Federal agents execute search warrant at Lake Station City Hall

2013-11-15T17:35:00Z 2013-11-18T14:54:05Z Federal agents execute search warrant at Lake Station City HallDeborah Laverty deborah.laverty@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2223 nwitimes.com

LAKE STATION | Federal agents executed a search warrant Friday at Lake Station City Hall.

The federal agents, including three from the Internal Revenue Service and one the Federal Bureau of Investigations, said they could not discuss what they were seeking, why, or how long they would be in the city.

"We'll stay as long as it takes," one of the IRS agents said.

A city official, who asked not to be identified, said he had seen the city's computer information technology person enter the mayor's office Friday morning.

The official said the presence of a computer technology person might be an indication agents are seeking data from computer hard drives.

Kerry Hannigan, a public information officer of the IRS, said agents from her office were in Lake Station on "official business."

An FBI spokesman was not available for comment.

Mayor Keith Soderquist, who continued to work in his office Friday, said city officials were complying with requests by agents to turn over documents and information they were seeking.

This is not the first time federal agents have been in Lake Station seeking information.

Clerk-Treasurer Brenda Samuels confirmed earlier this fall agents had sought documents and information from her office.

Samuels said at that time the city continues to be part of an investigation launched by federal agents from the FBI and IRS in late June. She said she has received 10 subpoenas asking for records or information about the city.

Neither of the agents who has come to her office earlier this year told Samuels the purpose of the investigation, but from their timing and initial information sought, she believes the trigger was $15,880 in city bond collections that turned up missing late last year.

Financial errors, including the missing money, were discovered in a routine annual State Board of Accounts audit of Lake Station, state office supervisor Charles Pride said.

The $15,880 in missing funds was found in a bag inside the car of Miranda Brakley, a former city employee.

Brakley is the stepdaughter of Soderquist.

Once Brakley found the missing money, she turned it in to city officials, her attorney, Scott King, has said.

King said city employees had moved boxes into Brakley's car on her last day of employment and she had assumed they were her personal property.

"Even though she (Brakley) returned the money, when the FBI came in I assumed that is what triggered the investigation. It made sense," Samuels said.

In addition, many of the documents the agents were seeking centered around Brakley's former employment with the city court and the clerk's office, Samuels said.

Samuels said she also received a subpoena to testify in a grand jury hearing June 20 in Hammond but was subsequently notified she did not have to appear.

Samuels said the subpoena is open-ended, so she may still be asked to testify.

She said it's her understanding that other city employees and officials have been required to testify or have been interviewed by federal agents.

Although the initial probe centered on Brakley, the later part of the investigation has been more open-ended, seeking numerous documents, including City Council and Board of Works minutes and even information about the city's Food Pantry, Samuels said.

"The initial subpoenas had to do with Miranda, but then later the mayor told me the investigation was about him," Samuels said.

Soderquist said, at that time, he was aware of the investigation but has declined to speculate on what agents are hoping to find or whether the probe is about him or his stepdaughter.

"We are complying with their request for information," Soderquist said Friday.

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