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Turner skips hearing, documents claim no misdeeds

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House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner skipped a House ethics review Wednesday but claimed in filings submitted to the panel that he did nothing wrong when he fought legislation that could have cost him millions of dollars.

The Associated Press reported last week that Turner has earned more than $8 million through his ownership stake in Mainstreet Property Group, which builds nursing homes. He stood to lose more than $4 million if a construction ban passed the Legislature this year, but he lobbied against the ban during private meetings of the House Republican Caucus in the final days of the session.

The House Ethics Committee met Wednesday for a little less than an hour in the same Statehouse room where Turner fought the ban a little more than a month ago. Their review focused almost exclusively on whether Turner properly disclosed all his connections and did not dissect how much money he had at stake in the fight.

House Ethics Chairman Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, said lawmakers may look at whether rules should be applied to caucus discussions during a more comprehensives ethics review later this summer, but not now. Turner admitted in filings with the committee to speaking out in caucus, but the panel also noted that he recused himself from public votes on the issue.

"We found no House ethics rules which apply to caucus," Steuerwald said.

The members are scheduled to meet next Wednesday to tell House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, whether they believe Turner violated any rules.

Turner attended a meeting of the State Budget Committee instead Wednesday, about five miles from where the ethics panel was meeting. His lawyer, Toby McClamroch, said that Turner did not need to be at the hearing because he had submitted answers in writing to the panel.

"I thank Chairman Steuerwald and the House Ethics Committee for conducting a thorough review of the facts and I was pleased to answer the questions presented to me. I am confident the Ethics Committee will conclude that I have acted within the House Rules and the House Code of Ethics, as I have for my entire 24-year legislative career."

The House ethics panel is made of three Republicans and three Democrats. All three Democrats said they were happy with the scope of Turner's review.

Turner appears to have met all the House's financial disclosure requirements. But none of those rules required him to tell the public that he makes upward of $1 million each time Mainstreet Property Group completes another project.

Documents obtained by the AP show that Turner owns a 38-percent stake in Mainstreet Property Group through another company. Mainstreet, which is operated by his son, builds nursing homes throughout the state and then sells the homes to a Canadian company, HealthLease, which was founded by Turner's son.

The last time the House Ethics Committee reviewed the actions of a House lawmaker was in 1996, when Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, and former Rep. Sam Turpin, R-Brownsburg, were put under the microscope. Turpin was later indicted by a grand jury for taking money from gambling interests while running the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

Turner had been in the running to lead the Ways and Means panel in 2012 but Republican lawmakers voiced concerns about his conflicts of interest with Bosma and the chairmanship went to Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, instead.

Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause Indiana, said Wednesday's hearing proves lawmakers should not police themselves. She noted that Turner's financial stakes were much greater than those of Turpin, who failed to disclose $46,000 in payments he received in relation to a riverboat casino project.

"Mountains and molehills," she said, shortly after hearing ended. "We are certainly talking about a much greater economic interest. And let's not forget charges were filed against Rep. Turpin in that case, and it was certainly small potatoes (compared to Turner)."

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  • Whitewash In the Making
    Looks like a whitewashing in the making by the investigative committee. Get ready to hold your noses and/or puke. If conflicts-of-interest in the legislature were a virus, we would all be on our death beds.
  • just curious
    it would seem important to delve into what was said and how. Did he threaten to withhold a particular vote, or kill a bill, or somehow mix other business with this measure? Or did he say to a few friends in the assembly "hey, this bill is bad for Indiana ... read page 52 of the bill." Personally I think there is a huge difference. I don't have an opinion on this but I am following it in the news. thank you.
  • Republican Lies
    "We found no House ethics rules which apply to caucus," Steuerwald said. IC 2-2.1-3-7 clearly provides that an ethics committee may investigate misconduct, REGARDLESS OF WHEN THE MISCONDUCT IS ALLEGED TO HAVE OCCURRED. So, is Steuerwald ignorant of the law, or is he lying?
  • Taxes
    Two thoughts: First, at least some Republicans thought Turner went too far in caucus. Otherwise, no one would ever have learned about his excessive lobbying in caucus. Second, based on the amount of money Turner has made, is he reporting all of it on his federal and state taxes? What government watchdog could look into his taxes?

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