Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler charged with theft of government funds

MUNCIE, Ind. – FBI agents arrested Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler at his home Monday morning on a federal corruption charge.

Tyler’s indictment document shows he faces one count of theft of government funds. He’s accused of accepting $5,000 from Tracy Barton, the former superintendent of Sewer Maintenance and Engineering for the Muncie Sanitary district, for using his influence for the purpose of awarding contracts. The business that ended up getting the contract wasn’t named.

If convicted, he could face 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Tyler, 76, had his initial court appearance Monday afternoon. He was released on undisclosed conditions until the next hearing in two weeks. An automatic not guilty plea was entered.

U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler said during a press conference Monday that this indictment covers one charge, but the investigation is ongoing.

The mayor announced earlier this year that he didn’t plan to seek reelection. Minkler said Tyler indicated in court he plans to remain as mayor until the end of his term, despite the charges against him.

“Public officials are entrusted to perform a public service and to legitimately conduct business in the best interest of the community that they represent,” said Minkler. “Tyler not only betrayed the trust of his community, but violated federal law, and all in an effort to serve his own personal interests. My office intends to prosecute Tyler to the full extent of the law.”

The Tyler administration has been under scrutiny for years now as investigators conduct a federal corruption probe.

Muncie’s city administration first drew the attention of federal investigators in 2016, when questions arose about demolition contracts that the city had been awarding.

In 2017, federal agents executed search warrants at City Hall in connection with Craig Nichols, the former building commissioner who owned a pair of contracting companies at the center of the federal investigation. Nichols was accused of getting city contracts without a competitive bidding process; he was initially charged with 30 counts of wire fraud and money laundering. He eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 2 years in federal prison.

According to the sentencing memo in Nichols’ case, Tyler was present at meetings in which the fraud case was discussed.

FBI agents also raided the Muncie Sanitary District engineering offices in connection with the probe in 2017. At least two other MSD employees were ensnared in the investigation, along with three local businessmen. Further raids were conducted in July 2019 at the Muncie Sanitary District office.

Throughout this time, The Star Press reported that the city’s legal fees were mounting as Muncie officials sought advice about how to proceed in the midst of an FBI investigation.

Muncie Mayor Elect Dan Ridenour issued this statement:

“Today, we have learned of another arrest by the FBI in their ongoing investigation of Muncie city government. While this has become a pattern in our community of late, I am pleased that two weeks ago voters overwhelmingly supported turning the page for a new day in Muncie.

“My commitment to all Muncie residents is to fulfill the request of our fellow citizens made at the ballot box; to shine a light on the dark corners of city government, to demand excellence from those who serve our residents, and above all, to operate in an honorable way on your behalf.

“For city of Muncie employees who are burdened by the string of news stories about the current administration please know that I share a commitment with you to operate the city of Muncie in a way that promotes the welfare for all. I look forward to working on transition issues with current city employees as we prepare to start a new chapter on January 1, 2020. “

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