INDIANAPOLIS — In a seventh-floor courtroom in Indianapolis, Roberta Townsel posed a sharp question from the witness stand.

“How could you do this to a single mother trying to just do something positive in the community? It was devastating,” she said.

The question went unanswered by defendant James Long, Jr.

The 60-year-old Long was in court to formally accept a plea deal for a felony theft charge for stealing $50,000 from Townsel. Long, a contractor, has been hired in 2021 by Townsel to build a rental property.

Townsel owned an existing rental property on Montcalm Street. She also owned an undeveloped property next door.

Her plan was to have an apartment building constructed in hopes of renting units out to IUPUI students or workers at nearby hospitals. The finished structure would be a source of generational income for her and her children.

“And the bank believed in my dream,” explained Townsel. “I was allowed to get a loan to build this beautiful building.”

Fueled by a $325,000 loan from Hendricks County Bank, Townsel was ready to get started. Based on a recommendation from a friend, she hired Long to do the project and cut him a $50,000 check to get started.

Some work got done. Pallets of cinderblocks arrived. A concrete basketball court in the back of the property was dug up, the pieces piled in the middle of the property. (They are still there to this day.)

Then, work stalled.

“Two and three months pass, no permits,” Townsel said. “I’m calling. I’m concerned.”

Dissatisfied with the progress of the project, the bank eventually pulled the loan to Townsel and demanded repayment of the $50,000 paid to Long.

Townsel was under additional pressure to recover the money because both of her Montcalm Street properties were collateral for the loan. Failure to repay could mean she’d lose them.

“I asked (Long) for my money back several times,” said Townsel.

Long did not return the money and then stopped responding to calls and messages.

Frustrated, Townsel complained to everyone she could think of, including the Marion County Jail. Long was a volunteer auxiliary chaplain at the lock-up.

In January 2022, Townsel filled out a complaint form.

Internal Affairs for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) investigated. A month later, Townsel received this letter:

The letter explained the investigation rendered a decision of “improper conduct” against Long. It also states, “(the) employee will be disciplined as a result of this investigation.”

What the letter did not explain was that when Long was asked about his contracting job for Townsel and the money, Long would not talk about it. That prompted the Sheriff’s Office to fire Long from the volunteer post.

Despite the accusation from Townsel that Long had accepted money for a job he never completed, the matter was closed. No criminal investigation was opened. there was no referral to the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office (MCPO) for a review.

According to MCSO General Counsel Kevin Murray, Internal Affairs concluded Ms. Townsel’s “contract dispute was civil in nature. Thus, no referral to MCPO for criminal prosecution was deemed appropriate by MCSO.”

FOX59 continued to question the MCSO. Long had chosen silence rather than answer questions about his contracting job for Townsel. Money had been paid to Long who had failed to deliver the services purchased. Didn’t that merit further investigation?

Then, something interesting happened.

Last September, Townsel was asked to come to a meeting with an MCSO detective. Shortly afterward, a criminal investigation was opened.

Long was located, and last month he agreed to a plea deal. In exchange for his guilty plea to Theft, a Level 5 felony, he would receive a suspended 2.5-year prison term. Long would be placed on probation and ordered to pay Townsel back the $50,00. Once the money was returned, Long’s conviction would be reduced to a misdemeanor.

At the June 7 sentencing, Long told the court the deal would force him to come out of retirement, but he was ready to do that adding, “My word to Miss Roberta, she will get her money.”

“I’m praying he will,” said Townsel, “and I’m able to continue the project. So, I’m hopeful.”

Townsel’s enthusiasm for getting justice from the legal system was tempered by the fiscal reality she still faces. She remains on the hook with the bank to repay the $50,000, at least until Long produces the money.