Indicted Ind. official resists calls to step down

AP News
Posted: Mar 04, 2011 3:44 AM
Indicted Ind. official resists calls to step down

The man whose job is to maintain the integrity of Indiana's elections ignored mounting calls for him to step down or resign after his indictment Thursday on charges he broke the laws he's supposed to enforce.

Republican Secretary of State Charlie White has acknowledged he voted in the wrong district in error but has maintained for months it was an unintentional mistake.

But with Republicans and Democrats both calling for him to step down, White may have a hard time staying in the office charged with ensuring Indiana's elections are conducted with integrity and within the letter of the law.

"Most reasonable people would say while he's not been convicted ... as far as anything having to do with elections, he really should stay out of it until he's cleared," said Brian Vargus, a political science professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

With Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels asking White to step down, "there's obviously intense pressure being applied," Vargus said.

Special prosecutor John Dowd said a Hamilton County grand jury indicted White on Thursday on seven felony counts, including charges of voter fraud, perjury, theft and financial fraud.

Prosecutors contend that White voted in last May's Republican primary after moving out of his ex-wife's home in Fishers and the town council district he represented. White has previously acknowledged the voting error, chalking it up to his busy schedule and new marriage.

He is charged with theft for allegedly continuing to collect a salary from the town council after he was no longer eligible to serve on it. The financial fraud charge pertains to White's allegedly lying under oath about his address on loan documents, Dowd said.

If convicted of the financial fraud charge, White could be sentenced to up to eight years in prison, Dowd said. The other six charges carry maximum penalties of six months to three years in prison. If convicted of any felony count, White would have to resign.

In a statement Thursday, White was adamant that he has no plans to quit.

"I will continue to do the job I was elected to do and carry on serving the needs of Hoosier taxpayers through the Secretary of State's office," he said.

That statement came despite calls from the state's Republican governor and the head of White's own state party to step aside until the case is resolved.

"It would be neither credible nor appropriate for the state's top elections official to continue to perform his duties while contesting criminal charges, some of them under the very laws the Secretary of State implements," Daniels said.

Even Republican U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, who preceded White as secretary of state, said it wasn't realistic for him to stay on.

"Secretary White cannot credibly or adequately do his duties while contesting criminal charges," Rokita said in a statement.

The Indiana Recount Commission on which Rokita served dismissed a Democratic challenge to White's victory in the Nov. 2 election based on similar grounds.

Indiana Democrats called attention to the address discrepancy after White voted in last May's Republican primary. They contend White intentionally skirted the law to keep his seat on the town council. But despite the allegations, White defeated Democrat Vop Osili and Libertarian Mike Wherry by a wide margin.

Dan Parker, the state Democratic Party chairman, said White should resign immediately.

"The judicial system has validated what we have believed all along: Charlie White should never have been on the ballot as a candidate for public office. Much like his voting record, White's entire campaign was a fraud," Parker said.

Daniels met with White in December and urged him to postpone taking office until the issue had been resolved, but White rejected the idea, according to a Statehouse official with knowledge of the matter. The official wasn't authorized to discuss the matter and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

Dowd, a Republican and a former Warren County prosecutor, was assigned to investigate the allegations along with Daniel Sigler, a Democrat and former Adams County prosecutor. That's because White was the Hamilton County Republican Party chairman until the end of 2010 and all of Hamilton County's countywide elected officials are Republican, Hamilton County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Wehmueller has said.

White surrendered to authorities at the Hamilton County Jail in Noblesville. A jail officer said White had been booked and released, but she had no information about bail.