Friday, March 19, 2010

Some Information Comes Out About Plowman Affair

The Indianapolis Star reporter, John Touhy, has an article in today's paper about some of the events that led to Lincoln Plowman's retirement from IMPD and resignation from the City-County Council.

[edited on 3-21-10 to redact much of the IndyStar article and to add my own summary of it -- as I learned at the Journalism Boot Camp put on by the Indiana Coalition for Open Government yesterday !]

Touhy's spoke with three different sources who all confirmed a similar story. Quickly, Touhy reports that Plowman was approached by a person he trusted, a former informant, who said there was a Chicago developer who wanted to locate a restaurant/strip club in downtown Indy. He asked if Plowman would look into whether a certain site would allow a strip club. Plowman did not know that the supposed Chicago developer was, in fact, an FBI agent.

Plowman agreed to help and asked his friend, Brad Klopfenstien, to look into what was required for zoning. Klopfenstein is a high profile Libertarian and was then sitting on one of the Boards of Zoning Appeals, which deals with requests for variances. After learning what the zoning requirements were and after meeting with the FBI agent, Plowman also enlisted, through Klopfenstein, the assistance of an unnamed real estate agent, who located 50 sites that met the zoning criteria.

At this point I'll just quote Tuohy's article:
In December, sources say, Plowman met the FBI agent, still posing as the developer, for the last time, in a room at the Conrad Hotel Downtown. The FBI agent asked Plowman to do more research. But sources say Plowman said he would need a consulting fee for what he had done and any further help.

The FBI agent then gave Plowman an envelope with $5,000, sources say, and the agent went into the bathroom. Two other agents came through the front door, sources say, and told Plowman he had been caught.
I must still be missing something. Nothing recited in Touhy's article rises to the level of a crime, it seems to me. Checking out the zoning requirements for a specific use? Legal. Researching 50 potential locations for a specific use? Legal. Seeking compensation "for what he had done and any further help"? If as described, legal.

If Plowman had approached a member of the Metropolitan Development Commission or Board of Zoning Appeals about a pending petition - that would have been illegal. If Plowman asked for money to use his influence as a City-County Councillor to rig the outcome of a zoning or variance hearing - that would have been illegal. If he asked for a campaign contribution in return for his help - that would have been illegal.

Is it illegal for a Councillor to accept an envelope containing $5000 in cash in a downtown hotel room? No. Stupid? Yes.

Questions do still arise. Why did Plowman go through so much trouble for an out of town developer? Was the $5000 for something different than described by the reporter? Why were the officials in IMPD and Public Safety about to fire Plowman when he retired? What did the FBI tell Plowman he had been caught doing, exactly?

Plowman hasn't been charged with any crime as of yet. If he had been fired from IMPD, he would have no income. By retiring he has something. His political career is toast, so I can see why he resigned his Council office. Strip club developer? Being on film accepting an envelope fat with cash ? Priceless.

But, if events unfolded exactly and completely as Touhy lays out, I fail to see that Lincoln Plowman did anything illegal. If there are other shoes waiting to drop, then those will have to be evaluated when they finally drop.


Anonymous said...

Unless Plowman had a contract as an official representative, why would anyone be paying a councilman / police officer anything for basic information that could be obtained by asking a planner? Plowman had to be offering his services as a fixer (or at least his version of one). I would not expect the Star to provide clarity on this or any other matter.

Since I am aware of the conversations that occurred between Brad Klopfenstein and a senior planner, a supervisory planner and clerical staff, I can say with certainty that his questions were pretty straight forward. He asked whether the adult entertainment use was permitted in CBD-2 and he was told that a variance would be needed and would not likely be supported.

So, at that point, why would Plowman be asking for money - to do what exactly. Since he is not capable of much, the only thing the money could be for, at least I would think, would be to use his perceived influence to promote the project.

If I ask a councilperson a question, I would expect him to answer and provide the information in some manner. I surely wouldn't expect him / her to ask for money.

One thing that the article neglected to mention was Plowman's former chairmanship of Division III of the Board of Zoning Appeals.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. But no one I know doubts that he is capable of corruption.

Marycatherine Barton said...

And we citizens should be questioning, what were the reasons for the FBI targeting Plowman, in particular.

Paul K. Ogden said...

I have to agree, Pat. When I read the account, I agree that what happened, while showing bad judgment, doesn't on its face look like a crime.

I suspect there is a lot more to this story than what was revealed. The story chiefly came from Plowman's people. One needs to hear from both sides.

For example, MCB is right. They have to have grounds to target Plowman in the first place or it's a clear case of entrapment. Again, I suspect there is more to tthis story.

Had Enough Indy? said...

anon - I agree that there are outstanding questions. I certainly feel as though there is a piece of key information missing.

Right now, though, with the information researched and published by John Tuohy, I cannot conclude that Plowman did anything illegal.

Had Enough Indy? said...

MaryCathering & Paul - we'll just have to wait, I guess.

Tuohy's article does cast just enough light on the affair to satisfy some curiousity, but not quite enough to feel that this is the last we'll hear.

Anonymous said...

Since I typically criticize Pat and other self described "neighborhood advocates" when they see a conspiracy behind virtually all events and celebrate confirmation of the worst in humanity, I have to give her credit for questioning whether Lincoln has been unfairly accused of criminal behavior here. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone in this community would actually wait and see what the facts show really happened before crucifying someone who is simply "under investigation"? Public figure or not, when the result of the FBI simply announcing to the newspaper that they are investigating a person is that the person quickly loses their job, their reputation, their dignity, and most of their assets just trying to pay legal fees to deal with the requirements of the investigation(innocent or not), then we should all be very very afraid. Why is it wrong for Plowman, or the city, to refuse to tell the public or the papers anything about the investigation when the FBI had told them not to tell anyone what was going on or the investigation could be compromised? What is wrong or even surprising about an out-of-town developer hiring a consultant who had prior BZA experience and city government experience to recommend and hire for them an engineer that was trustworthy and experienced to help them deal with design issues, a good realtor to help find potential sites, and a qualified and experienced attorney to handle zoning and variance issues for the project? What is so damning about being paid in cash, unless the payment is not subsequently reported to the IRS? Plowman has been ruined, and the investigation is not even complete. There has been no finding of probable cause, no indictment, no grand jury, no hearing, no charges being filed, let alone actually waiting until a trial has been had. Is it not possible that the whole sting was only part of a plan to see if a small time politician (who was one of hundreds of politicians whose list of campaign contributors included a big fish who was the real target of the FBI) could be "encouraged" to help them put together a better case against the big fish? Poor judgment, even bad friends. Since when do those mistakes alone justify what the media, city government, and the many citizens in this City have all done to Lincoln in the last 90 days. Shame on those responsible for empowering the FBI (or any investigating arm of government) to act against Lincoln or any one of us in this fashion. What about some public outcry on that issue. It is a whole lot more important than tilting windmills against the zoning and variance process, or looking for scarecrows in a school budget.