help veterans with marriage counseling, child care, and employment/training.

The special agent investigated allegations an employee approved her fiancé to received TANF funds for a child that was unrelated to the fiancé.

The Inspector General investigation found the employee was a contract worker at the time, not employed by IDVA, and there was insufficient evidence she processed her fiancé’s application.

Meanwhile, the Indiana State Board of Accounts is conducting an audit into IDVA’s use of TANF funds, and the results are expected soon.

The Inspector General also looked into concerns that IDVA employees were disclosing confidential information and shredding documents.

The special agent could not find who specifically accessed the Military Family Relief Fund files, nor could he find any evidence that IDVA employees were shredding documents in violation of the record retention policy.

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The report issued six recommendations to the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs and the Indiana Veterans Affairs Commission:

  • Strictly comply with rules regarding the administration of the Military Family Relief Fund.
  • Clearly document who reviews and approves each MFRF application; if an exception is granted to the $2,500 limit, the reasons should be clearly documented.
  • Create a protocol to ensure MFRF grant recipients are using the money appropriately.
  • Educate employees on the protection of confidential documents and personally identifiable information.
  • Clearly communicate with any contract employees on what basis IDVA will pay them and how the employees should track their time.
  • Hire a full time attorney to ensure the agency is following the rules including confidentiality, public access and record retention laws.

“The investigation revealed mismanagement and a significant need for improved policies and practices at IDVA,” read the report. “The veteran community and other stakeholders need to have confidence that it is fulfilling the mission with integrity and transparency.”

The new IDVA director, Dennis Wimer, took office in January 2019 and said he’s changed 70% of the agency.

“We have made changes,” Wimer said last year. “About 70% of the organization has changed. We have changed pay structures, reporting roles, responsibilities and in some cases we’ve changed people.”

Three top employees, Matt Vincent, Adryanne Bonner and Jeff Wirt, resigned their positions in May.

None have responded to interview requests from RTV6.

Wimer replaced former IDVA director Jim Brown who resigned in December 2018 after Call 6 Investigates raised questions about misuse of the Military Family Relief Fund.