Make your home page

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear Indiana’s request to reinstate the death sentence of a man convicted of fatally shooting a sheriff’s deputy.

The court denied the state’s appeal Monday in the case of Tommy Pruitt, who was convicted in the 2001 slaying of Morgan County Deputy Dan Starnes.

Indiana appealed last year after the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found Pruitt’s trial attorneys did not effectively present evidence that he suffers from schizophrenia.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller says the high court’s decision means “we must accept” the appellate court’s ruling.

Zoeller says Pruitt will now be re-sentenced to a prison term for his murder conviction in Starnes’ killing. Pruitt already is serving 115 years on other convictions.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — If you are in debt or have a low credit score, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller says there are scammers out there ready to take advantage of you.

If you’re looking to buy a home, a car or even applying for a new job, your credit score can make all the difference.

“It shows the amount of accounts you have open, what has been your payment history over time…and how much do you owe?” said Lisa Piercefield, regional manager of Apprisen.

Apprisen is a non-profit that helps consumers tackle their financial problems.

“If your credit is less than perfect, or less than stellar you can either be denied for employment, you could be denied for rental or for a mortgage,” said Piercefield.

Or, you may get the loan with less than ideal terms.

Piercefield said if a consumer takes out a $150,000 30-year fixed rate mortgage, and has a FICO score of 760-850, they may get an interest rate of 3.65% with a monthly payment of $686.

If the consumer’s credit score is 620, they may get 5.2% interest rate that costs $827 every month.

“In the long run, $130-140 over the course of 30 years is a huge amount of money,” said Piercefield.

That’s why credit scores are so important, and why Zoeller said scammers prey on people in debt, with poor credit.

“They’re probably scared into a position of doing things without taking the time to learn about what steps are available,” said Zoeller.

You may see signs, hear an ad, or get a text or call, advertising a quick fix to your credit.

“There isn’t a quick fix to your credit,” said Piercefield.

In an effort to stop scams, Indiana requires a $25,000 bond for credit counseling services.  If the agency doesn’t do what it promised the state goes after the bond.

“We saw so much problems with the debt counseling and mortgage foreclosure relief services, that we asked that they require a bond be issued…If the services aren’t rendered, we have a bond to go after,” said Zoeller.

“So, again — this is the number one thing we asked of the legislature back in 2010. It’s really helped us, prove up cases because if you ask for a bond, only the reputable players are going to be in the business,” said Indiana’s Attorney General.

The bond also helps you decide if a company is legitimate.

“Make sure the company has a bond. That will eliminate the vast majority of the people that come to you either on radio or online or by phone,” said Zoeller.

If the company isn’t bonded, that’s your first red flag.  Zoeller said you should also beware if you’re on the do-not-call list and the agency calls you.

“If you’re on the do not call statute, they’ve already violated…we’ve seen a lot of these people who are out calling on people that are in trouble, and have some kind of financial problems. If they’ve called you, and you’re on the do not call list, they’ve violated our statute and you ought to really beware,” said Zoeller.

Another warning sign is if the company asks for a payment upfront. A crooked agency may guarantee to clear your bad credit history.

“They’re targeting people who are desperate. They’re in financial crisis, so they’re vulnerable,” said Zoeller.

Zoeller said consumers shouldn’t have to pay to build credit back up.

“Look for some reputable help. There’s a lot of free services, for people who are in debt, who need some kind of help,” said Zoeller.

“Certainly, don’t pay someone to repair your credit if you will, because you can do that yourself for free,” said Piercefield.

Experts say the first step is pulling your credit report and seeing what’s on it. Then, dispute any inaccuracies, come up with a plan to tackle your debt, and avoid borrowing any more money.

Even if you pay outstanding debt, your credit score won’t rebound immediately. Experts say it will take time — years in most cases.

“The hard work and effort that goes into it, sometimes seems overwhelming. I always like to say, ‘how do you eat an elephant? It’s one bite at a time.’ So you just, if you can’t look at the overall, big picture, let’s start small and focus on a couple of things you know you can reach,” said Piercefield.

