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Wayne Township trustee and fire employees plead guilty to conflict of interest

Posted at 1:51 PM, Jun 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-27 18:22:36-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Four current and former Wayne Township employees pleaded guilty Monday to Conflict of Interest, a high-level misdemeanor, following a 2021 WRTV investigation into compensation involving a nonprofit.

Current Wayne Township Trustee Chuck Jones, current fire chief Mike Lang, former fire chief Randy Adams, and mechanic James Parham all appeared in court remotely Monday morning and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor Conflict of Interest.

None of them will serve any jail time.

Court documents reveal the charges involve the public officials' involvement in Wayne Township Fire Department, Inc., a non-profit corporation founded in 1954.

As WRTV reported in 2021, township officials have been receiving compensation through the nonprofit, which is funded through donations and taxpayer money.

As part of a plea agreement with prosecutors, the charge was reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Adams, Jones, and Lang must each repay $31,939 in restitution and mechanic James Parham has to pay $1,200 in restitution for total of $97,017.

Their criminal charge can be expunged after a year if they pay the money back to the taxpayers.

According to the prosecutor’s office, Indiana law says Chuck Jones will no longer be allowed to serve as an elected public official.

The judge said Jones, Lang and Parham must report to the Marion County Community Justice Campus by 4 p.m. Monday to be processed.

WRTV Investigates caught up with Jones, but he declined to answer questions about when he plans to leave office.

His attorney Jim Voyles said Monday is not Jones’ last day in office, but he declined to provide further details.

Meanwhile, the Democratic party in Marion County is expected to set a caucus date within the next month to choose a replacement for township trustee.

A new trustee will be elected in November 2022.

Jones has refused previous requests from his fellow Democratic leaders to step down from office.

PREVIOUS | Democrats ask Chuck Jones to step down

Adams, Jones and Lang do not have to serve probation, but Parham will be on non-reporting probation for 363 days.

Parham’s probation does not include drug and alcohol testing, according to the court hearing.

Prosecutors allege between December 20, 2019 and May 19, 2021, they "knowingly or intentionally" profited from contracts between the nonprofit, Wayne Township Fire Department, Inc, and the fire department.

Current fire chief Mike Lang released the following statement to the Wayne Township Fire Department Monday afternoon, which said he will serve an unpaid suspension:

"Over the past year, in addition to working with the Indiana State Board of Accounts for the Township and Corporation’s audit, I have also been providing subpoenaed information for an investigation by the Marion County Prosecutor's Office. After consultation with my attorney, I have accepted the fact that while operating as the President of Wayne Township Fire Department, Inc., I should have filed the necessary form to disclose a conflict of interest. This oversight is my own fault, as the conflict of interest laws have changed since my start in that position in 2001. I will be resigning from the corporation board as soon as the state audit and all actions have been completed to fulfill the funding being returned to the township. Contrary to the rumor mill, all donated funds are still available for their intended purposes.

After working in partnership with four trustees and five fire chiefs, I am proud of the accomplishments that were reached through the 22 plus year partnership with our fire department and the former volunteer corporation. Many of the programs supported, would not be possible without that partnership.

I indicated after the Conflict of Interest charge was filed, I would make a statement once my plea agreement was accepted by the court. Today, my plea agreement was accepted by the judge as presented. While the charge was filed as a Felony, I agreed to a plea agreement as a misdemeanor. Under the terms of the plea agreement, I will make restitution in the amount determined by the Prosecutors Office as soon as the court record is updated and allows me to do so.

With the legal process behind me, I have accepted the discipline associated with the misdemeanor charge in which I agreed to in my plea agreement. I will serve an unpaid suspension at the discretion of the Trustee.

I will await the selection of the new Trustee to determine my next assignment. I will continue to work every day to support our great fire department and continue to move in a positive direction, regardless of the position I am assigned."

The criminal case is separate from an audit released last week by the Indiana State Board of Accounts that said they must repay $351,505 to the taxpayers.

