"The Official Portrait of Miss InDiana"

"The Official Portrait of Miss InDiana"
aka "Miss Victory"

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Diana Vice recounts her experience at July 4th protest at the Governor's Mansion

The following appears on Diana's "Welcome to My Tea Party" blog:

What did you do on the fourth?

I spent the morning at the governor's mansion exercising my First Amendment right of free speech. Despite the heavy rainfall, a good many taxpayers showed up to make their voices heard. Here's what I had to say.

My name is Diana Vice. I’m a taxpayer from Clinton County, and three years ago I uncovered an illegal bid rigging scheme involving Indiana school roofing projects, millions of your tax dollars, and an Ohio roofing manufacturer called Tremco that is working in league with a public cooperative purchasing agency called the Wilson Education Center.

The schemers didn’t like the fact that I was raining on their parade, so they sued Taxpayers United for Fairness, a tax watchdog group that I was part of, for exposing the illegal activities. I believe their purpose in suing taxpayers was to harass, intimidate, and silence, but as you can see, their plan backfired.

They didn’t like the fact that I notified the State Board of Accounts of the scheme, and they didn’t like it that a subsequent audit report exposed the fact that Indiana’s bidding laws were being broken and taxpayers were being gouged and taken advantage of.

They didn’t like the fact that I quoted reputable news reports and public documents from other states that exposed some of their activities in other parts of the country. They didn’t like the fact that I wrote a letter to the editor about it. They didn’t like the fact that I had asked the State Attorney General to investigate the illegal activity, and they especially didn’t like the fact that I petitioned my government for a redress of grievances.

And they certainly won’t like the fact that I’m here today telling you about an elaborate scheme of circumventing public bidding laws and overcharging taxpayers for school roof jobs throughout our state.

They also won’t like the fact that I’m here to tell you that this multi-million dollar Ohio-based roofing manufacturer has hired three of Indy’s biggest law firms to not only sue taxpayers, but to lobby high ranking government officials to ignore citizen concerns.

But, folks, there’s simply too much at stake for me to be intimidated into silence and submission by corporate bullies from Ohio who are taking advantage of hard working Hoosiers with possibly help from high ranking government officials.

Around the same time that I was catching on to the scheme, one of Tremco’s sales reps resigned because he refused to participate in the illegal activities. He started his own roofing business, but Tremco didn’t like it and lawsuits were filed in Hamilton Circuit Court, where details of this elaborate illegal bidding scheme started to surface after Brennen Baker began blowing the whistle on his former employer. I’m here to provide you with just a few of those details, and I’ll quote directly from legal briefs that are a matter of public record.

“Tremco participated in a scheme to circumvent public bidding laws, thereby defrauding and overcharging public schools in Indiana of hundreds of thousands of dollars in relation to roofing materials and services…By convincing school officials that the general contracting process…would enable schools to save money on Tremco roofing materials and avoid public bidding requirements, Tremco was able to charge for Tremco roofing materials, services and equipment it never provided to schools. Tremco was also able to charge exorbitant prices for other roofing materials, services, and equipment. Tremco’s excessive and fraudulent charges are particularly egregious in light of the school board’s obligation to obtain the best possible performance at the lowest price…In the handful of projects discussed…Tremco charged $662,366.28 in excess of its subcontractors’ charges for completing the projects. Further, Tremco charged at least $165,533.24 for materials, equipment, or services that Tremco falsely represented would be provided at the projects…Tremco – either independently or in concert with its affiliate, WTI – has engaged in numerous acts of inequitable and unlawful conduct…”

At Rossville, where I reside and pay taxes, the superintendent circumvented public bidding laws and initiated a contract through the Wilson Education Center for Tremco to replace part of a roof for approximately $700,000. What taxpayers didn’t know at the time is that Tremco subcontracted the work out for about $452,000. The Educational Service Center also received a percentage for cutting the deal. And because no other company was allowed to bid the job, taxpayers paid a much higher price than they would have had to otherwise pay.

The former sales rep for the job says that Tremco charged taxpayers over $39,000 for hypalon flashing that was not used in the project. He also provided evidence to the court that Tremco charged taxpayers nearly $202,000 for removal of the existing roof for which the subcontractor was only paid $45,000. Folks, that’s a difference of over $157,000.

Taxpayers in this area are affected as well. Baker provided evidence to the court that reflect similar situations for schools at Westfield, Western, Center Grove, and West Grove. At Center Grove, Baker says that Tremco charged over $9,000 for the rental of a crane for which the subcontractor only charged Tremco $1,000. Several of these schools were charged for cold or bad weather storage when no unusual storage requirements resulted in the need for either. I could go on and on with these types of examples, but I think you get the point. Taxpayers are being ripped off and what’s worse is the fact that high ranking government officials have known about it for at least three years. They knew about it because I blew the whistle on this scheme in 2005, and I was sued for doing so.

