Mayor suspends land bank after indictments

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Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard on Wednesday suspended a city program that sells vacant and tax-delinquent properties, one day after federal prosecutors indicted two of its top officials for allegedly accepting bribes and kickbacks.

Ballard said he learned of problems at the Indianapolis Land Bank "when I got the phone call" just days before an FBI raid at the agency that promotes the redevelopment of vacant and tax-delinquent properties by selling them to private developers.

An eight-count indictment unsealed Tuesday afternoon alleges Reginald Walton, 29, assistant administrator of abandoned buildings for the Indianapolis Department of Metropolitan Development; and John Hawkins, 27, a senior project manager for the agency, received bribes and kickbacks from the sale of properties to not-for-profits for as little as $1,000 apiece. Three other men also were indicted.

Asked how the alleged activities could have escaped his administration's oversight, Ballard said, "If you read the indictment, you can see how it was transacted — emails and texts and that sort of thing. We're obviously not privy to all of that."

Ballard said he placed the Land Bank's activities on hold while his administration reassesses procedures.

"We'll have to see what the feds do first," Ballard said.

Adam Thies, director of the Department of Metropolitan Development Director, said the Land Bank currently oversees about 1,200 properties.

Hawkins was Ballard's special assistant until he was transferred to the Department of Metropolitan Development early last year. Walton was close to Olgen Williams, the deputy mayor for neighborhoods, who said Tuesday that he had known Walton "since he was a little kid" growing up in the Haughville neighborhood on the city's near west side. Williams was the longtime director of Christamore House, a community service center in Haughville.

"There was a lot of disappointment because a lot of people saw these guys as young men of promise, full of opportunity," Ballard said. "And for some reason, it didn't happen."

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