MARK KIESLING: Untouchables touch down in East Chicago

2011-04-29T00:00:00Z MARK KIESLING: Untouchables touch down in East Chicago nwitimes.com
April 29, 2011 12:00 am

One of my favorite television shows from the time I was a kid until now has been "The Untouchables."

Robert Stack played Eliot Ness, the federal Prohibition-era crime-fighter whose mission it was to clean up the Augean stables that was Chicago's booze-fueled underworld.

Sometimes it seemed that Ness was fighting insurmountable odds -- his nemesis was Frank "The Enforcer" Nitti, who always took a licking but came back ticking, like the old Timex watch commercials said.

It might seem like Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller is fighting an uphill battle, like sort of a 21st century Eliot Ness, in his quest to demand fiscal responsibility out of East Chicago.

But do it he has: He successfully pursued a civil racketeering prosecution against former Mayor Bob Pastrick, who was accused of running the city as his own little but lucrative empire.

Although the Pastrick case ended with the ex-mayor not contesting the civil charges, the AG's office has not been able to squeeze blood out of that turnip.

And Pastrick, lest we forget, was never, ever convicted of any criminal charges whatsoever.

Enter the attorney general, who can pursue civil litigation, which has a lower standard for conviction than does a criminal charge.

Now, Zoeller is pursuing the East Chicago Library Board. Now this is not a case of not reporting income from overdue books or videos, but the alleged improper expenditure of city funds on things not related to library affairs.

"This seems to be a constant theme in the city of East Chicago," Zoeller said after a lawsuit he filed last week to get Library Board members to repay more than $180,000.

"There's an open question about whether things have been done incorrectly for so long that maybe they don't know the right way," he said. "But I do know it's my job to pursue collection of these funds and that's what I intend to do."

Watching Zoeller combat organized corruption within East Chicago is like watching a rerun of "The Untouchables" on late night TV, except Zoeller is in color instead of black and white.

He already is going after the deposed generalissimo of the Library Board, Manny Montalvo, for allegedly spending at least $12,000 in unauthorized expenses on things not related in any way to library business.

So now he is looking for reimbursement for insurance benefits from six Library Board members, while two already have capitulated and agreed to repay the benefits they took.

Library Board members are supposed to serve without compensation, although East Chicago always has been an anomaly when it comes to how it operates.

Under Zoeller, and before him Lake County native Steve Carter, the message to East Chicago is it is no longer business as usual.

Eliot Ness is in town.

The opinions are those of the writer. he can be reached at mark.kiesling@nwi.com or (219) 933-4170.

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