AG faces scrutiny as groping case nears end

By The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — As Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill awaits the outcome of a professional misconduct complaint involving his alleged drunken groping of four women, the embattled Republican is facing scrutiny over a string of financial decisions he’s made since taking office.

Shortly after he was sworn in as state government’s top lawyer in 2017, Hill asked for a raise and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to renovate his Statehouse office, including adding new furniture and reclaimed chandeliers.

But Hill doesn't spend much time at that downtown Indianapolis office, The Journal Gazette reported. Instead, he’s used taxpayer dollars on a satellite office in the northern Indiana city of Elkhart, where he lives. That unusual maneuver allows him to count much of his mileage back and forth to Indianapolis as a business expense.

No other Indiana state officeholder has a second office elsewhere, and one round-trip between Elkhart and Indianapolis is about 320 miles (514 kilometers).

The revelation that Hill has an Elkhart office emerged during a recent disciplinary hearing on the allegations from a state lawmaker and three legislative staffers that Hill groped them at an Indianapolis bar during a March 2018 party marking the end of that year’s legislative session.

The Indiana Supreme Court's Disciplinary Commission is seeking a two-year suspension of Hill's law license over the groping allegations. A suspension would put Hill's job in jeopardy because under state law he needs his law license to serve as attorney general.

Hill, who’s running for re-election in 2020, has denied wrongdoing and rebuffed calls from Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and other state officials to resign.

His lawyers said in a Dec. 16 filing that the groping case should be dismissed. A hearing officer still must weigh in and Indiana’s five Supreme Court justices will have the final say in deciding what, if any, sanction is necessary.

Hill’s office in Elkhart is in the same building with the Elkhart County prosecutor's office — his previous employer. That 837-square-foot space costs Indiana taxpayers $446 a month.

Hill declined interview requests from The Journal Gazette, but his office replied via email to some written questions, saying that he is “typically” in his Statehouse office in Indianapolis every week, but it varies. His staff did not answer how many days he works there.

“The Attorney General is a state-wide elected official. The office maintains a total of eight (8) satellite offices, of which Elkhart is one, across the state to carry out the duties of the office,” an email from Hill’s office said.

Legislators changed Indiana law in 2017 — as Hill took office — to specifically allow him to continue to live in Elkhart. A constitutional amendment in 1998 had allowed other state officeholders, such as auditor and treasurer, to reside outside of Indianapolis.

Julia Vaughn, Indiana's Common Cause director and a Statehouse watchdog, said she’s been around state government for a long time and “no one else in the executive branch is spending taxpayer money so he can sort of work from home instead of coming to the Statehouse to do your job.”

“This is the state Capitol and if you don't want to come to Indianapolis you shouldn't have run for office. I think it's outrageous and sets a terrible precedent,” she said.

Hill’s Elkhart office allows him to count mileage between that office and his Indianapolis office as a business use.

The Journal Gazette reviewed Hill's mileage logs and found that he filed quarterly reports in 2018 and 2019, with personal mileage averaging about 900 miles (1,450 kilometers) per month.

Hill's salary was about $95,000 when he was elected. He approached a senator to push for a substantial raise, but a bill that would have boosted the attorney general’s salary to $121,000 died without a vote.

In February, Hill gave substantial pay raises to key staff ranging from 4% to 14%. Hill told The Journal Gazette the higher salaries were needed to retain talented staff.

A three-phase attempt to adjust salaries cost the state about $1.8 million, the newspaper reported. Hill now makes $101,000 and receives a housing allowance for an apartment he has in Indianapolis.

Early in his tenure, Hill also battled with the Indiana Department of Administration on state rules and regulations regarding procurement.

Agency spokeswoman Jill Carnell said elected statewide officeholders can choose to use their own methods, although most use the system already in place; Hill did not.

“If you use our system you have to play by the rules in place. So basically they said 'we want to break up with you,'” she said.

That situation means that if Hill's office wants to buy a car, for instance, it uses its own channels. Hill also doesn't use the travel and purchasing card state system. His office chose to obtain its own credit cards, Carnell said.

Hill's office said the attorney general has its own purchasing authority.

His travel and purchasing expenditures aren't listed on the state transparency portal because it's not the same system. A request from The Journal Gazette for Hill's monthly invoices is outstanding.

Hill also has a state employee on his staff who has been paid thousands by his campaign, the newspaper reported.




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