An investigation into former Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett’s use of state resources for his re-election bid in 2012 found “ample evidence” to support charges of federal wire fraud that could have led to up to two decades in prison, the Associated Press reported Dec. 2.
The AP cites a 95-page report compiled by outgoing Indiana Inspector General David Thomas after an investigation into Bennett’s campaign activities that found what it said were over 100 instances of fraud by Bennett or one of his staffers, many of them involving the use of state vehicles to travel to campaign events. Thomas’ investigation, according to AP reporter Tom LoBianco, found that Bennett violated the law numerous times “by using State of Indiana paid employees and property, for his own personal gain, as well as for his own political benefit to be re-elected to the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.” (Bennett and Thomas didn’t respond to requests for comments from the AP.)
The details of this report were not publicly available last July, when Thomas announced that Bennett had agreed to pay a $5,000 fine and admit that he violated certain policies related to the use of state resources for political purposes as a result of the investigation. A concurrent investigation by Thomas also found that Bennett committed no wrongdoing related to changes Bennett made to the state’s A-F accountability system in 2012 that were related to an Indianapolis charter school’s performance.
Thomas’ findings and the consequences Bennett agreed to were approved by the Indiana Ethics Commission. The AP report says that its attempt to reach Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, who is responsible for investigating corruption among statewide officials, wasn’t successful, nor was an attempt to reach the U.S. attorney’s office. After the AP story was published, LoBianco stated that the Bennett agreement approved by the state Ethics Commission in July is limited:
— Tom LoBianco (@tomlobianco) December 2, 2014
The AP does not link to the 95-page report from Thomas’ office, but says that it found violations that fell into five categories dealing with “political campaign fundraising, responding to political opponent’s assertions, calendar [of] political activity meetings, political campaign call appointments and general political campaign activity.” The report highlights 21 days when Bennett allegedly misused his state-issued vehicle for campaign purposes, and 17 alleged violations by Heather Neal, his then-chief of staff.
Thomas’ investigator, Charles Coffin, also found several instances in which Coffin said that Bennett falsified state mileage reports to hide fundraising trips and the use of two of state workers as campaign drivers.
After losing the 2012 election for Indiana K-12 chief to current Superintendent Glenda Ritz, Bennett was picked to be the new Florida education commissioner by the state school board. But after revelations of his changes to Indiana’s A-F system came to light in 2013, Bennett resigned that post, although he has consistently denied any wrongoing with respect to Indiana’s accountability system. He now works for the testing company ACT.
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.