RELATED | Audit says trustee and fire employees owe $351K

Trustee Chuck Jones released a statement last month about the charges.

"I am writing to address my recent legal concerns and reinforce my deep respect and admiration for our community. I am disappointed to share that I recently had a conflict of interest that may have affected my tenure as Wayne Township Trustee. I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to my employees, the citizens of Wayne Township, and the rest of my community. I solemnly regret my actions that created this conflict of interest and I have taken full responsibility for my lack of discretion. I pray that our community will heal and continue to blossom as I take steps to remedy this unfortunate situation.

On advice of my attorney, I may not share any further details at this time. However, I plan to be as transparent with you as possible and will relay more information as soon as I am able."

Taxes filed in 2020 show the nonprofit’s five board members each received an annual salary of $17,500 totaling $87,500.

Randy Adams, Chuck Jones, and James Parham are listed as directors for the nonprofit, Mike Lang is the president and Tim Smith is the secretary, according to the 990 filed in 2020.

The board members’ nonprofit compensation is even more concerning considering Lang and Adams have already taken heat over their fire department administration pay.

PREVIOUS | Wayne Township Fire Department administrators take heat over overtime pay | New fire chief pledges changes to payroll

WRTV Investigates found the current and former fire chiefs, as well as the township trustee, used the nonprofit to pay themselves on top of their six-figure government salaries.

As WRTV reported in June 2021, Lang got paid a total of $151,766 in 2020 as a deputy chief at the fire department including $14,445 in overtime.

As fire chief, Adams got paid $190,345 in 2020 including $41,860 in overtime.

Randy Adams

Records obtained by WRTV Investigates showed Adams and his administration charged taxpayers overtime for travel to inspect fire trucks and to attend meetings at the administration building.

Randy Adams claimed 49 hours of overtime for a trip to South Dakota, records show.

WRTV: “Did that include sleeping?”
Adams: “Anytime we were gone, yes.”
WRTV: “So, you counted sleeping, eating, driving from the time you left to the time you got back?”
Adams: “If it was outside normal business hours.”
WRTV: “So you weren’t counting 8 am to 4 while you were there, but everything else you were counting?”
Adams: “Yes.”
WRTV: “Some taxpayers might say why charge overtime to go look at fire trucks?
Adams: “It's outside the normal working hours. Everyone should be fairly compensated. Everyone who went on the trip was fairly compensated.”
WRTV: “Some will say, you're already making six figures. Why do you need to charge overtime on top of that?”
Adams: “It's the way the system is set up right now. We aren't salary-exempt. We are eligible to get the overtime."

On top of their government salaries and overtime, they also received $17,500 salaries from the nonprofit—some call this “triple dipping.”

As township trustee, Jones received $105,504 in compensation in 2020 for his elected position.

Chuck Jones

WRTV Investigates’ findings were concerning to several City-County Councilors who represent Wayne Township, including Councilman Jared Evans, D-District 22.

“It doesn’t sit well,” Evans said in September 2021. "It's concerning. We've been hearing concerns from individuals about the stories that have been coming out."

Most of Evans’ district is Wayne Township, and he’s concerned about how his constituents’ tax dollars were spent.

"It doesn't seem right,” Evans said in 2021. “I've never heard about a board of directors at a small nonprofit taking that sort of income. Especially when you consider they were already getting taxpayer-funded incomes."

Adams retired in May 2021, but the councilor says the current chief, Lang, needs to go.

“We need some new leadership at the fire department,” Evans said. “We’ve got a history here of things that have been going on. We really need to look at cleaning house and looking inward and how we can really build that trust not only with the citizens but also with those firefighters that are being impacted.”

In 2019, then-fire chief Adams reached a new agreement with the nonprofit.

As a result, taxpayers paid the nonprofit $42,020 in 2019, $136,799 in 2020 and in 2021 they paid at least $62,000.

That’s a total of $240,820 in taxpayer money that went into the nonprofit in just over two years, and 78% of which went to pay the nonprofit’s board members, according to WRTV’s calculations.

