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A special prosecutor found probable cause to charge former Columbus Township Trustee Fred Barkes with two Class C felonies, but the case will be closed since Barkes died about six weeks after resigning his office.
Special Prosecutor Cindy Crispin found that Barkes could have been charged with two counts of felony forgery if the case had gone to trial. A Class C felony carries a penalty of two to eight years in prison and a fine up to $10,000, under Indiana sentencing guidelines.
“Because the target is deceased, this matter will be concluded without the initiation of a criminal prosecution,” Crispin wrote in her report to Bartholomew Circuit Court.
Barkes was accused of forging an email from The Republic and sending it to a budget consultant and a state official, indicating that the newspaper was to blame for publication dates selected to inform the public about the township’s budget. Barkes feared the dates of publication would be outside the state’s window of acceptable times, putting township funding from the state at risk.
Barkes took an actual email from a Republic employee, changed the contents and forwarded it with inaccurate information.
“This forwarded email containing different representations was allegedly uttered by Barkes as if it was an authentic communication from The Republic,” Crispin wrote.
Sheriff’s Department Detective Greg Duke met with Barkes twice, and Barkes admitted that his intention was to get his budget approved by the Department of Local Government Finance without penalties from the state, the report said.
“By creating an email placing the blame on the newspaper, Barkes seemingly hoped to defraud the Department of Local Government Finance into giving his office and his elected position consideration,” Crispin reported.
“Barkes hoped he would therefore avoid the adverse consequences, financially and personally, of his noncompliance with advertising deadlines.”
No such penalties were imposed.
Barkes resigned the trustee’s office effective June 28, when county Republicans appointed Ben Jackson as his replacement.
Crispin received Duke’s investigative file on Aug. 2 and began setting up interviews with witnesses. Barkes died Aug. 13, before the interviews could be scheduled.
“He served this township for a very long time and did a lot of very good things. It is just sad,” Jackson said.
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