GARY | FBI and IRS agents raided the Calumet Township trustee's office Thursday, removing several boxes of evidence and at least one computer as part of a federal investigation of the office.
Bob Ramsey, the supervisory agent for the FBI in Merrillville, said his office, the Internal Revenue Service in Merrillville and Indiana State Police were taking part in a joint operation.
"We executed a federal search warrant at the offices of the Calumet Township trustee at 9:30 a.m.," Ramsey said.
He said the warrant, which was issued by a U.S. District Court magistrate judge in Hammond, is sealed from public view. Ramsey said he cannot comment on what evidence federal agents seized or what allegations they are pursing.
A large FBI van was parked outside the offices of Trustee Mary Elgin at 610 Connecticut St., and an unmarked law enforcement vehicle was blocking the intersection of Sixth Avenue and Connecticut Street to limit public access to the building for much of the morning.
A security guard for the township standing in the front foyer of the building said early Thursday that township operations were closed for the day. Federal agents walked out of the building about 12:20 p.m. with evidence — including five to six cardboard boxes and a Dell desktop computer — and left.
Ragen Hatcher, an attorney for the township, issued a written statement Thursday.
"Calumet Township Trustee Mary Elgin is cooperating fully to assist the agents in their investigation," Hatcher said. "The office will be open during normal hours on Friday, March 28, 2014."
Elgin, who operates one of the largest township government units in the state, has been under official scrutiny for her office's spending on assistance to Gary's low-income residents and the use of take-home cars.
A political opponent of Elgin took photos last month of Elgin's township-owned vehicle and Elgin's son, Steven Hunter, her deputy of information systems and technology, outside Elgin's downtown campaign headquarters. Elgin said they were on their lunch break and not campaigning on public time.
The state has been threatening to take over the finances of her office if she doesn't reduce administrative costs.
Township trustees provide assistance to low-income residents and fire protection for all residents.
Elgin is suing Gov. Mike Pence to stop enforcement of a 2013 law that would significantly reduce her control over more than $5 million in annual spending.
The law requires Elgin to reduce the property tax rate supporting her township assistance program to less than 12 times the average of the state's 1,008 townships. Calumet Township's tax rate has been as much as 22.6 times the state average. Elgin said her tax rate is much lower when the impact of state-mandated property tax cuts is calculated.
A Times investigation found her office spent almost as much on employees' salaries, employee benefits and business vendors as it did on direct assistance for emergency shelter, utilities, health care and food. Elgin puts her administrative costs at 37 percent of her budget.
If her suit fails, Elgin faces the prospect of having to slash at least $1.7 million because the township could lose one of the largest sources of its property tax revenue: the town of Griffith.
If Elgin cannot reduce the office's property tax rate, the town could transfer to another township — providing two-thirds of Griffith's residents ratify the move through a referendum.
Griffith Town Council President Rick Ryfa said of the federal investigation Thursday, "I am waiting as eagerly as anybody else to find out what they have found because I have no clue."
Clorius Lay, one of three members of the township board that advises Elgin on budget matters, said Thursday the raid didn't surprise him.
But the timing did.
Lay said he is surprised federal authorities have moved against Elgin less than six weeks before the May 6 Democratic primary. Elgin is running for re-election.
"This could change the dynamic of the election for her and everyone associated with her," he said.
"I'm not surprised at all they hit Mary Elgin. There are laws that I have felt are being violated since 2006," Lay said, adding he hasn't spoken with federal authorities about the matter nor did he request any investigation by them.
Lay has been a critic of Elgin's administration. He is suing the trustee regarding her release of the township's most recent annual finance report. He said he believes Elgin hasn't received the township board's approval for the use of take-home cars and other policies.
The raid comes more than three years after the U.S. attorney's office convicted former Calumet Township Trustee Dozier Allen and three of his closest former deputies on charges they pocketed state money intended to pay township employees for collecting poverty data from township records.