U.S. attorney visits Terre Haute

Josh Minkler

Fraud, firearms, drugs and terrorism have brought federal investigators to Vigo County a few times in recent years, but U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler came to Terre Haute on Tuesday with no prosecutorial intent.

He talked to Rotary Club members at lunch, and later met with local police agencies to talk about law enforcement efforts.

“We believe in transparency,” Minkler said prior to his presentation on how his office impacts Terre Haute. “We want people to know what we are doing.”

As the chief federal law enforcement officer for the Southern District of Indiana, Minkler recalled some recent headline cases as he talked about the federal justice system in the 60 counties of his jurisdiction.

Talking about active investigations and defendants is against the policy of the Justice Department, Minkler said, so though the public may see FBI agents carrying boxes presumed to be evidence out of a building, little information will be released.

Minkler said he could provide no new or additional information on an investigation that has grabbed the attention of Terre Haute since June 2016, when FBI agents raided Vigo County School Corporation offices.

Since then, two people have been prosecuted for a scheme to defraud VCSC in a kickback scheme.

Franklin Fennell was found guilty at trial in December and was sentenced to serve 24 months in prison. Frank Shahadey pleaded guilty and received a 16-month sentence.

Investigators have declined to say on whether additional criminal charges are likely.

However, the case against Shahadey appears to be closed, pending restitution payments. 

Fennell has filed an appeal of his conviction and sentence with the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. He is currently serving his sentence at the federal correctional facility in Marion, Illinois. 

Other cases 

In June, two Vigo County residents were charged federally in connection with the shooting death of Terre Haute Police Officer Rob Pitts.

Though co-defendants Tiffany Dean and her brother Levi Brenton are not accuse of pulling the trigger of the handgun that killed Pitts, they were connected to the firearm through its illegal purchase, the government says. That gun was later sold to the gunman who shot Pitts in May.

Dean and Brenton were charged in June with making a false statement during the purchase of a firearm. They now face trial in April 2019.

The 2016 arrest of a man at the Red Roof Inn in Terre Haute was recently resolved through a plea agreement.

George Rogers was sentenced to 130 months in prison for distribution of methamphetamine.

Another fraud and corruption case touching Terre Haute, Minkler said, involved leadership in American Senior Communities, which is associated with Springhill Village nursing home.

In that scheme, the company’s chief executive officer recruited vendors to inflate invoices in a $19 million overbilling scheme that ran from 2009 until a federal raid in 2015.

In other nearby cases involving terrorism, Brownsburg resident Akram Musleh was identified for attempting to supply “material support” to a terrorist organization. And in a cyber sextortion case, a California resident was prosecuted after he sent terror threats to Plainfield High School and prompted a massive investigation in that community.

Public service 

Aside from representing the government in court, Minkler said, his office also does public service in communities.

Among that public service is a job fair for felons assists people with criminal history trying to gain employment, and a middle school program teaches youths to resolve disputes without violence.

Rotarian and Terre Haute attorney Craig McKee, who serves as a magistrate judge for the federal court, praised Minkler for his 24 years of service as a federal prosecutor.

One question asked involved marijuana use. Marijuana has been legalized in some states, but it remains illegal under federal law.

Minkler said he has the discretion to federally prosecute possession and distribution of marijuana, no matter the state position. In police investigations involving large amounts of marijuana, he said, prosecution is more likely no matter state, he said.

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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