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EDITORIAL: Curry, Thomas should explain Bennett investigation

December 13, 2014

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry and state Inspector General David Thomas should acknowledge the mysteries swirling around an investigation into former state schools chief Tony Bennett and explain to Hoosiers exactly what happened, and how it won’t happen again. Curry, meanwhile, ought to get on with his job of determining whether Bennett should face charges for using his office to politick for re-election.

From the top, the inspector general briefed Curry in November 2013 on the investigation into whether Bennett, a Republican, used resources of his office during his failed 2012 campaign against Glenda Ritz. In July of this year, the inspector general settled an ethics case against Bennett by fining him $5,000, and Curry opted not to charge Bennett for infractions including storing campaign donor lists and political contacts on office computers.

Then the Associated Press dropped a bombshell early this month by reporting that the inspector general months earlier, in February, had delivered to Curry a significantly broader report citing more than 100 election law violations involving Bennett and 14 employees. Bennett could be charged with ghost employment, the report said.

Curry, a Democrat, said he learned about the full investigation like everyone else, through the AP story. Thomas then released an email from a Prosecutor’s Office employee confirming receipt of about a dozen binders in February. Thomas also had sent a letter to Curry offering to discuss the results, Fort Wayne’s Journal Gazette reported.

So far, there are more questions than answers.

Thomas generously allowed that misplacing documents in the state’s biggest Prosecutor’s Office is understandable. But in any ordinary office, binders this explosive would have been whisked to the top faster than Bennett could say education reform. Did they arrive at Curry’s desk? If not, why not?

Meanwhile, Thomas, who steps down this month after 10 years as the state’s first ethics chief, owes an explanation of why he sent the full, blistering report to the prosecutor in February and then slapped Bennett’s hand in July.

Joe Hogsett, who resigned as U.S. attorney in July to run for mayor, also was sent the documents, Thomas said. The U.S. Attorney’s Office says it can’t comment on a continuing investigation, and Hogsett’s current spokesman isn’t talking, at least not yet. Hogsett will need to open up, particularly now that he wants citizens to entrust him with the city.

For his part, Bennett has said the matter was closed when he paid the fine, and isn’t commenting.

It’s a safe bet that if the binders were collecting dust in the Prosecutor’s Office, they’ve been found by now. But Curry nevertheless has said he requested a batch from the inspector general and Thomas has promised to resend.

If the allegations about Bennett are true, they smack of possible criminal activity. It’s now incumbent on Curry to restore confidence in his office and get on with the business of deciding whether the documents support charging Bennett.•

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