Muncie and Terre Haute Corruption Scandals

Muncie Sanitary District Commissioners from left to right Joe Evans, Bill Smith, and Mike Clin

There has been an almost ten year long FBI investigation in Muncie, Indiana involving multiple city departments including the Muncie Sanitary District, Community Development Commission, City Engineering, and the Mayor’s office. This scandal has several connections and similarities to events transpiring in Terre Haute over the same time period. The most notable being the fact that Muncie’s Sanitary District was raided by the FBI the year before Terre Haute’s Waste Water Treatment plant was raided, and Mike Cline, of Hannum, Wagle, and Cline served as one of three Muncie Sanitary District Commissioners during the time of the scandal. There have been several arrests and dozens of articles written by the Muncie Star Press detailing their investigation and this article will provide a brief overview of the investigation’s timeline.

An article shared by the Star Press gives information about an employee in the city’s Community Development office named Gretchen Cheesemen, who was fired in February of 2016, and then in an email to the mayor offered to reveal information about local corruption if the city changed her termination status from “fired” to “retired” so that she could keep her retirement. The city chose to release her email rather than negotiate, and in the email she claimed to have details about fraud involving local demolition contracts, the city’s failed “blight elimination program,” and the misconduct of two unnamed city officials. While Terre Haute doesn’t have a single individual over blight elimination, Phil Kesner does oversee grants for the Department of Redevelopment that are meant to help eliminate blight, and those efforts have failed in a similar fashion.

In April of 2016, representatives of Shroyer Brothers, a contracting company located in Muncie, sued Muncie’s Building Commissioner Craig Nichols, son of Muncie Democratic Party Chairman Phil Nichols, and the owner of a rival contracting company named Advanced Walls and Ceilings. They also sued the director of Muncie’s Community Development Commission Terry Bailey, and Muncie City Councilmen Doug Marshall. While there isn’t a direct correlation to this event in the history of Terre Haute’s corruption, one explanation could be that there are a few very powerful and very connected businessmen in Terre Haute who are rarely challenged for public projects. Lawsuits that have been filed against city and business leaders have often come from outside entities.

The next major event in the unfolding of the Muncie scandal was the FBI raid on city hall, which preceded the FBI’s raid on Muncie’s Sanitary District. In that raid, the FBI focused on the office of Craig Nichols, Muncie’s Building Commissioner. Even though the FBI never raided Terre Haute’s city hall, they did subpoena communications between the City of Terre Haute and several local municipalities and companies, including Terre Haute based engineering firm Hannum, Wagle, and Cline. This goes directly against the statements made by Mayor Duke Bennett and Prosecutor/Sanitary District Lawyer Terry Modesitt, who both claimed that their communications with the FBI indicated that the investigation targeted only one individual. Their statements also ran contrary to the FBI’s long standing policy of not commenting on investigations.

There is much more to this story including the events which lead up to the arrest of Muncie’s Mayor Dennis Tyler and Democratic Party Chair Phil Nichols. I hope to write a follow-up to this article with some of those details and there connections to ongoing events in Terre Haute. I have also recently reported on David Hannum, Ralph Wagle, and Mike Cline’s connections to Garmong Construction and HWC Engineering, and there long list of public projects received without a competitive bidding process. In regards to that article I have attempted to solicit a response from Phil Kesner and Ralph Wagle, but have not received a response from Mr. Kesner, and was unable to reach Mr. Wagle. If you have any information regarding this story or any previous story on Slow-Worm please reach out to me through the website’s Contact page.

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