Consumers can get their credit report for free through Each credit bureau — TransUnion, Equifax and Experian — gives consumers a free credit report every year.

Zoeller recommends contacting Indiana Legal Services if you need help repairing your credit. Consumers should check any credit counseling agency with the Attorney General’s office.

The Attorney General’s office provided these reminders about credit service organizations:

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Indiana has decided to join a lawsuit challenging an Obama administration rule that gives federal agencies authority to protect some streams, tributaries and wetlands under the Clean Water Act.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller announced Monday the state would join the multistate action that challenges as unconstitutional the EPA’s redefinition of the state’s streams, creeks, ponds and wetlands as the “waters of the United States.”

Small bodies of water have always been under state jurisdiction. Zoeller says the rule change placing them under federal authority could force agricultural operations that discharge any water or wastewater to obtain expensive federal permits or face stiff civil penalties over the runoff.

Zoeller says the rule is “needlessly burdensome” to farmers, homeowners and businesses.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The HIV epidemic in southern Indiana is getting worse.

State health officials announced Friday that 142 individuals in Scott and Jackson counties in southern Indiana have tested positive for HIV.

That translates to 136 confirmed cases and 6 preliminary cases.

It is fuel for the argument in favor of more needle exchanges in Indiana.

The governor has authorized a second 30 day exchange in Scott County, and state lawmakers are considering a bill that would permit other counties to operate exchanges with state approval.

The governor and GOP leaders in the General Assembly are opposed to the bill, but Republican Attorney General Greg Zoeller is on the other side of the argument.

“We also need the needle exchange because this is going to be a growing problem in our state and it’s predictable,” said Zoeller. “We need to stop it before it does what everybody predicts.”

Zoeller is speaking out not only as Attorney General but also as co-chair of the state Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force.

“So we have all of the people involved all telling me this is something that our task force unanimously recommends,” he said.

Zoeller says there is a need for a serious, immediate solution to curb needle sharing by intravenous drug users.

Meantime, the Louisville Metro Council has voted unanimously in favor of a needle exchange in its area. Leaders in Louisville want to address the problem before it migrates from nearby Scott County.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – As Indianapolis plays host to another major sporting event, state leaders are again sounding the alarm on human trafficking. Authorities say many of the victims are children.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller led the state preparing for the Super Bowl three years ago and says he doesn’t plan to slow down.

In March, billboards went up around Indianapolis with the help from the AG’s office. They give victims and witnesses resources they can use to combat the issue.

Louisville hosted March Madness games in 2014. A professor at the University of Louisville did a 15-month study on human trafficking and was surprised to find that in 2014, human trafficking was at its peak in Louisville during those games.

Theresa Hayden says sports fans flush with disposable income fuel the demand for commercial sex. She also found that ads on “escort-friendly” websites such as spiked by 323 percent. Hayden also found that many of the escorts on those websites are actually victims of human trafficking.

Leading up to Super Bowl 2012, Indiana passed legislation to make it easier to prosecute anyone who forces children into the commercial sex trade. Nearly 3,400 people including hotel workers, cabdrivers and others were also trained by authorities to know what to look out for.

There are also non-profits like “be Free Indianapolis” helping out. Volunteers drop labeled bars of soap with the human trafficking hotline number in hotels across the city with the hope that hotel workers will place the bars of soap in rooms they deem suspicious, giving possible victims a lifeline.Zoeller had originally planned a news conference for Wednesday afternoon to discuss the issue, but it was postponed due to scheduling conflicts with planned speakers, an AG spokesperson said. 

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WISH) — At least 200 people gathered at Karst Farm Park in Bloomington Tuesday evening to speak up against the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

They wanted to make sure their voices are heard in the coming days as changes are in the works for the law. This particular gathering came out of frustration for Chris Wilson, when trying to reach out to Governor Mike Pence.

“I called and couldn’t get through on the phone lines all I could do was post on his Facebook page,” she said.

Pence had a scheduled appearance in Bloomington Tuesday, so Wilson organized a small rally.

“At four o’clock Monday we found out he wasn’t coming so we decided to do it anyways because everyone wanted their voices heard,” Wilson said.

