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Editor

Marc Chase is a veteran investigative reporter, columnist and editor of more than two decades. He currently leads The Times news staff as local news editor. He can be reached at 219-933-3327.

Local government jobs shouldn't be second-chance halfway houses for convicted felons — particularly those convicted of crimes against taxpayers.

Conventional wisdom trumpets this notion loudly.

But two of our three Lake County commissioners, and so many past Region government officials, are blocking out the noise.

When will we all say we've had enough? Who will demand change?

The latest in a dubious practice of patronage hiring in Region local government offices occurred in the Lake County Health Department.

Adding insult to injury, health department administrators were poised to promote an existing 10-year veteran of the department to the role of food sanitarian — a health inspector for restaurants and other purveyors of food.

Unacceptable patronage nixed that hire.

Instead, with Lake County Commissioners Mike Repay, D-Hammond, and Kyle Allen, D-Gary, as champions, the health department was told to hire Karen L. Krahn-Fife.

Krahn-Fife and her husband, James Fife, pleaded guilty 13 years ago to felony tax evasion in Hammond federal court.

The Fifes are known throwbacks to the corrupt East Chicago political machine over which disgraced former Mayor Robert Pastrick once held court. James Fife served as special assistant to Pastrick.

He was convicted of submitting false tax returns. His wife, the newly hired health department inspector, assisted in preparing those tax forms and went down with the burning ship.

Taxpayers were the ultimate victims.

The Fife couple were charged in 2004 with concealing income earned by Fife from the city. James Fife created four shell "corporations" that did business with East Chicago government, funneling money to the Fifes, according to court records.

This was all in addition to the on-the-books salary James Fife already was earning as Pastrick's "special assistant."

Krahn-Fife joined the scheme in 1997, incorporating one of the shells and listing herself as the owner, court records state.

In all, the Fifes received $892,509 through the faux corporations between 1998 and 2001.

Not shockingly, none of the "corporations" filed tax returns with the IRS.

For her part, Krahn-Fife admitted responsibility for $242,569 in unpaid federal taxes, among other criminal acts.

It didn't stop Lake County commissioners from paving the road to her employment on the taxpayer-funded payroll in recent weeks.

When contacted about the hire Thursday, Repay said politics played no role in Krahn-Fife's hiring.

No one should view that statement with a straight face.

Rapay admitted he has been friends with the Fife family since childhood but said he didn't know Karen Krahn-Fife personally.

Allen, who faces reelection this week, argued Krahn-Fife paid her debt to society.

It's true she served her criminal sentence, including two yeas in federal prison.

But her felony conviction, which squarely lists taxpayers as the victims, should have been enough to disqualify her, particularly when health department officials confirmed they had a qualified veteran employee waiting to move into the job.

It's true The Times Editorial Board, which is rightly separate from the reporting staff, endorsed Commissioner Allen in the May primary.

That's largely because his Democratic opponent was Lake County Councilman Jamal Washington, a convicted wife batterer who faces pending battery charges involving a female cousin.

We are not endorsing in Allen's race for the Tuesday general election. Speaking only for myself, not for the entire editorial board, Allen's decision to hire Krahn-Fife should give all voters in his north Lake County district pause.

So where was Lake County's third commissioner on this hiring move?

Commissioner Jerry Tippy, R-Schererville, told Times county government reporter Bill Dolan Thursday, "I am definitely not happy about it. I don't know anything about Mrs. Fife. I don't know that family. When the paperwork came through, it appeared everything was in order.

"I found out two weeks later that there were issues with the hiring process. Both sides are guilty of violating what I want our normal hiring process to become."

Tippy added, "This Fife case has heightened my awareness to look even deeper into every single hiring candidate that comes across my desk."

For the sake of taxpayers, we all should hope Tippy makes good on this promise. He may be the only commissioner among the county's three elected executives pledging to rid county government of embarrassing patronage hiring.

With the election looming Tuesday, it's something all Lake County voters should keep in mind.

Attached to this column is a sampling of local government officials' tolerance for criminals and their behavior in recent years. All of the subjects have been central themes to columns I've written since 2013.

When will we all say we've had enough? Who will demand change?

Local News Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 933-3327 or marc.chase@nwi.com. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marc.chase.9 or Twitter @nwi_MarcChase. The opinions are the writer's.

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