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Prosecutor decides no charges for Indiana’s ex-schools chief

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Former Indiana state schools Superintendent Tony Bennett won’t face any criminal charges after an investigation into whether he misused state resources for his unsuccessful 2012 re-election campaign, a county prosecutor announced Friday.

Democratic Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said his staff conducted interviews and reviewed hundreds of documents and thousands of emails surrounding Bennett’s campaign and allegations that he changed Indiana’s A-F school-grading system to benefit a top Republican donor’s charter school.

“No evidence was presented to justify criminal charges, and prosecution on each of these issues is declined,” Curry said in a statement. “This matter has been the subject of significant rumor and innuendo. However, the conduct in question has been appropriately addressed as ethical violations, resulting in sanctions against Mr. Bennett by the State Ethics Commission.”

Curry’s decision comes after The Associated Press reported in December that an internal state inspector general’s investigation found extensive use of Department of Education staff and a state-issued SUV for political work, which came with a recommendation of federal wire fraud charges.

The inspector general also wrote a letter to Curry in February 2014, saying state-level “ghost employment” charges could be sought as well. Curry, who had declined to charge Bennett in July, said in December that he had requested of copy of the February 2014 report and that he hadn’t seen it before then.

Bennett, a Republican, also has not been charged with any federal criminal violations. He paid a $5,000 fine for state ethics violations but admitted no wrongdoing as part of a settlement with the state inspector general last summer.

The inspector general’s public report found minimal violations by Bennett and his staff, which it said could have easily been avoided by rewriting department policy to allow for campaigning.

Telephone and email messages seeking comment on Curry’s decision from a Bennett spokesman weren’t immediately returned Friday.

Bennett’s use of state resources during his 2012 re-election campaign against Democrat Glenda Ritz came under scrutiny after the AP reported in September 2013 that Bennett had kept multiple campaign databases on Department of Education servers and that his calendar listed more than 100 instances of “campaign calls” during regular work hours.

The AP also reported that Bennett had ordered his staff to dissect a speech by Ritz for inaccuracies — in apparent violation of Indiana election and ethics laws.

After Bennett lost to Ritz, he went on to get a job in Florida. He resigned as Florida’s schools chief in August 2013 after the AP published emails showing he had overhauled Indiana’s school grading system to benefit an Indianapolis charter school founded by prominent Republican donor Christel DeHaan.

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