EC councilman accused in drug buy attempt keeps low profile
BY TERESA AUCH SCHULTZ email@example.com January 23, 2014 5:26PM
Robert Battle, now a member of the East Chicago Common Council, tried to buy cocaine in 2006, according to an admitted drug dealer who testified Wednesday in federal court. | Provided
Updated: February 25, 2014 6:33AM
East Chicago City Councilman Robert Battle, accused Wednesday by a federal witness under oath of trying to buy 3 kilograms of cocaine before he was an elected official, appears to have kept a relatively low political profile since taking office in 2012.
Lake County Democratic Party Chairman and Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said Thursday that he had never met Battle.
“He’s not a player whatsoever in Lake County politics,” McDermott said. “I don’t think this has anything whatsoever to do with the party.”
Battle has said little in council meetings since he took over the 3rd District seat in 2012, according to meeting minutes, going months sometimes without commenting in the official record. He has attended almost all meetings, however, and sponsored a few ordinances dealing with various land-use issues.
He reported raising no money on campaign finance records when he ran against Jimmy Ventura, the incumbent at the time, in the 2011 Democratic primary election. Battle defeated Ventura along with two other candidates for the seat. He did not face any opposition in the general election.
That was his second attempt at the seat, after running unsuccessfully in 2007.
Battle’s name unexpectedly came up Wednesday during the trial of East Chicago Imperial Gangsters member Richard Reyes, who is accused of racketeering and killing Rene Alonzo in September 2007.
One of Reyes’ co-defendants, Eddie Torres Jr., testified that Battle, a friend of Reyes, came to him in 2006 to buy 3 kilograms of cocaine, or about 6.6 pounds. Torres didn’t have that much cocaine, however, so he arranged for Battle to buy the drugs from dealers in Chicago for $72,000. When Battle got to the arranged meeting location, Torres said, the dealers instead held him up at gunpoint and robbed him.
Numerous calls to Battle’s phone number went unanswered, and his voicemail was full. He also did not respond to emails asking for comment.
Mayor Anthony Copeland did not respond to a message seeking comment, and other council members could not be reached for comment.
Battle has been a familiar face at Reyes’ trial, sitting with Reyes’ family and friends throughout most of it since it started Jan. 15.
Lake County court records show Battle has had previous run-ins with police on drug issues, including two charges of possessing marijuana, one in 2000 and one in 2009. Both charges were eventually dismissed, however, after he completed diversion programs.
Valparaiso University law professor Bruce Berner said that Battle could not have been charged with possession of cocaine or buying cocaine if the sale was never completed. However, Berner said, if what Torres said could be proven in court, Battle conceivably could be charged with an attempt to possess cocaineor conspiracy.
Torres’ testimony carried more allegations against East Chicago officials.
When Assistant U.S. Attorney David Nozick asked if he had ever sold drugs to East Chicago police officers, he said yes, although he did not name anyone or say when.
East Chicago Police Chief Mark Becker on Thursday said he would not comment on that testimony.