Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Pilger laid out explosive allegations supporting the government's case against former IMPD Major and Indianapolis City-County Councilor Lincoln Plowman on charges Plowman committed attempted extortion and soliciting a bribe while aiding an undercover FBI agent posing as a prospective strip club owner. Pilger said the government will play in full 5 hours of recorded audio and video tapes undercover agent Mark Aysta and the FBI recorded in its sting operation against Plowman. Pilger offered new allegations in his opening statement to twelve jurors and two alternates in U.S. District Court Judge Larry McKinney's courtroom that Plowman's illegal influence peddling predated the government's sting operation against him. Pilger charged that Plowman had been on the payroll of PT's strip club in Lawrence earning $1,000 a month to help strip club owners block a proposed smoking ban ordinance, a hotly debated issue while he served on the City-County Council.
Pilger stated that from his very first meeting with Aysta Plowman boasted of his power and influence as a Major in the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and as Chairman of the Metropolitan Development Committee as a councilor. "I control all the zoning boards," Pilger claims Plowman is captured in audio recordings boasting as the number two person on the council behind the council president. Remarkably, Pilger says Plowman showed up at the first luncheon meeting arranged by a paid FBI informant, a friend of Plowman, at an O'Charley's restaurant on the city's south side in his police car dressed in his police uniform on August 11, 2009. Pilger says that unsolicited, Plowman offered that he and his powerful friends controlled the BZA. Pilger pointed out to jurors that Plowman had once been in charge of vice operations for the police department and had a unique perspective on the city's strip club operators.
Pilger, pointing out Plowman to jurors while he sat at the defense table with his high profile defense attorney, Jim Voyles, said he used his position to sell influence in helping the undercover agent open a strip club in Indianapolis. "He lined his pockets," Pilger said. Agent Aysta had told Plowman he had run into trouble operating a strip club in California previously and now desired to open a five-star strip club establishment in Indianapolis. Pilger claimed Plowman used as hooks to fish for business with the undercover agent: his position as a high-ranking police officer; and as a person who exercised powerful control over zoning matters in Indianapolis. The undercover agent opted to take advantage of the latter lure in helping him land approval for a strip club in Indianapolis. The government's case will contend Plowman sought money and campaign contributions from the get-go without solicitation by the undercover agent. Pilger said at the conclusion of the first meeting, agent Aysta paid a $100 tab for their lunch at O'Charley's, offering the waiter a large tip. Later that same day, Plowman invited Aysta to join him at Nicky Blaines for drinks and cigars and the two later went together to a strip club where Plowman received the VIP treatment on Aysta's dime, including lap dances.
During several subsequent meetings over the coming months, Plowman would tell the undercover agent how important it was in zoning matters to offer "freebies" to police. "You will do very well," Plowman told Aysta. According to Pilger, Plowman seemed to offer contradictory statements to him. Plowman boasted of his FBI training at Quantico, his vast law enforcement experience, including work as an undercover police officer. Plowman even invited Aysta to accompany him on an undercover police operation to further impress him. Yet for his side business doing consulting work, Pilger claimed Plowman kept his work on the side from his employer. It was at a second meeting during dinner at Ruth's Chris that Plowman specifically mentioned the $5,000 consulting fee and a $1,000 campaign contribution in consideration of his services for Aysta. Following their second meeting, Plowman took the two to Dancer's Showclub, a strip club on the city's westside that Plowman has been known to frequent.
For the first time, the government also discloses two business associates Plowman recommended to Aysta to assist in obtaining the necessary zoning permits for operating a strip club. Plowman suggested he use the services of Ralph Balber, a commercial real estate executive with Halakar Real Estate and Cameron Clark, a prominent zoning attorney with Clark Quinn Moses Scott & Grahn and brother of Murray Clark, a former state senator and Chairman of the Indiana Republican Party. Clark has subsequently left the firm and now works as Chief Legal Counsel for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Mayor Greg Ballard recently filmed TV spots for his re-election campaign at the law firm's offices in downtown Indianapolis just one block from the federal courthouse, and the firm hosted a fundraiser for him at their offices just last month. The government has made no allegations that either man did anything in furtherance of greasing the wheels for the zoning approval of the proposed strip club.