Evans told WRTV in 2021 the board members should pay it back.

“It’s a large amount,” Evans said. “It’s not a good thing, and it’s something we need to get resolved.”

The fire department administration’s overtime and use of nonprofit money has drawn criticism from both political parties, including former township trustee Andy Harris, a Republican.

Evans said steps need to be taken to prevent a similar circumstance from happening again.

“A lot of good things come out of audits, including what can we do better to make sure we are building trust and to ensure these sort of things don't continue to happen again,” Evans said.

In September 2021, the Wayne Township Board voted to approve an ordinance that says salaried fire department employees can no longer receive overtime—including the fire chief, assistant chief, division chief, and executive administrator.

PREVIOUS | Wayne Twp changes overtime rules for fire administration | Fire administrators can no longer get OT under new ordinance

Among the changes—administrative overtime will now require prior approval by the fire chief and the trustee.

Salaried fire department employees will be able to earn flex time-off, but they can’t get paid for it, according to the ordinance.

Hourly firefighters will continue to be eligible for overtime, per the policy.

State Rep. Renee Pack (D-Indianapolis) issued the following statement regarding the charges:

“Trust and integrity are the bedrock of all functioning government organizations, and it’s far past time to restore that in the Westside of Indianapolis,” Pack said. “The charges filed are a good first step in Wayne Township healing from bad actors abusing their power. It’s important to denounce anyone that takes advantage of the public's trust regardless of political affiliation. It’s a good day to see justice in action.”

Democratic nominee for Wayne Township Trustee Jeb Bardon released the following statement:

“I am extremely saddened by today's news. As a lifelong Wayne Township resident, business owner, and taxpayer, I know our community deserves so much better. It’s now time for a fresh start in Wayne Township. Trust must be restored. Transparency must be improved. And a high level of financial accountability must be put in place. If elected Wayne Township Trustee, that’s exactly what I intend to do. This can never happen again."

PREVIOUS | New fire chief pledges changes to payroll

Mike Lang

Fire Chief Mike Lang provided the following response to WRTV in September 2021:

"We have discussed dissolving the nonprofit in the past. Throughout the previous twenty-one years, each board member, trustee, and fire chief have been able to see the good that is accomplished through the utilization of Wayne Township Fire Department, Inc. Unfortunately, the actions and ideas from Chief Adams will tarnish the many years of community support that was accomplished. I am not familiar with Indy Public Safety Foundation, but I am not opposed to utilizing them if they are an appropriate alternative.

Trustee Jones spoke many times throughout his campaign and since being elected, that he was not a firefighter and would allow the fire chief to run the fire department. While I was certainly in Chief Adams' administration, he made decisions that were outside of my recommendations. Ultimately, Chief Adams had ideas and made decisions that he is not readily available to explain. Since my appointment as fire chief, my administration and I have been working to prevent the issues that have been raised. We immediately changed the overtime interpretation to prevent much of the previous overtime. We have worked with the union representatives to change the language in the labor management agreement that allows administrators to preschedule overtime. The new Labor/Management Agreement should be completed for presentation at the next Township Board Meeting. The nonprofit board has agreed that the concept of a volunteer ambulance service is not practical and Chief Adams' idea was immediately stopped. The use of the non-profit corporation will only be used for donations, grants, and special projects, if it is kept as an active partnership. If kept, I will ask a township board member to be the fire chief designee for additional oversight. I will ask the non-profit board to set up a meeting with the Indy Public Safety Foundation to determine if they would be a better option.

My thoughts would be that Trustee Jones unfortunately was placed into defending actions and decisions that he did not understand or know were being made by his appointed fire chief. The changes that the councilors and/or public believe that Wayne Township needs, took place on May 21st. I serve at the pleasure of Trustee Jones. As long as I am the fire chief, we will work regain the trust of the elected officials and public that we are honored to serve."

You can read full statements from Lang and Trustee Jones on the nonprofit here.