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Michigan lawyer claims Indiana prosecution was political

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A Michigan attorney claims in a lawsuit that former Indianapolis prosecutor Carl Brizzi and former Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita used unwarranted charges against her in a cemetery theft scheme to enhance their political reputations.

Sherry Katz-Crank, of East Lansing, Mich., was indicted in 2008 on theft charges related to a scheme to raid $24 million in trust funds set aside for prepaid funerals and burials. A jury acquitted her in 2010.

The lawsuit filed last month in federal court in Michigan contends the charges were linked to legal work Katz-Crank did for cemetery owner Robert Nelms of Greenwood, who was sentenced in January 2010 to serve eight years in community corrections after pleading guilty to theft and securities fraud. The charges alleged Katz-Crank had aided Nelms in the scheme by providing him with legal advice, the lawsuit said.

The suit accuses Brizzi, Rokita and several investigators and assistant prosecutors with their former offices of malicious prosecution and violating Katz-Crank's constitutional rights.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority credited Katz-Crank with reporting the scheme to authorities, whose investigations eventually led to the arrests of Nelms and others, the lawsuit claims. But when Katz-Crank discovered the scheme and reported it to the Indiana secretary of state's office, an investigator there contacted her clients and advised them to stop using her services because she was involved in illegal activity, the document says.

The court issued summonses last week for several defendants, including Rokita, who is now a U.S. representative. The secretary of state's website still includes a statement from 2008 in which Rokita touts his office's work in the investigation that led to the indictments. Brizzi was Marion County prosecutor at the time.

Brizzi didn't respond to a phone call from The Associated Press seeking comment Friday. Rokita's congressional spokesman, Josh Bratton, said the office had not yet seen the complaint.

The lawsuit contends that prosecuting attorneys never turned over evidence to the jury that might have cleared Katz-Crank and that the prosecutors had reason to believe some witnesses' testimony was false.

"It is clear that Plaintiff's indictment was used as marketing material to support the political campaigns of Defendants for higher office without regard for the serious and permanent damage which it would impose upon the Plaintiff and her family," the lawsuit asserts.

The complaint claims that the "political hubris" by Rokita and Brizzi directly caused Katz-Crank to lose her reputation and law firm and cost her more than $2 million in financial losses. It also says the ordeal caused her to suffer depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and physical ailments that resulted in surgery and hospitalization.

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