Ousted Ind. official sentenced in voter fraud case
NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Indiana's ousted top elections official was sentenced Thursday to a year of home detention for six felony convictions that a judge refused to reduce to lesser crimes — a ruling that, if upheld on appeal, will likely cost him not only his office but also his law license and livelihood.
Hamilton Superior Court Judge Steven Nation said the intentional disregard that Secretary of State Charlie White showed for the law outweighed portrayals of him as a loving father and husband. The judge refused to reduce the six felony convictions to misdemeanors that would have given the 42-year-old Republican a chance to hold onto his office.
"I believe he violated the trust of the people," Nation said.
White told the judge he would appeal the one year's detention on each of the six felonies, to be served concurrently, and Nation stayed the sentence pending that. The judge also fined White $1,000 and ordered him to serve 30 hours of community service.
But White, his wife, and his attorney said his legal problems have cost him much more than part of his freedom and his political and legal career. Defense attorney Carl Brizzi said White and his wife, Michelle, have stopped making mortgage payments on the condo that was at the heart of his legal troubles and likely will lose ownership of it. White said his assets have dwindled to whatever equity he might have in the home and small stock and bank accounts and a 5-year-old, beat-up Jaguar automobile.
"His life is in tatters," Brizzi said.
White said the charges he was convicted of Feb. 4, including perjury and theft, ignored a complicated personal life in which he was trying to raise his 10-year-old son, plan a new marriage and campaign for statewide office in 2010. He said he stayed at his ex-wife's house when he wasn't on the road campaigning and did not live in the condo until after he remarried.
Prosecutors said White listed his ex-wife's address instead of the condo on his voter registration form because he didn't want to give up his Fishers Town Council salary after moving out of the district he was elected to represent.
"I never intentionally meant to do any of the things I was convicted of," White said in a nearly 30-minute statement to the judge, pausing at times to regain his composure.
Nation didn't buy that explanation, and neither did special prosecutors John Dowd, a Republican, and Dan Sigler, a Democrat, who also rejected defense arguments that White was the victim of a political persecution.
"He's wreaked havoc with a statewide office. He's wreaked havoc with the whole election process," Dowd said in court.
White declined to comment on the sentence as he left the court with his wife, walking swiftly to a waiting elevator and saying only, "I'm going to be with my wife. I'm really happy to be with my wife."
Indiana law prohibits public officials convicted of felonies from holding office. White's conviction bars him from reclaiming the job he held onto for more than a year despite calls from Democrats and Republicans, including GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels, for him to step down.
White could be reinstated if his conviction is reversed on appeal.
The appeal isn't the only legal wrangling left in the case. Another battle continues over who will replace him permanently.
Daniels named White's chief deputy, Jerry Bonnet, interim secretary of state after White's conviction, but he isn't expected to make a permanent appointment until the Indiana Supreme Court rules in a civil lawsuit over White's candidacy.
The state Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments next week in the lawsuit, in which Democrats contend White was never eligible to run for office because he was improperly registered to vote. They want White's candidacy declared invalid so that runner-up Vop Osili, a Democrat who lost to White by about 300,000 votes, can be named to the job, which also oversees business registrations and enforces Indiana's securities laws.