MARC CHASE: Powell case a source of continuing embarrassment for Lake County

2013-07-16T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: Powell case a source of continuing embarrassment for Lake CountyBy Marc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com

A red-hot facial burn of embarrassment on the faces of some Lake County officials should be palpable from Crown Point to Gary right now.

It looks like former county tax collector/consultant Roosevelt Powell has the county over a barrel, and taxpayers may be on the hook to satisfy hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments Powell claims he is owed.

What makes it all so embarrassing is that Powell -- a former longtime contractor of the Lake County political machine -- is a convicted felon. He was found guilty in 2007 of conspiring to defraud county government of nearly $60,000 in an elaborate Gary real estate scheme.

What's happening now between the county and Powell is a symptom of Lake County's penchant for using a glut of crony consultants to perform government functions.

Seven years after a Hammond federal court jury convicted Powell of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit theft of government funds and filing a false income tax return, the felon is claiming in county court that county government owes him more than $1 million in fees from his tax-collecting days.

This is the same Roosevelt Powell who county officials, including former County Councilman Will Smith, once lauded as a great asset for pursuing delinquent taxes owed to the county.

That was the same Councilman Will Smith who also was convicted in the same real estate scandal along with Powell.

It must have stung recently when Lake Superior Court Judge Calvin Hawkins ruled in the civil lawsuit that Powell can claim to have successfully collected a much larger amount than county officials have contended is reasonable.

Regardless of whether you agree with Hawkins' ruling, past -- and some present -- county leaders have no one but themselves to blame.

Now the taxpaying citizens of Lake County appear to be on the hook to pay off a convicted felon for work he did for the county prior to his crime against Gary taxpayers.

Powell is part of a shamefully growing rogue's gallery of unscrupulous people who took advantage of the public and its money. Now it would appear county taxpayers may have to pay him more.

It's true the crime of which Powell was convicted has no direct connection with his work as a county tax collector.

But that doesn't soften the embarrassment the county should feel of quite possibly being in the civil debt of a convicted felon.

Unfortunately, that embarrassment is probably not keenly felt by those who may still be in positions of authority and stand to benefit by such cronyism.

The Powell case can be added to a long list of shameful examples that make Lake County the butt of jokes all points east and south in Indiana.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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