LAPORTE | Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller on Monday personally filed a lawsuit in LaPorte Circuit Court aimed at recovering nearly $200,000 in public funds allegedly embezzled by a now former chief deputy LaPorte County auditor.
He said lawsuits by his office are common in cases involving theft of tax dollars.
However, the legal action taken against former chief deputy auditor Mary Ray asks for triple of the amount she allegedly took because she was in a position of trust and evidence suggests the money went for gambling and, perhaps, other personal use, according to court documents.
"It's meant to show the public that we're going to take these things seriously. We're not going to look the other way," said Zoeller.
An audit by the State Board of Accounts alleges Ray from Sept. 19, 2011, to Dec. 28, 2012, during more than 150 bank transactions pocketed a percentage of the cash and checks taken in by the county.
The thefts were covered up in the county ledgers, which reflected amounts higher than what was actually deposited, according to the audit.
The lawsuit seeks recovery of the slightly more than $153,000 allegedly taken and $45,813 expended by the state on the audit.
The total amount sought is over $450,000 because of a state law that allows up to three times as much stolen to be sought from the court in addition to attorney fees and other costs.
Ray was chief deputy auditor from 2009 to 2012 under Craig Hinchman, who lost a re-election attempt.
The court in September froze some of Ray's assets, like her house and cars, to guarantee her ability to at least pay back some of the missing money.
Zoeller said whether any of the missing money is left will be looked into, and payback of any unpaid balance against Ray could come in the form of wage garnishment or years of monthly payments based on her ability to pay.
Indiana State Police last fall produced evidence that Ray, on numerous occasions, gambled at Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City and Four Winds Casino outside New Buffalo.
Zoeller said another incentive for the lawsuit was the large amount of tax dollars stolen and Ray was not bonded.
A bond typically results in a quick repayment of the full amount stolen and the lawsuit is a safeguard since Ray was not bonded.
LaPorte County attorney Shaw Friedman said the county has insurance to cover such losses, but a bond would have allowed for recovery without having to file an insurance claim or pay a deductible.
The commissioners have since adopted a policy requiring bonds for elected officials and their chief deputies, Friedman said.
"It's an additional layer of protection," said Friedman.
LaPorte County also is a plaintiff in the lawsuit.