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E.C. councilman, others lose city jobs

AG Zoeller meets with council members claiming Pabey 'retaliation'

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Greg Zoeller and George Pabey
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, left, and East Chicago Mayor George Pabey.

EAST CHICAGO | Councilman Jimmy Ventura, his son and a relative of Councilman Adrian Santos were given pink slips Friday morning from their city jobs.

And some insiders, saying the latest firings appear to be political retaliation, are seeking support from the attorney general.

Friday's actions followed the firings from city jobs for Councilwoman Myrna Maldonado, D-at large, on April 29 and Councilman Adrian Santos, D-1st, on April 14. Maldonado was the associate director of youth services at the city's library, and Santos had been a code enforcement inspector.

"It's sad because I have a family and three children, but I believe that my firing was part of a sacrifice for good government --- the good government my father and others represent," Damien Ventura, son of Councilman Ventura, D-3rd, said of his firing Friday from his 12-year job with the city's street department.

Jimmy Ventura said he was fired from his job as assistant parks director, Santos' relative from a street department job, and Armando Gomez after 22 years with the city providing photography and graphics.

Early Friday afternoon, four council members -- Gilda Orange, D-6th, Ventura, Maldonado and Santos -- met in a back room of a restaurant on Indianapolis Boulevard with state Attorney General Greg Zoeller. Damien Ventura also was present.

In a statement issued hours later, following inquiries by The Times, Zoeller said he listened to the concerns of the council members about actions being taken by Pabey without public knowledge or accountability.

"For several years, the Indiana attorney general’s office has worked to unravel the interlocking tangle of corruption in East Chicago," Zoeller said. "We aggressively pursued a federal racketeering case against former Mayor Robert Pastrick and won; and we continue to demand a full public accounting of how casino dollars were spent by the for-profit Second Century.

"In that spirit, I listened today to their concerns about the actions of Mayor (George) Pabey, who is under federal indictment for corruption. I pledged support for any actions that would bring public accountability and transparency -- the antidote for public corruption."

East Chicago Mayor George Pabey, through his office, questioned the motivations of those who met with Zoeller.

City spokesman Damian Rico said Pabey was "very surprised" Zoeller did not ask to meet with him about any concerns "and yet decided to meet with certain council members who have proven to have their own agendas at interest."

Pabey's statement also takes Zoeller to task for the situation.

"It is extremely unfortunate that the attorney general continues to imply unwarranted corruption allegations," Rico said.

In his statement, Zoeller renewed his support for an audit "that will enable the state to determine with precision if any illegal practices, improper actions or misappropriations of public funds have taken place in the Pabey administration. Such an audit several years ago launched the original racketeering investigation by the attorney general’s office that ultimately led to a judgment of more than $108 million against former Mayor Pastrick and two former allies."

After Zoeller left the restaurant, the councilmen continued to draft their strategy on how they will proceed, perhaps as early as Monday's City Council meeting. One option they were considering would be to join Zoeller in legal action against Pabey.

The rift between some councilmen and Pabey surfaced last year when Santos and Maldonado opposed the mayor's 2010 city budget, which called for pay cuts for police officers and firefighters.

At least four councilmen -- Maldonado, Santos, Orange and at-large member Juda Parks -- had sided against Pabey in February and with Zoeller on the controversial proposed settlement with Second Century, the private company that has received millions of dollars from the city's lakefront casino.

Only days before the February council meeting, Pabey -- who remains under federal indictment on charges he embezzled city funds -- had negotiated a deal that would reroute $1.5 million per year from Ameristar Casino Hotel East Chicago to the city.

About the indictment, Rico noted Pabey "fully cooperated with the investigators along with his staff and employees."

"He pleaded not guilty and will aggressively defend himself against these false allegations," he added in a statement late Friday.

About the casino funds, Rico said it has been a priority for the mayor's office.

"From Day One, the Pabey administration has been resiliently fighting to return casino funds to the city for its economic betterment with very little help from the attorney general’s office," he said. "Economic development in the city will undeniably broaden the tax base and thereby reduce the unsupportable tax burden on homeowners. It will create jobs. It will enhance the quality of life here. In general, it will transform the city and the life of its citizens," Rico's statement adds.

Councilman Ventura and his son were hired during Pastrick's administration.

"Morale is bad in the city," said Damien Ventura. "(Pabey) is weeding out those that disagree with him."

The firings :

April 14: Councilman Adrian Santos fired from his job as a code enforcement inspector

April 29 : Councilwoman Myrna Maldonado fired from her job as associate director of youth services at the E.C. Library

Friday: Councilman Jimmy Ventura fired as assistant parks director

Friday: Damien Ventura fired from a 12-year job with street department

Friday: A relative of Councilman Adrian Santos fired from street department

Friday: Armando Gomez fired after 22 years in photography and graphics

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