CROWN POINT | Lake County Commissioner Roosevelt Allen Jr. knows he's in a fight.
"My opponent has filed multiple complaints against me with federal, state and local election officials. They are frivolous and have all been denied, but she keeps it up," Allen said.
He is facing Lita M. Iatarola Filippo, a Gary businesswoman, who is conducting her third campaign in four years. She received 20 percent of the vote in a 2010 run for County Council and 18 percent in 2011 in a bid for Gary City Council.
Allen is running for his third term as one of the top three executive officers of county government. He had only token opposition when first elected in 2006 and none four years later.
But this year, Allen is running in a newly configured district where he loses familiar voters in East Chicago and must introduce himself to many new ones in Merrillville, New Chicago, Hobart, Lake Station and part of Crown Point.
And Filippo said she believes she has found Allen's Achilles' heel in what she calls a long-running conflict of interest involving county payments to an Allen family concern, the Guy and Allen Funeral Directors, of Gary.
She said she uncovered 120 payments totaling $26,550 in vendor payments to Allen's funeral home between 2011 and 2013 under the county's veteran burial benefits program, according to public records.
She said Allen shouldn't be in a position to pay public money to his private business. She said he should have been disclosing it annually in a conflict-of-interest form as required by the Indiana State Board of Accounts, but she has found no reports.
Allen said the payments are not a conflict because his funeral home doesn't profit from them and they shouldn't be surprising to anyone.
"Guy and Allen is one of the largest funeral homes in the area. We do 500 to 600 burials a year," he said.
The payments are made to the cemetery for the opening of veterans' grave sites and installing federal headstones, he said. Almost all funeral homes are county listed as vendors for the purposes of recording these payments, but they only serve as a conduit, transferring the money either to the cemetery or the veteran's family, if the family paid for the grave site before the funeral, he said.
Raymond Guiden, the county's veteran service officer and a commissioners' employee, said state law authorizes every county in Indiana to provide a burial benefit, and the county pays claims associated with more than 20 county funeral homes. He said Allen's home has been the third-highest recipient this year to date.
The race between the two opponents offers voters sharp contrasts.
Allen has displayed an unruffled demeanor in the face of attacks on his integrity. Meanwhile, Filippo's impassioned search for public records proving her point prompted the county auditor's staff to have a security guard escort her out of the county government center April 11 for causing a disturbance.
Allen's campaign has spent $39,562 in the first three and a half months of this year and still has a war chest of $30,265; Filippo hasn't reported spending any money in the same period and reports having only $471 in cash on hand.
Filippo said Allen's campaign is accepting hundreds of dollars from county vendors, including Guy and Allen.
Allen said that although he has received $6,600 in outside contributions, he primarily is funding his own re-election campaign. He reported a debt of $191,000 dating back to 2003.
"This is why her allegations about money are so ludicrous. It is costing me money to be a county commissioner. I'm doing it as a public service," Allen said.