Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s trip down the Wabash River in 2013 was memorable. With Asian carp jumping all around, and into the boat, he had a chance to see the closest thing Indiana has to shark-infested waters.
Zoeller and I talked about his tenure in the attorney general’s office at the Radisson Hotel in Merrillville as both Zoeller and the hotel wound down the clock. The hotel closed yesterday, and Zoeller leaves office Jan. 9.
The vacation on the Wabash River, one of his annual family vacations on an Indiana river, resulted in money for the state to figure out how to control the population of those fish that bite back.
Zoeller has been no less zealous in fighting public corruption, which is, I suppose, another form of shark-infested waters.
He was former Attorney General Steve Carter’s top lieutenant when they were fighting public corruption in East Chicago.
Carter, a Lowell native, "knew a lot of the history and costs from that reputation that arose from the history" of corruption in Lake County, Zoeller said.
That’s why Carter was so eager to pursue a civil racketeering lawsuit against then-Mayor Bob Pastrick. Zoeller helped draft the complaint.
“There was some concern that we really get it right,” he said. So a draft of the complaint was sent to G. Robert Blakey, the Notre Dame professor who helped draft the federal law.
“This is exactly what we intended, to be able to root out problems within a municipality or other governmental entity,” Zoeller remembers Blakey telling him.
Blakey made some changes to the complaint and signed his name as co-counsel.
To this day, Zoeller said, it stands as the only time in U.S. history a RICO lawsuit has been filed against a municipality’s administration.
It was a civil suit, but that’s because the attorney general’s office doesn’t have criminal prosecution authority except for tax and environmental cases. Criminal cases are left up to county prosecutors.
So the civil case was filed, and the state prevailed.
This case drew a lot of attention nationally. Zoeller has spoken about it at a number of state attorney general and American Bar Association meetings, he said.
Fighting public corruption remains a priority for Zoeller. He praised the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission and the statewide Public Integrity Coalition, which he helped form.
Lately, he has been busy helping fellow Republican Curtis Hill prepare to take over the attorney general’s office upon Zoeller’s retirement.
One of the loose ends is the fight over emergency dispatch consolidation in Lake County. It’s the county with the most public safety answering points -- the technical term for 911 call centers -- when the consolidation law was passed. In fact, Lake County inspired the consolidation law.
Lake also is the only county that didn’t fully finish the consolidation. Schererville and Cedar Lake fought the consolidation tooth and nail and now have their own dispatch center. Zoeller’s office offered mediation, but even that didn’t resolve the conflict.
“People get in a fight, and a lot of time their personalities take over,” Zoeller said.
For many of the lingering cases, though, time is of the essence.
“It’s a great time to haggle a deal because you don’t know what you’re going to get” when Hill takes office, Zoeller said.
As Zoeller enters a new chapter in his life, he’s biding his time. He’s going to tackle an assortment of projects that matter to him, and a job opportunity likely will arise from one or more of them.
Zoeller has been in public service for decades. Now he’s going to have to get his footing in the private sector and see how else he can serve the public.