I have evidence in board minutes from the Wilson Education Center that a plan was hatched for Tremco to cover legal costs to hire two of Indy’s biggest law firms to lobby the state attorney general and legislators to ignore the concerns of taxpayers. The minutes also mention the fact that one of the attorneys hired had political connections to the governor, and these same law firms have given thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to the governor, attorney general, and various legislators. Is it any wonder that they have ignored the pleas of taxpayers to put a stop to this abuse? Folks, this is a serious problem.

If any of you have read Rex Early’s book, It’s a Mighty Thin Pancake, then you know that our own governor realizes the seriousness of the negative influence that big law firms and lobbyists are having on our government. Rex had this to say in the book: “When Governor Mitch Daniels was first deciding whether to run for governor, we had a meeting. During that meeting, Mitch made mention of the how big law firms have an inordinate amount of influence with both the state and city government. I agreed with him.”

So, it’s obvious that the governor knows there’s a huge problem. The next question is what does he intend to do about it? Just how does he intend to stand up against these big law firms that have donated thousands of dollars to his campaign?

Governor Daniels has made campaign promises to reign in school construction costs, but I brought this illegal bidding scheme to his attention three years ago, and it has been allowed to continue to this day with his full knowledge.

Taxpayers asked our attorney general to investigate, but they were turned away. Tremco operatives have been using his inaction and a poorly worded comment from a spokesperson to a newspaper reporter and claimed a full exoneration of any wrong doing. It was until recently that the attorney general finally admitted that Tremco misrepresented or misunderstood those remarks, and that they were not exonerated. The attorney general told me that he didn’t have jurisdiction to go after the perpetrators in the bid rigging scheme. He said it was the job of local prosecutors, but local prosecutors say it’s the job of the attorney general, and in the mean time, taxpayers continue to get the shaft.

Folks, if Steve Carter can go after violaters of the no-call list, and if he can threaten mom and pop gas station owners for price gouging at the pump, surely he can go after an elaborate bid rigging scheme that is costing Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars! Maybe the real answer for the inaction is the fact that Tremco paid a lawyer from a big Indy law firm to “recruit a prominent legislator” to lobby the Attorney General to look favorably upon their bid rigging scheme. I found that little tidbit in the board minutes as well.

And because our elected officials have shirked their responsibilities to protect taxpayers, many of us were left vulnerable. We’re now being sued by a corporate giant, but that’s not all. I have been receiving harassing phone calls since I started a blog a few months ago to report on these injustices. I have verified that one of the calls came directly from Tremco’s corporate headquarters in Ohio. I’ve also reported two stalking incidents to the police. Now the callers are using pre-paid phone cards to initiate the calls that I receive on a daily basis. Others who have exposed this same sort of scheme in their states have received death threats. Folks, this is serious. These schemers are making millions of dollars from the illegally bid projects, and they aren’t going to play nice with someone who seeks to put a stop to it.

Senator Tom Weatherwax tried to put a stop to the illegal bidding scheme by introducing legislation. There appeared to be unanimous, bi-partisan support for Weatherwax’s bill, but once again, Tremco sent in lobbyists from a big Indy law firm to represent the vested interests of their client and squashed the efforts of the fine senator. The lawyer was able to convince some of our lawmakers to ignore the concerns, and I might add the fact that some of these lawmakers were also recipients of campaign donations by big Indy law firms.

Senator Weatherwax didn’t give up, however. He understands the seriousness of this illegal bid rigging scheme, and he hosted a meeting with top lawmakers and other government officials, where they listened to the complaints of Indiana roofing manufacturers and contractors that Hoosier businesses have been shut out of the bidding process. They heard how Indiana’s economy has been affected by this out-of-state roofing giant’s monopoly on roof jobs contracted through the Wilson Education Center. A study committee was commissioned for the purpose of addressing the issue, and we can thank the now retired Senator Tom Weatherwax for that. He is a true American patriot.

I’m here asking for reinforcements. What started out as a private citizen asking a few questions about a school roof project has turned into a monumental scandal leading directly to the statehouse. It’s a David versus Goliath battle, but we all know how that story turned out, don’t we?

Millions of dollars are extorted from us to fund schools, which take the lion’s share of our property tax dollars. School districts set up private holding corporations which are used as legal loopholes to bypass the constitutional debt limit, which is also a sham. Big Indy law firms are protecting the interests of the schemers. Governmental leaders admit it’s a problem, but they choose to ignore it, and it’s way past time to do something about it. Folks, it’s come down to this. If you have a grievance, don’t bother appealing to any of the branches of government. You just need to hire the right law firm.

There’s something else we can all do to help put a stop to these outrageous abuses. We can get behind Andy Horning with our shoe leather and cash and help elect the only candidate for governor who truly respects the constitutions of our state and nation.

Thank you and may God once again bless America.

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