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April 7, 2014

The job? Guarding public trust

U.S. Attorney targets public corruption in 60 of Indiana's counties

INDIANAPOLIS — Joe Hogsett was being vetted for the job of U.S. Attorney four years ago when he asked a federal judge for advice.

That judge observed that there hadn’t been a high-profile public corruption case in the southern district of Indiana since the early 1990s, when federal investigators separately brought down a bribe-taking state court judge and a well-connected union president caught skimming dues.

The judge cited two possibilities for the dearth of corruption cases, Hogsett recounted recently: “One, we have the most honest, ethical, above-the-board public officials in the entire land. Or, two, somebody is asleep at the switch.”

Hogsett bet it was the latter.

U.S. Attorney Hogsett’s district covers 60 Indiana counties, where he’s made public corruption a top prosecution priority. He’s raised his profile by ramping up prosecutions of gang members and corrupt politicians, arguing that both undermine the public’s sense of safety, since he became top federal prosecutor in a district that covers two-thirds of the state.

He created a multi-agency Public Corruption Working Group, a team of federal and state investigators in 2012. Since then his office has charged 30 public officials with various crimes — three times the cases charged in the previous two years.

Last month, Hogsett re-affirmed his commitment to routing out corruption as he traveled the state to announce a trio of indictments of public officials — including a rare perjury charge against a county child-welfare director accused of lying to investigators about a sex-abuse case.

Hogsett revealed that FBI officials in Indiana are beefing up their resources, creating a stand-alone team of agents tasked with investigating public wrongdoing, which mirrors a national priority by the FBI to expand investigations of public corruption.

“Our message has been consistent, but bears repeating,” Hogsett told reporters. “It doesn’t matter what your politics are or who you know. If you violate the public trust, this working group will find you and investigate you, and the U.S. Attorney’s office will then prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”

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