GARY | Many dark corners of local government in Lake County have been home to corrupt public officials over the years, and Calumet Township is no exception.
Will Smith Jr., who worked from 1997 to 2001 as a township assistant deputy earning an annual salary of $26,288, was convicted in 2007 by a federal jury in Hammond for filing a false income tax return as part a tax avoidance scheme unrelated to his township work. He served a 15-month sentence.
Ezell Cooper, who was as a claims fraud investigator for the township between 1989 to 2005, pleaded guilty in 1990 to embezzling money from the United Steelworkers Union Local 1014 while he was its financial secretary. Cooper received probation.
Both Smith and Cooper worked for Dozier Allen Jr., who had served 32 years as trustee. Federal authorities investigated Allen himself on more than one occasion.
The U.S. Attorney's office alleged Allen was suspected of filching more than $63,000 between 1998 and 2000 from a state grant meant to move township residents off welfare. In 2000, Allen bought a new Ford F-250 truck and then sold it eight months later to the township for $24,950 in an apparent conflict of interest. No charges were ever filed over those matters though.
The U.S. Attorney's office did charge Allen and three of his closest former deputies five years after voters removed him from office, indicting Allen and his former deputies on charges of defrauding the township in connection with another state grant of public money.
Allen's charges originated at a time when Indiana was in danger of losing $15 million in federal job training grants unless the state could obtain township assistance records proving the severity of local unemployment and poverty.
While other township trustees gave state officials the needed data, Allen insisted the state pay for his information. The state agreed to do so on condition he prove the money was used to reimburse his employees for the extra work to satisfy the state's information needs.
Allen never provided proof of his staff's extra work, and federal prosecutors said it was later discovered that Winfo Data Systems -- a longtime information technology contractor for the county -- was able to produce the information the state needed with only a few key strokes.
Nevertheless, Allen's administration billed the state, and "instead of directing this money to the office, the defendants pocketed the bounty themselves. The defendants did nothing to earn these spoils," the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote recently after reviewing and affirming Allen's public corruption conviction.
Federal prosecutors said Allen pocketed $28,000, while township employees Wanda Joshua received $51,000, Ann Marie Karras received $38,000 and Albert Young Jr. received $26,000 from the grant.
The appeals court noted Allen's scheme unraveled when Lake County Commissioner Roosevelt Allen -- Dozier Allen's second cousin and a township board member at the time -- publicly questioned whether Dozier Allen had the authority to pay himself more money than his annual salary. The State Board of Accounts then investigated.
Defense lawyers argued the payments were legal and above-board, but a jury found otherwise. Dozier Allen served an 18-month sentence.