Indiana

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AP: Report Shows Bennett Could Have Been Charged With Wire Fraud

A report obtained by the AP shows evidence supporting criminal charges against Tony Bennett, although none were ever pursued.

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

A report obtained by the AP shows evidence supporting criminal charges against Tony Bennett, although none were ever pursued.

A state report released to the Associated Press reveals evidence against former state superintendent Tony Bennett that could have supported charges of federal wire fraud, which carries up to 20 years in prison.

But Bennett was never charged.

Instead, an ethics committee, which looked at Bennett’s use of state resources during his 2012 re-election campaign, concluded Bennett committed minimal ethics violations and forced him to pay a fine.

The Associated Press’ Tom LoBianco writes the Indiana inspector general’s report the AP obtained indicates the evidence against Bennett was much more serious.

The investigation, which was completed by the inspector general’s office in February, found more than 100 instances in which Bennett or his employees violated federal wire fraud law. That contrasts sharply with an eight-page formal report issued in July that said the office found minimal violations, resulting in a $5,000 fine and an admonishment that Bennett could have avoided fines by rewriting rules to allow some campaign work on state time.

LoBianco writes the inspector general argued the violations of wire fraud laws, including violations by Bennett’s employees and a misuse of a state-issued car, were part of a scheme to defraud the State of Indiana out of money and property for personal gain.

The violations fell into five categories: political campaign fundraising, responding to political opponent’s assertions, calendar political activity meetings, political campaign call appointments and general political campaign activity.

Through reviews of emails and calendar entries and more than 50 interviews with top Republicans and former staffers, investigator Charles Coffin determined Bennett falsified mileage logs to cover fundraising trips and use of two separate state workers as campaign drivers. The report also details 20 days on which Bennett used the SUV to go to local Republican fundraisers coded as “business” in his handwritten vehicle logs, as well as instances where trips to events billed as education-related also had calendar notes about political donors being present.

Bennett also used tax dollars to send a staffer to attend the 2012 Republican Party convention on his behalf.

Bennett has continued to say he did nothing wrong while in office.

When the investigation first started last fall, Bennett stepped down after just eight months as Florida’s schools chief. He took that position after losing an election to Glenda Ritz.

At the time of his resignation, the controversy largely centered around allegations that Bennett changed the state’s A-F school grading system to benefit Christel House Academy, which bears the name of a donor to Bennett’s re-election campaign.

A StateImpact analysis indicated the change to the formula raised the grades at 165 schools across the state, including Christel House Academy.

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