The government captures on video a final meeting Plowman had with Aysta and two other undercover FBI agents at the Conrad Hilton on December 22, 2009 where Plowman actually takes $5,000 cash from Aysta and states, "This is my cut" as he stuffed the cash in his pocket. Yet Plowman would insist at that same meeting that he would not do anything criminal on behalf of Aysta and told him the two would no longer be friends if he expected him to do something illegal. Pilger questioned then why Plowman would not have told Plowman he was under arrest when the money was exchanging hands instead of the other way around. The government will emphasize that Plowman failed to disclose his consulting work for strip club operators to his employer, IMPD, or on his ethics disclosure statements as a city councilor. The government noted that as a commanding officer at IMPD, Plowman's part-time consulting work was specifically prohibited.
Not surprisingly, Voyles recounted the events that transpired between agent Aysta and Plowman quite differently than Pilger. Voyles emphasized Plowman's 22-year record as a law enforcement officer who only resigned his positions with IMPD and the city council in order that he could devote full time to his criminal defense. Voyles criticized the government for paying a man he identified as Sean Ryan $3,000 to arrange the introduction of Plowman and agent Aysta in July, 2009 more than a month before Plowman's first meeting with Aysta.
Voyles disputed strongly the government's characterization of Plowman's work for PT's showclub. Voyles acknowledged Plowman began work as a $1,000 a month paid consultant to the strip club back in 2007, but he insisted the arrangement was totally above board and the income was fully reported on Plowman's income tax returns as 1099 income disclosed in Schedule C of his tax returns. Voyles says Plowman's services were contractually arranged by the club's manager and the strip club chain's president. He also claimed there was ambiguity as to Plowman's legal obligation to disclose his consulting work to his employer. Upon signing the contract with PT's, Voyles admits Plowman received a $2,500 signing bonus. He said his work for the club had nothing to do with blocking the smoking ban ordinance. He detailed his duties for the club, including: determining the best location for surveillance cameras in the club; defensive training for staff and entertainers; maintaining the safety of the entertainers and staff; advising on zoning matters; instructing on the use of breathalyzers; recommendations concerning the business' hours of operation; and offering political advice to the club's owner.
By contrast, Voyles portrayed the undercover agent as betraying Plowman's trust by pretending to be a legitimate businessman and friend to him. Voyles said Plowman spent at least 50 to 100 hours of time working on the proposed strip club, suggesting the payment was only fair compensation for his time and commitment to the project, not a bribe as portrayed by the government. More importantly, Voyles emphasized that the government will not produce one member of the Board of Zoning Appeals as a witness who will claim that Plowman in any way sought to influence any zoning decision on behalf of the undercover agent's proposed zoning request. Once Plowman had been busted by the undercover FBI agents at the Conrad Hilton, Voyles claims the government agents attempted to gain Plowman's cooperation in ratting out Mayor Greg Ballard, Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi and other prominent figures the government suspected of engaging in public corruption. Plowman rejected the government's overtures to aid in the prosecution of others to win leniency from prosecutors in his own case Voyles said.
U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett sat in the courtroom and watched as attorneys offered their opening statements today. The government explained that the agent's alias would not be disclosed during the trial as it is an alias he uses on an ongoing business. The first day of testimony is scheduled to begin tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. The government promises to begin playing the recorded audio and video exchanges with Plowman at the outset of the case. The government plans to offer transcripts of the recordings to the media covering the trial. The twelve-member jury includes 8 men and 4 women. Three of the jurors are African-American, including a retired Chrysler plant worker who is now a minister of a small church.