Sentencing scheduled for retired Muncie cop charged in corruption probe

·2 min read

MUNCIE, Ind. — A retired Muncie police officer indicted in the federal probe of local corruption is scheduled to enter a guilty plea and be sentenced next month.

U.S. District Court Judge James Sweeney II last week scheduled a sentencing hearing for Jess Neal for Feb. 2.

Neal last June signed an agreement with federal prosecutors that called for him to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Neal, while still a city police sergeant, is accused of engaging in a conspiracy to award bids for Muncie Sanitary District projects "in exchange for cash bribes and kickbacks, benefits or property."

His co-defendants include former Democratic Party chairman Phil Nichols, ex-MSD officials Nikki Grigsby and Tracy Barton and contractor Tony Franklin.

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In September 2018, FBI agents — who had been investigating allegations of corruption in then-Mayor Dennis Tyler's administration and the sanitary district since 2014 — raided Neal's home in Yorktown.

Neal, a longtime drug investigator with the Muncie Police Department, then began the process of retiring. He was arrested by federal agents in March 2020.

Grigsby, Franklin and Barton — who is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 4 — have also signed plea agreements, as has Rodney Barber, another local contractor indicted as a result of the federal probe.

Nichols is set to stand trial June 6 — in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis — on counts of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and witness tampering.

Judge Sweeney also presided over the federal government's case against ex-Mayor Tyler, sentenced to a year in federal prison in November after he pleaded guilty to theft of government funds.

On Jan. 5 in another federal court, Delaware County businessman Jeffrey Burke was sentenced to six months in prison, to be followed by six months on home detention, after he pleaded guilty to bank fraud.

Burke, who has been a business partner of Jess Neal, in 2015 bought a former flea market in Muncie for $150,000, then a few weeks later sold the property to the Muncie Sanitary District for $395,000.

The fraud charge alleged Burke obtained a bank loan, specifically not to be used for real estate, to buy the flea market property.

While Neal's plea agreement does not include admissions involving the flea market transactions, it does say the retired police officer could be ordered to repay a portion of the property's purchase price.

At his sentencing hearing, Burke was ordered to repay his profit from the flea market deals — $295,000 — to the MSD.

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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: Retired Muncie police officer to be sentenced in corruption case

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