Philpot trial begins Monday
By Teresa Auch Schultz firstname.lastname@example.org August 18, 2012 11:40PM
Lake County Coroner Thomas Philpot (left) and his attorneys, Melissa Matuzak (center) and Leonard Goodman (right), leave the Federal Courthouse in Hammond, Ind. after an initial hearing and arraignment for charges of public corruption Wednesday September 28, 2011. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 20, 2012 10:07AM
Northwest Indiana’s latest trial of an elected official accused of public corruption is set to begin on Monday.
That’s when jury selection starts at the U.S. District Court in Hammond for former Lake County Clerk Thomas Philpot, who now serves as Lake County coroner. Philpot is charged with three counts of mail fraud and two counts of theft in connection with taking a total of $24,702 in payments from a fund when he didn’t have permission to while he was the county clerk.
Federal attorneys say Philpot knew he wasn’t supposed to receive the money, which comes from a state fund used to pay county employees who help collect child support payments, without the approval of the Lake County Council, and that he knew he didn’t have the council’s approval.
After a Post-Tribune report first broke the story in January 2010, Philpot admitted he had taken the money and paid it back. However, he has maintained he did not know about the state law requiring that he get approval from the County Council before taking payments from the fund and that he did not know the council had never approved such payments.
His attorneys on Thursday filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, which was returned by a federal grand jury in September 2011, claiming that prosecutors kept evidence of Philpot’s ignorance from the grand jury.
According to court records, U.S. District Judge James Moody ruled later that day he would wait to rule on the motion until after hearing the government’s case. Leonard Goodman, one of Philpot’s attorneys, said his lawyers are still preparing for the trial to start Monday.
Moody also ruled that the defense cannot present evidence that Philpot sought the legal opinion of the Lake County Council’s attorney, John Dull, after the time period charged in the indictment but that they could present evidence he sought the legal advice of his own attorney, David Saks, in the middle of the time period.
The judge then granted the defense attorney’s request to bar the government from presenting evidence about how much, if any, Philpot actually performed in collecting child support payments.
Goodman said Philpot was eager to get the trial over with.
“He’s been living with this for a long time, so I think he’s looking forward to having his day in court,” Goodman said.
The trial is expected to last about a week, with the prosecution taking three days, according to court notes. Defense attorneys had previously told the court they would take one to two days presenting evidence, but Goodman said it was hard to tell how long they would take until they heard what the government presented. He also said he did not know if Philpot would testify on his own behalf.
“I can’t predict what the defense will look like,” he said.
Goodman did say he expects to see Philpot acquitted.
The U.S. Attorneys’ Office in Hammond does not comment on ongoing cases.