Pence cancels Indiana BMV contract, seeks ethics probe

Gov. Mike Pence is cancelling a contract between the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles and a private license branch operator, and wants a former top agency official now working for that company to be investigated for possible ethics violations.

The governor's actions follow a report saying former BMV Chief of Staff Shawn Walters allowed contractor Express MVA to open a private license branch complete in 2010 with state-issued workstations and access to the agency's computer system. The arrangement let the company charge auto dealerships and other customers a convenience fee for title and registration work that can double the cost of the services traditionally provided by the BMV, according to the Indianapolis Star.

Walters was a top administrator at another state agency before joining Express MVA as its chief operating officer in June 2014. He did not ask the state's ethics commission whether the move would violate a law setting a one-year cooling-off period before employees can take jobs with companies doing business with the state.

"After this matter was brought to my attention, I called for the contract with ExpressMVA to not be renewed when it expires in October," Pence said. "I also asked for an investigation by Indiana's inspector general to ensure that state government adheres to the highest levels of transparency and full disclosure."

Express MVA and four other contractors have handled more than a million title and registration transactions for the BMV during the past 18 months alone — about 6 percent of all BMV transactions. Express MVA's five-year contract with the BMV was scheduled to automatically renew until Pence intervened. Similar BMV contracts with four other companies remain in effect.

In a letter Wednesday, Pence asked Indiana Inspector General Cynthia Carrasco to investigate whether Walters and another former BMV employee violated the ethics law by joining the Indianapolis-based company.

"It is critical that taxpayers have confidence in their government, and in order to earn that confidence, our ethics laws must be enforced," Pence said.

Walters didn't return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment Thursday morning.

In a legal deposition in another matter earlier this year, Walters said he has no oversight of the company's Indiana operations.

The agency has allowed Express MVA and other companies to charge convenience fees for years, but lawmakers didn't explicitly authorize them until this year.

Rep. Dan Forestal, the top Democrat on the Indiana House transportation committee, said Thursday that Pence and Republican legislative leaders have been ignoring concerns about convenience fees and that the governor should take more action.

"He needs to suspend the imposition of these 'convenience fees' until we have the chance to find out just what falls under that broad umbrella," Forestal said.

Pence and state lawmakers have said they plan to introduce proposals next year to clean up the more than 1,000 BMV fees in state law and make convenience fees more transparent.

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