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Former Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler sentenced to a year in prison

dennis tyler .png
Posted at 5:00 AM, Nov 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-10 19:38:46-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Former Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler was sentenced to a year in prison by a federal judge Wednesday afternoon after a years-long federal investigation.

Tyler was indicted by a grand jury on Nov. 13, 2019, on one count of theft of government funds. He was arrested by federal agents five days later in Muncie.

On Wednesday, a judge sentenced him to one year and one day in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Tyler also has been ordered to pay $15,250 in restitution to the city of Muncie.

“Mr. Tyler’s greed caught up with him and he will now be held accountable,” Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana John E. Childress said in a press release. “The citizens of Muncie and the hard-working city employees deserved better out of their mayor, and hopefully this sentence will help restore some public trust and confidence in the government that serves them.”

FBI Indianapolis Special Agent in Charge Paul Keenan said Tyler's sentence shows public corruption will not be tolerated.

"Mr. Tyler was entrusted by the community to represent their interests but instead chose to betray that trust through his abuse of public office for his personal gain,” Keenan said in a press release.

He was one of several to be indicted in Operation Public Trust, the federal authorities' investigation into corruption within the City of Muncie, which began in 2014.

He struck a plea deal with federal prosecutors in May.

When asked by WRTV as he entered the federal courthouse on Wednesday if he was sorry, Tyler said "Oh absolutely, yes."

It's worth noting this federal investigation is separate from the federal investigation into the Muncie Police Department.

During his sentencing, Tyler said it was his “greatest honor” serving more than 50 years for Muncie as a firefighter, lawmaker and mayor.

“I’m completely helpless," he said. “I could have said no. I was so wrong that day for the decision I made. I've asked myself why.”

He said he’s left a stain on his career and the city of Muncie.

“I’m so sorry for the pain and hurt I’ve caused by my actions,” Tyler said.

When asked by the judge why he's sorry to the citizens, Tyler said “they always looked at me as someone special. I abused that trust and I’m so sorry.”

In a sentencing memo filed on Nov. 2, Childress and Assistant U.S. Attorney Tiffany Preston said Tyler's sentence should include time in prison. But during his sentencing on Wednesday, Tyler's attorneys asked for home detention.

The 49-page sentencing memo details how federal authorities say Tyler accepted a $5,000 payment to steer work to a contractor paying for work who charged more than an "honest competitor."

"In doing so, Mr. Tyler chose to serve himself and the interests of insiders who were willing to buy their way into a rigged system. He now joins a dishonorable list of corrupt politicians who have contributed to the growing erosion of public trust and confidence in government," the memo read.

The federal attorneys said his sentence "must reflect the seriousness of his criminal acts, deter others in similar positions from abusing their positions of public trust, and promote respect for the law so as to restore faith in the local system of government." They said his sentence should be at the low end of the sentencing guidelines for imprisonment, which are between 12 to 18 months.

Current City of Muncie Communications Director Tony Sandleben said Mayor Dan Ridenour is choosing not to comment on the proceedings.

In summary, the charge comes after, as alleged in the sentencing memo, Tyler steered contracts for public works contracts to an unspecified company in Gaston.

The sentencing memo included some new details about the FBI's investigation and Tyler's alleged involvement in the charge against him, like how he received the $5,000 cash payment in a parking lot in December 2015 in Muncie.

You can read the full sentencing memo below:

Before he was elected as mayor in 2011, Tyler was a member of the Muncie Fire Department from 1965 to 2007 and was an Indiana State Representative from 2005 to 2011.

Dennis Tyler
FILE PHOTO: State Rep. Dennis Tyler, D-Muncie, right, questions State Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, on a bill dealing with illegal immigration matters as the House works on its final day of 2011 session at the Statehouse in Indianapolis Friday, April 29, 2011. The bill passed.

Timeline of Operation Public Trust

  • 2014: FBI investigation into Muncie officials begins, according to the sentencing memo.
  • January 2017: FBI serves search warrant at the Building Commissioner's Office at Muncie City Hall. Sources tell WRTV the home of Building Commissioner Craig Nichols was also searched.
  • February 2017: Craig Nichols is arrested by federal authorities.
  • September 2018: Muncie Superintendent of Sewer Maintenance, Tracy Barton, and Jeff Burke, a local businessman, are indicted.
  • January 2019: Craig Nichols is sentenced to two years in federal prison.
  • June 2019: Rodney Barber, a contractor, is indicted on wire fraud-related charges and one charge for a false statement.
  • July 2019: Debra Nicole Grigsby, the district administrator for the Muncie Sanitary District, and Tony Franklin, owner of Franklin Building and Design LLC, are indicted.
  • November 2019: Dennis Tyler is arrested by federal authorities after a grand jury indicts him on one charge.
  • March 2020: Phil Nichols, former chairman of the Democratic party in Delaware County, and Jess Neal, a sergeant for the Muncie Police Department, are indicted.
  • May 2021: Dennis Tyler reaches plea agreement with federal prosecutors.

Eight others have been charged in connection with Operation Public Trust. Here's where those cases stand, according to the Department of Justice:

  • Tracy Barton: Pending
  • Jeff Burke: Pending
  • Rodney Barber: Pending
  • Phil Nichols: Pending
  • Debra Nicole Grigsby: Pending
  • Jess Neal: Pending
  • Tony Franklin: Pending
  • Craig Nichols: Sentenced in January 2019 to two years in prison, followed by three years of supervised released and ordered to pay $217,892 in restitution