INDIANAPOLIS — Wayne Township Trustee Chuck Jones will almost certainly lose his elected position, but the employment future of fire chief Mike Lang and fire department mechanic James Parham remain uncertain.
Jones, Lang, former fire chief Randy Adams, and Parham pleaded guilty Friday to Conflict of Interest, a felony, following a 2021 WRTV Investigation into compensation for the Wayne Township trustee and Fire Department administration.
Indiana code states a public official must be removed from office if convicted of a felony during the official’s term, even if the charge is reduced to a misdemeanor.
It’s not clear when Jones, a Democrat, will be convicted and he has not indicated that he will resign from office.
He has refused previous requests from fellow Democrats to step down.
A court still needs to accept the plea agreements.
Adams, Parham, and Lang are scheduled for a change of plea hearing on June 24, however, no hearing date is listed yet for Jones in court records.
All four of them will be eligible for alternate misdemeanor sentencing, which is a sentencing tool in which a low-level felony and the sentencing guidelines can be reduced to that of a misdemeanor at the time of sentencing, according to the prosecutor’s office.
They admitted to taking a salary from the nonprofit Wayne Township Fire Department Inc., which contracted with the fire department, and they have agreed to pay a total of $95,817 in restitution to the taxpayers.
They will not serve any jail time, according to the plea agreement signed May 20.
Adams retired from the department in May 2021, yet Lang remains the fire chief and Parham also remains employed with the fire department.
The Wayne Township’s Fire Department rules state “anyone with a felony conviction will be immediately terminated from the department.”
However, it is likely the charges will be reduced to misdemeanors which would potentially allow Lang and Parham to remain employed with the Wayne Township Fire Department.
Jones successor as trustee could remove Lang from his position as fire chief.
Marion County Democrats will need to hold a caucus to select a new trustee to serve out the remainder of Jones’ term which ends at the end of 2022.
Jones announced he would not run for re-election after WRTV Investigates raised questions about compensation for the Wayne Township fire administration, as well as a nonprofit that provided additional pay for the trustee, fire chief and others.
Jeff Harris, a spokesperson for the Marion County Democratic Party, said there has been no communication between the party and Jones since the charges were announced Friday.
“Once the judge makes a ruling on the plea agreement and the position becomes vacant, the MCDP will begin the process of filling it via the caucus process,” Harris said in an email to WRTV. “We don't know when that hearing will take place and don't have any information on the Wayne Township rules pertaining to those employees either. Once the MCDP is officially notified of the vacancy, I will let you know.”
Jeb Bardon, a Democrat, and Rick Scott, a Republican, are both running for Wayne Township trustee in the November 2022 election.
Democratic nominee for Wayne Township Trustee Jeb Bardon released a statement Tuesday indicating he plans to remove Lang as chief:
"As a candidate for Trustee, I have made it very clear from the beginning of our campaign that we need accountability and a change in operational culture. A new fire chief will be the first major change I implement, if I am elected Trustee. While I respect the judicial process and employment laws, I am prepared to move aggressively forward with a new fire chief and the fire merit commission in fully restoring respect and honor to the Wayne Township Fire Department. The honorable women and men who put their lives on the line for us everyday deserve nothing less."
Lang released a statement Monday indicating the department does not plan to make any administrative changes for another month.
“Under the advisement from my attorney, I will not be making a public statement until the court has accepted my misdemeanor plea agreement,” Lang said in a statement to WRTV released on Monday. “A hearing has been scheduled for June 24th. Until that time, there will be no administrative changes. I will make full disclosure and a statement when it is appropriate.”
Even if Lang leaves Wayne Township, he would likely be able to find employment elsewhere.
Lang holds a state EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) certification that expires on Sept. 30, 2023, according to the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.
A criminal conviction, even a felony, does not prevent an individual from holding an EMS certification or licensure, according to Indiana law.
It’s up to employers to enact their own policy standards as to how a conviction impacts or prohibits employment.
Per Indiana Code, one of the reasons that the Indiana Department of Homeland Security may take action against a certification or licensure “is convicted of a crime, if the act that resulted in the conviction has a direct bearing on determining if the certificate holder or license holder should be entrusted to provide emergency medical services.”
“IDHS is examining any potential impact on their ability to perform these functions as a result of these convictions,” David Hosick, spokesperson for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security said in an email to WRTV. “The situation is under review currently.”
Parham does not hold any EMS certifications. Adams holds an EMT certification that expires Sept. 2023.
Court documents reveal the charges involve the public officials' involvement in Wayne Township Fire Department, Inc., a non-profit corporation founded in 1954.
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.
While working for the fire department, Lang also worked for the Whitestown Metropolitan Police Department from 2011 to 2019 as a public safety officer.
He resigned in July 2019, and the police chief says there are no cases pending that list Lang as a witness.
Jones released a statement Friday 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."
WRTV is working to get responses from Adams and Parham.
All four defendants can get the Conflict of Interest charges expunged after one year from the date of sentencing and after paying full restitution, read the plea agreement.
As WRTV reported in 2021, township officials have been receiving compensation through the nonprofit, which is funded through donations and taxpayer money.
Taxes filed in 2020 show the nonprofit’s five board members each received an annual salary of $17,500 totaling $87,500.
Among those compensated include Adams, Jones, and Lang, who became Wayne Township’s fire chief in May 2021.
Adams, Jones, and Parham are listed as directors for the nonprofit, 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.
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.
Marion County Republican Party Chair Joe Elsener released a statement Tuesday criticizing the plea agreements:
"Just to be clear: Democrat Wayne Township Trustee Chuck Jones defrauded constituents to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars and then got a sweetheart deal from Democrat Prosecutor Ryan Mears. This is effectively a slap on the wrist. It should be noted that we’re still searching for a crime Mears is willing to consistently prosecute. In the meantime, Indy residents deserve better than corruption and cronyism. It’s time to elect new leaders in Marion County."
Marion County prosecutor Ryan Mears is running for re-election against Republican Cyndi Carrasco.
Mears' campaign fired back at Indy Republicans.
"Our focus will continue to be our work to build community trust, and not politics. In this case, we secured four felony convictions, nearly a hundred thousand dollars will be paid back, and once-elected officials will lose their public office. In this case, the victims were the people of Wayne Township and we have made them whole. We do not take lightly our call to build trust in the system."
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?”
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.
All five board members were also slated to get even more nonprofit compensation this current tax year-- $20,000 per board member, according to Lang.
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 Wayne Township Fire Department Inc.’s tax returns filed in 2021 are still not publicly available yet.
Many of the records WRTV Investigates requested were not provided because nonprofits do not have to follow the Indiana Access to Public Records Act.
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.
Following WRTV Investigation, the Indiana State Board of Accounts, the state agency that audits local government, conducted an audit of the Wayne Township Fire Department that should be released soon.
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.
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.”
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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.