PORTAGE — LaPorte County Prosecutor John Lake denied accusations Tuesday of pursuing the arrest of fellow Democrat Michigan City Mayor Ron Meer's stepson for political reasons.
Lake's testimony came as 55-year-old Meer made an initial court appearance on criminal charges stemming from accusations of fabricating a story with Michigan City police in an attempt to clear his stepson from a separate criminal case and frame Lake as a conspirator in his son’s arrest.
Meer pleaded not guilty to five felony counts of intimidation, a felony count of official misconduct as a public servant and two misdemeanor counts of false informing.
His defense attorney, Scott King, then asked the judge to replace Lake with a special prosecutor, arguing that the LaPorte County prosecutor's office has "a special interest" and conflict of interest in defending itself against accusations of conspiracy and political motives for pursuing the charges against the mayor.
The case was transferred to Porter Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Thode after LaPorte County judges declined to hear it.
"I don't have a conflict of interest," Lake testified.
Lake said he was only vaguely familiar with Meer's stepson, Adam Bray, before his arrest on drug and gun possession charges. Lake said he stays out of the dealings of the drug task force unless members need search warrants or until charges need to be filed.
"We don't direct investigations ever," he said.
Tim Richardson, commander of the LaPorte County Drug Task Force, took the witness stand and testified that he never had a conversation with Lake to target Meer.
He said just hours after Bray was arrested, Meer was on the phone with his stepson at the jail claiming that the arrest was politically motivated. This came prior to Lake even learning about the arrest, he said.
Lake opposed the request for his office to be replaced in the case.
Thode took the arguments under consideration and said he would rule on the special prosecutor before the courts close for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Meer, who lost his bid for reelection earlier this month just days after the criminal charges were filed against him, is accused of calling then-Police Chief Mark Swistek and claiming a confidential informant showed up at his home Oct. 14. Meer is accused of concocting a narrative in which Bray, who had been arrested just days earlier on drug and gun possession charges, had been set up by authorities and that the sting was "politically motivated."
Swistek, who has since resigned along with two assistant chiefs in the wake of the allegations against Meer, discovered that Meer's story was fabricated, according to charges.
Meer is further accused of lying to police in an attempt to punish the officers involved in the case against his stepson.
Meer had opposed Lake's 2018 election.
The incumbent Democratic mayor, who had been seen as a favorite to win reelection, lost the general election Nov. 5 to Duane Parry, a Republican.