Former East Chicago mayor faces sentencing today

May 5, 2011

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The former mayor of East Chicago, George Pabey, is being sentenced Thursday on corruption-related convictions.

The move caps the long, ironic story of a former city police chief who promised to clean up corruption at City Hall, only to be implicated himself.

George Pabey rode a wave of popularity into the East Chicago mayor’s office back in late 2004. At the time, his victory was notable several reasons. For one, he had become the first Latino mayor of the small, predominately Latino city. But he also gained attention for how he landed in office.

Pabey ran on a campaign of ending decades of corruption in East Chicago, following the more than 30-year tenure of former Mayor Robert Pastrick, a one-time political ally. Pastrick narrowly beat Pabey in the Democratic mayoral primary in May 2003. But accusations of vote tampering and absentee voter fraud led Pabey to challenge his loss in court.

The epic legal battle escalated and went all the way to the Indiana Supreme Court, which eventually ordered a new primary be held nearly a year later. Pabey beat out Pastrick in this second primary.

Pabey was hastily sworn into office in late 2004 and forcibly removed Pastrick and his administration from City Hall. Pabey won reelection in 2007. Many credit the victory to the creation of new developments in rundown neighborhoods. At the time, Pabey was riding a wave of popularity.

But federal prosecutors say, the year after the election, Pabey used public funds and city workers to help fix up a home he owned with his daughter in the Miller Beach section of the neighboring city of Gary. In last fall’s trial, prosecutors said Pabey used about $13,000 worth of city resources on the work, which included about $8,000 in city funds for equipment, and the rest in manpower.

That total falls well short of past scandals in the political notorious city, the biggest ever being the illegal  expenditure of more than $20 million in a public works fiasco in 1999. Several East Chicago city councilmen and appointed officials were tried and convicted in federal court. The plan, prosecutors said, was to use public funds that were never authorized to fix up sidewalks and private patios of residents in order to get Robert Pastrick re-elected. To this day, the former City Council President, Frank Kollintzas, is said to be living in Greece to avoid prosecution.

Patrick eluded criminal prosecution. But years later, the Indiana Attorney General  sought repayment in federal court. A federal judge last year ordered the 83-year-old Pastrick, Kollintzas and another former city official to repay the city $108 million. Pastrick’s gone bankrupt and says he doesn’t have the funds to pay the amount.

But the prosecution of Pabey was meant to serve as a continued example that David Capp, U.S. Attorney for Northern Indiana, will continue going after politicos, regardless of the amount involved.

Capp is asking the judge to sentence Pabey to no less than five years in prison and fine him $50,000. A co-defendant in the cast, Jose Camacho, who worked in Pabey’s administration as an engineering supervisor, received 30 months in prison for his part in the scandal.

Sentencing is scheduled for 10 a.m. in U.S. District Court in Hammond.

Pabey’s sentencing comes just two days after a mayoral primary in his city. Anthony Copeland won the Democratic primary for mayor. Copeland, a former fireman in the city, actually lost to Pabey in the 2007 mayoral primary. But when Pabey resigned last fall, it was Copeland who was selected by the city’s Democratic caucus to finish Pabey’s term.

Copeland’s selection provided some ethnic history as Pabey’s had done. Copeland became the city’s first African-American mayor. Copeland isn’t expected to get much of a challenge from the Republican primary winner in November’s general election.

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