Ex-Democratic Party chairman's attorney seeks competency hearing due to dementia diagnosis

·1 min read

MUNCIE, Ind. — An attorney for Phil Nichols has asked a federal court judge to conduct a hearing to determine whether the criminal prosecution of the former Delaware County Democratic Party chairman can continue.

Nichols, 75, in March signed an agreement to plead guilty to a felony charge — conspiracy to commit wire fraud — stemming from a years-long federal investigation of corruption in Muncie city government.

On June 1, however, defense attorney Brent Westerfield informed U.S. District Court Judge James Sweeney II that his client had been diagnosed with dementia.

A hearing at which Nichols would enter the guilty plea and be sentenced has not yet been scheduled.

On Wednesday, Westerfield filed a motion asking the judge to conduct a hearing to determine whether Nichols' "competency to proceed" will allow the case against him to be resolved.

For subscribers: Phil Nichols' Muncie political saga has spanned decades

Nichols has been "diagnosed with a major neurocognitive disorder." Westerfield wrote.

Before a competency hearing is held, the attorney asked that his client be examined by a court-appointed "licensed or certified psychiatrist or psychologist."

At sentencing hearings for co-defendants, prosecutors have described Nichols as a primary instigator of a scheme to solicit bribes from contractors hoping to do work for the Muncie Sanitary District.

According to court documents, that scheme — referred to by some participants as "The Program" — began in March 2015 and continued until October 2018.

A federal investigation of corruption in then-Mayor Dennis Tyler's administration began in 2014 and continued until at least March 2020, when Nichols and now-retired Muncie police officer Jess Neal became the most recent of nine defendants to be arrested.

STAY INFORMED AND SUPPORT LOCAL JOURNALISM: Subscribe today using the link at the top of this page.

Douglas Walker is a news reporter at The Star Press. Contact him at 765-213-5851 or at dwalker@muncie.gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Muncie Star Press: Delaware County: Attorney for Phil Nichols requests competency hearing