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State charges civil suit against retired Munster administrators

William Pfister, left, and Richard Sopko.

CROWN POINT — Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill announced Thursday night his office plans to appeal a judge's recent ruling against efforts to recover all $851,000 it claims two retired Munster school administrators were overpaid.

Lake Circuit Court Judge Marissa McDermott ruled Tuesday against the Indiana attorney general's office, which is suing retired Munster School Superintendent William Pfister and retired Munster Assistant Superintendent Richard Sopko and several insurance companies for the money. 

The AG's office announced Thursday the office would be appealing the judge's decision, with Hill saying the ruling "completely disregards the SBOA audit report process."

McDermott ruled in favor of Ohio Farmers Insurance Co., of Westfield Center, Ohio, one of several underwriters of the two school officials. State law requires most public officials to have a surety bond to ensure the faithful performance of their public duties.

The attorney general's office declined to comment Tuesday, then issued a news release Thursday announcing plans to appeal.

Ohio Farmers Insurance argued the attorney general's office missed a statute of limitations deadline to press its claims against the defendants.

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According to Hill's news release, the Lake County judge ordered the state could not collect any damages that arose before May 23, 2012, opining that the statute of limitations had expired.

"However, Indiana law is clear that the statute of limitations begins running at the point the SBOA refers an audit to the Office of the Attorney General. In this case, such a referral occurred on June 8, 2016. The Office of the Attorney General filed its complaint on May 23, 2017, a date well within the statute of limitations," Hill said. 

The attorney general filed suit in May 2017 following a State Board of Accounts audit alleging the school corporation overpaid Pfister, who was superintendent from 1991 to 2012, and Sopko, the assistant superintendent and treasurer from 1998 to 2012 and superintendent from 2012 to 2014.

The civil suit alleged both of the administrators had contracts stipulating how much money should be paid into their annuity accounts, but the superintendent changed the percentage "without any knowledge or approval by the school board," and were wrongly paid bonuses.

The School Town of Munster was $8 million in debt around the time Sopko retired.

School officials have blamed the deficits on a lack of state funding and requested voters agree to higher taxes for the school district. Munster voters approved referendums to do so in 2013 and again in 2017, cutting that deficit to $3.5 million.

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