From the Diane Ravitch Blog:
Tom LoBianco of the Associated Press writes that a months-long investigation of Indiana’s State Commissioner of Education Tony Bennett “found ample evidence to support federal wire fraud charges….” The AP gained access to a copy of the 95-page report.
The investigation, which was completed by the inspector general’s office in February, found more than 100 instances in which Bennett or his employees violated federal wire fraud law. That contrasts sharply with an eight-page formal report issued in July that said the office found minimal violations, resulting in a $5,000 fine and an admonishment that Bennett could have avoided fines by rewriting rules to allow some campaign work on state time.
Inspector General David Thomas, who is leaving office this month, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday about the discrepancies. But the full report compiled from the six-month investigation, which is closely guarded, clearly shows that Thomas’s investigator believed grounds existed for charges against Bennett.
The report also cites the successful prosecution of former Lake County Surveyor George Van Til as a blueprint for prosecution. Van Til, a Democrat, pleaded guilty last December to six counts of wire fraud and admitted to using county employees for campaign work between 2007 and 2012.
Bennett’s use of state resources during his failed 2012 re-election campaign came under scrutiny after the AP reported in September 2013 that Bennett had kept multiple campaign databases on Department of Education servers and that his calendar listed more than 100 instances of “campaign calls” during regular work hours. The AP also reported that Bennett had ordered his staff to dissect a speech by his Democratic opponent for inaccuracies ? in apparent violations of Indiana election and ethics laws.
Bennett, who has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the matter was closed and that he would have no comment.
Bennett was a former star in national education circles and protege of former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. But Bennett resigned as Florida’s schools chief in August 2013 after the AP published emails showing he had overhauled Indiana’s “A-F” school grading system to benefit a charter school run by a prominent Republican donor….
From Jan. 1, 2012, to Dec. 31, 2012, the investigation found more than 100 violations of wire fraud laws. They included 56 violations by 14 Bennett employees and 21 days in which Bennett misused his state-issued SUV. Former chief of staff Heather Neal had the most violations, 17.
In a section labeled “Scheme to Defraud,” the inspector general laid out its case, saying Bennett “while serving as the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction of the State of Indiana, devised a scheme or artifice to defraud the State of Indiana of money and property by using State of Indiana paid employees and property, for his own personal gain, as well as for his own political benefit to be re-elected to the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.”
The violations fell into five categories: political campaign fundraising, responding to political opponent’s assertions, calendar political activity meetings, political campaign call appointments and general political campaign activity.
Bennett by the way received rave reviews during his brief stint as Florida Commissioner from Jeb Bush and Rick Scott.