Tanoos to seek Supreme Court appeal

Danny Tanoos, right, is shown with attorney James Voyles in this fall 2018  file photo. The former Vigo County schools superintendent has filed papers with the court indicating he intends appeal bribery charges against him to the Indiana Supreme Court. The case against him in Marion County Superior Court has been continued to March 2020. 

In a decision posted Friday, the Indiana Court of Appeals said a bribery case against former Vigo County schools superintendent Danny Tanoos can move forward.

The opinion by Judges Robert Altice Jr., Elaine Brown and Elizabeth Tavitas states the Marion Superior Court properly denied Tanoos’ motion to dismiss the criminal charges against him.

The case remains set for a hearing Dec. 18 in Marion County.

Tanoos’ attorneys had argued the charges against the superintendent of more than 20 years are faulty in that they relied on an insufficient, generalized theory of bribery and do not actually establish the crime of bribery as defined in Indiana law.

The appeals court disagreed, issuing a 23-page opinion summarizing the case and concluding that the probable cause affidavit and the charging information filed against Tanoos do identify an alleged quid pro quo — or “this for that” — allegation sufficient for Tanoos’ defense team to anticipate the evidence that might be presented against him and to marshal evidence in his defense.

Tanoos’ lawyers had argued that the charging information was vague and established no quid pro quo between him and contractor Energy Systems Group because no contract for work was in place at the time Tanoos received gifts from ESG employee Doug Tischbein.

Judge Altice, writing for the panel, said “we do not find that Indiana law precludes bribery only if negotiations of a pending contract are occurring.”

Tanoos had also argued that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a broad interpretation of federal bribery statutes in the case known as McDonnell v. U.S.

Altice wrote that the McDonnell decision does not apply as it concerned the definition of “official act” in the context of jury instructions, which is a “wholly distinct” context from the charging information.

The judge wrote, “The State asserts, and we agree, that ‘Tanoos’s arguments are not about legal deficiencies in the (criminal charging) information,’ but rather ‘amount to an assertion that he will be able to convince a jury that the alleged bribes were actually innocent acts of business development and there was no quid pro quo for these gifts.’

“As stated, a motion to dismiss an information is not a proper vehicle for raising questions of fact to be decided at trial or facts constituting a defense. The trial court properly denied Tanoos’s motion to dismiss.”

Tanoos, who faces three felony counts of bribery, maintains his innocence.

The charges filed in September 2018 allege Tanoos solicited and accepted items of value, including concert tickets and dinners from Indianapolis-based ESG, in exchange for recommendations that ESG be contracted to do work for the school system.

In March, Marion Superior Court 4 Judge Lisa Borges denied Tanoos’ motion to dismiss the charges, writing the state “tracks the language of the bribery statute under Indiana law. Additionally, the probable cause affidavit sets forth sufficient facts in support of each count to meet its burden under Indiana Code.”

Following the judge’s decision, the defense attorneys asked for a mid-case appeal, which she granted, and the appellate court agreed to consider that appeal.

Now that the appeals court has issued its opinion, the defense could seek to take the issue before the Indiana Supreme Court.

Stephen R. Creason, chief counsel in the appeals division of the Indiana attorney general’s office said in a written statement, “We are pleased with the Indiana Court of Appeals’ unanimous opinion. The judges correctly rejected Mr. Tanoos’s theory that he should be able to avoid criminal charges just because he tried to cover up his alleged acts. Mr. Tanoos is presumed innocent at this stage of his case, but this decision paves the way for the Marion County prosecutor to bring this important corruption case to trial.”

A message seeking comment was left Friday afternoon for Tanoos’ defense attorney James Voyles of Indianapolis.

Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or at lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa.

Lisa Trigg has been a reporter at the Tribune-Star since 2009. With more than 30 years of newspaper experience, she now covers general news with a focus on crime and courts.

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