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Last updated on Sunday, July 1, 2012
(BLOOMINGTON) - Bloomington attorney Barry Brown has been named special prosecutor to investigate three cases involving former Monroe County Benton Township Trustee Heather Cohee, Monroe County Auditor Amy Gerstman and former Monroe County human resources director Rhonda Foster.
Dawn Hewitt, of the Herald Times reports, Brown said he's been appointed special prosecutor in about 30 cases currently pending across Indiana, but he said he gives priority to cases that could involve public impropriety.
Among cases he is reviewing is one in Orange County. There, he was appointed after John Henry Rutherford was arrested for reckless homicide following the shooting death of wife, Jody, on June 16 in Orleans.
The Monroe County orders appointing a special prosecutor, signed by Monroe Circuit Judge Kenneth Todd, charge Brown to determine whether Cohee, Gerstman and Foster have or have not "engaged in conduct which would merit the filing of criminal charges" and to prosecute any charges which Brown may deem appropriate to file based on his investigation.
A State Board of Accounts investigation of county credit card use found that Gerstman and Foster had charged thousands of dollars in personal purchases on county credit cards, then paid off the balance with their own money. But Gerstman also submitted a claim to the county for $2,592.75 for travel arrangements that were never made. The county paid the claim to an auditor's office credit card that contained personal expenditures totaling nearly the same amount. Ten months later, Gerstman reimbursed the county for the payment.
A State Board of Accounts audit of Benton Township ordered Cohee to repay the township $95,324.89 for financial mismanagement, and another $2,370 jointly with her daughter, Brittany Cohee, for salary overpayment while the younger Cohee served as township assistance clerk.
Indiana Attorney General Gregory Zoeller already has filed a civil complaint against Heather Cohee and Brittany Cohee to recover misspent public funds.
Last week, Monroe Circuit Judge E. Michael Hoff ordered Brittany Cohee to pay court costs plus a judgment of $2,370, plus $600 in attorney fees, according to court records.
A July 25 hearing has been set for Heather Cohee regarding a motion for default judgment.
Heather Cohee already faces three criminal charges, and Monroe County Circuit Judge Teresa Harper has appointed Brown to prosecute that case.
An earlier report that former Vanderburgh prosecutor Stan Levco would be the special prosecutor for Cohee's criminal case was in error, although Levco had confirmed being asked to take that case and said he had received a copy of the file.
Cohee faces three felony charges: theft, obtaining a controlled substance by fraud or deceit, and obtaining or attempting to obtain legend drugs by fraud.
Each charge could carry six months to three years of jail time and $10,000 in fines.
The charges allege Cohee stole a prescription pad and obtained hydrocodone from local pharmacies by fraud from Dec. 27, 2010, through Feb. 24, 2012.
An attorney conference in Judge Harper's court is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on July 19.
The case file lists Bloomington attorney Carl Salzmann as Cohee's lawyer.
The current prosecutor, Chris Gaal, asked for a special prosecutor in the cases to avoid an appearance of impropriety.
Brown served as Monroe County prosecutor from 1974 to 1982.
Other than his orders for the four cases, Brown said he had not received any official information on the substance of the cases, and even if he had, he's prohibited from discussing the cases.
"I adhere very strictly to the rules of ethics that restrict what I can say publicly, although I try to be cooperative" with the press, Brown said.
"I will investigate matters that gave rise to this appointment in the first place," Brown said.
Brown said he hasn't yet read the State Board of Account reports, any police narratives or investigative reports that might exist regarding the cases. It's his job to seek out such information, he said.
Heather Cohee's criminal case is already on a process track, so the time frame for that will be determined by the court, Brown said.
He said he would not venture a guess as to how long his work on the other three cases will take. His appointment as special prosecutor in those cases is effective for no longer than one year, according to the order appointing him.
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