Pence says he's confident in Bennett investigation that recommended wire fraud charges



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INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Mike Pence is standing by outgoing Inspector General David Thomas amid questions about an investigation into whether former schools Superintendent Tony Bennett misused state resources for his 2012 re-election campaign.

Pence said Thursday he has "great confidence" in the investigation, which has been kept under wraps. An Associated Press report based on viewing the lengthy document found the investigator had recommended Bennett face federal wire fraud charges. Another letter obtained by the AP suggested Bennett could have faced state ghost employment charges, too.

"I'm grateful for the thorough manner in which he looked into that," Pence said Thursday. "I would leave that matter to the inspector general to comment, or to the appropriate officials in the U.S. Attorney's office, or the Marion County prosecutor's office"

Bennett has not been charged with any criminal violations. He paid a $5,000 fine for state ethics violations but admitted no wrongdoing as part of a settlement with the inspector general this past July. The inspector general's public report found minimal violations by Bennett and his staff, which it said could have easily been avoided by rewriting department policy to allow for campaigning.

But a separate report detailed extensive use of staff and the state-issued SUV for political work, which came with a recommendation of federal wire fraud charges. Thomas also wrote a letter to Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry in February, saying that state-level "ghost employment" charges could be sought as well.

Curry said Wednesday that he never received the Bennett report despite Thomas's contention that he provided it in February. However, Thomas provided a Feb. 27, 2014, email from an unidentified staffer in Curry's office acknowledging receipt of the investigation.

"It is understandable that files may be lost in the largest prosecutor's office in the state, which processes thousands of filings," Thomas said in a statement Thursday morning. "Accordingly, I have instructed our special agents to prepare a copy of the materials that were previously provided to Prosecutor Curry and re-submit to his office."

Curry spokeswoman Peg McLeish said Thursday their office was "working to confirm the circumstances surrounding the alleged delivery of the IG's February 2014 report."

Curry announced after the inspector general's public report came out in July that he would not seek charges against Bennett, but he said Wednesday that he had based that decision on limited information from the inspector general's office.

"We have contacted federal authorities to review what we understand to be comparable materials provided to them, and we look forward to a thorough review of any additional information not previously investigated by our office," McLeish said in a statement.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office declined comment this week, as did former U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett, who is now running for Indianapolis mayor.

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