Indiana State Police investigating city-leased building

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana State Police detectives are conducting an “ongoing investigation” into the Regional Operations Center, the controversial city-leased building that — while vacant now — was once a public safety hub and emergency operations center during the Super Bowl.

While the scope of the investigation is not clear, Capt. Dave Bursten, spokesman for ISP, confirmed to I-Team 8 that the Indiana State Police Criminal Investigation Division began looking into the matter in early January 2014. The acknowledgement of a police investigation marks the latest twist in the tale of the controversial building.

“It is anticipated the investigation will conclude within the next 45 to 60 days.  Once concluded, the investigation will be submitted to the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office for review and action as that office deems appropriate,” Bursten said in an email to I-Team 8.

Peg McLeish, spokeswoman for Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, said Curry’s office requested the investigation, but declined to provide specifics. The same was true for Samantha DeWester, the city’s attorney, who acknowledged the investigation was ongoing but declined to say what the city had provided or who was questioned, if anyone.

A spokeswoman for the building’s owner, Alex Carroll, said neither Carroll nor his attorney had been contacted by investigators.

News of the ISP investigation first surfaced publicly Monday night when it was mentioned by Councillor Ben Hunter toward the end of the ROC council committee meeting.

“I am independently aware of it and I am again shocked that it has not come out to this committee… Why are we duplicating work that has gone on? And if committee members are aware of it, I would like for committee members to be more transparent,” Hunter said during the meeting.

Councillor Joe Simpson, who chairs the ROC committee, said: “Why would they share something with us when it’s criminal? We are not here for a criminal matter.”

Councillor Hunter declined to discuss the matter on camera, stating over the phone that he didn’t want to speculate on the nature of the investigation. He later added: “I’m confident there’s no criminal wrongdoing.”

The ROC committee has been investigating what led to the city’s lease agreement for the building. It’s also questioned whether the city’s former public safety director Frank Straub followed proper procedure in acquiring the building and the council’s approval for the lease.

City leaders have called the terms of the lease “unfavorable” because the city must pay $18 million in rent as part of a 25-year lease. At the end of that lease, the city won’t own the building but would have the option to buy. Carroll has dismissed the disparaging remarks about the deal, stating he’s invested his own money into the building and that the city leased the space for less than $10 per square foot. Former public safety officials have since come forward questioning the deal before the committee.

The city leased the building in the run up to the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis. During that time, it served as an emergency operations center and was later home to more than 100 IMPD officers and Homeland Security personnel. But in September, the city evacuated the building citing numerous safety violations including missing firewalls and alarms that weren’t audible in certain sections of the building. Carroll has told I-team 8 in the past that the basement firewalls weren’t part of the original build out plan.

After a legal dispute between the city and Carroll was settled, modifications to correct the safety concerns are now being addressed. The bulk of the work will begin next week and the city hopes to be back in the building by May, according to Al Larsen, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety.

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