Pence ended up sending Attorney General Greg Zoeller in his place. As a surprise guest, he spoke to the crowd.

“I think your ability to speak out not just about the one bill, but about other issues that are important is part of the same protections and freedoms that I stand for every day,” Zoeller said.

He listened to the messages of those like Elizabeth Sparks.

“I don’t think that the law represents what the majority of Indiana residents want,” Sparks said.

Others say she is not the only one who feels this way.

“We wanted Governor Pence to know that a lot of people feel this way,” Wilson said.

Zoeller thanked the crowed and said he would share what they said.

“I’ll take your message back with me to the state house and thank you for at least giving me the ability to speak,” Zoeller said.

Zoeller also spoke about last year’s gay marriage battle in Indiana, saying that regardless of a person’s position on the issue, it’s something that is now legal in the state. That got a loud round of applause from the crowd in Bloomington.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WISH) — Governor Mike Pence has cancelled his appearance on Tuesday at the Lincoln Day Dinner in Bloomington.

GOP Party Chairman for Monroe County Steve Hogan confirmed to 24-Hour News 8 that Pence will no longer appear at the dinner. Instead Greg Zoeller will attend the dinner.

Hogan said the planned protests at the event were part of the reason for the cancellation.

A protest was organized via Facebook to take place during the dinner that is scheduled to start at 5 p.m.

24-Hour News 8 has reached out to Pence for further comment on the cancellation, and to see if he has other events he plans not to attend following the passing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. A spokesperson said he has been in meetings and will continue his conversations through the evening. The Lt. Governor will attend a scheduled event for Monday evening.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – The Court of Appeals has ruled against the state over damages surrounding the State Fair collapse in 2011, sending it back to trial court.

Mid-America Sound Corporation built the roof and rigging used to hold the lights and sound equipment. It collapsed during a concert in August 2011, killing seven people and injuring dozens of others.

The company argued that the state was required by its contract to cover the company’s legal costs.

In March 2015, a Marion County judge ruled the Indiana State Fair Commission is not liable for work performed by a contractor involved in the accident. But the Court of Appeals ruling issued Monday says the state isn’t protected by the Indiana Tort Claims Act and may be responsible for some legal costs.

It’s a ruling Indiana’s Attorney General Greg Zoeller disagrees with.

“While we respect the Court of Appeals panel, we strenuously disagree with this ruling and we plan to petition the Indiana Supreme Court to review the case and overturn the decision. Our position is Indiana law is clear that the State cannot indemnify a private party, nor was there any agreement here to do so, and we will continue to fight the stage rigging contractor’s attempt to shift its legal responsibility for the State Fair tragedy onto the public,” said Zoeller.

He says the state will appeal the ruling to the Indiana Supreme Court.

To read the full ruling, click here.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – A Veterans Administration health clinic manager’s license to practice social work is now suspended amid allegations she sent an email to staffers at the Roudebush VA Medical Center that appeared to mock veteran suicide and other mental health issues.

Robin Paul was removed from her position earlier this month and placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation. Julie Webb, a spokeswoman for VA Roudebush, denied that the move was a form of discipline. Paul remains a VA employee while the investigation is ongoing.

As I-Team 8 reported last week, Paul agreed to a voluntarily 90-day suspension of her Clinical Social Work license, effective March 23.

“Due to the nature of Ms. Paul’s work at the VA medical center in a transitional clinic for veterans dealing with mental health issues, the state felt that she did represent a clear and immediate danger based on the nature and contents of the email,” Deputy Attorney General Laura Sahm told the Indiana Behavioral Health and Human Services Board Monday while presenting the agreement.

The board voted to officially approve the suspension at its regular hearing Monday. Paul did not attend the hearing in person.

“This license holder’s action displaying insensitivity toward the mental health of our veterans and service members constitutes a breach of professional conduct. This behavior was particularly disturbing coming from a manager of a VA clinic, whose job it is to serve our Hoosier heroes when they may be most vulnerable,” said Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller in a statement following the board’s vote.

Paul, a case manager for the STICC (Seamless Transition Integrated Care Clinic) at the Roudebush VA, sent an email to staffers on Dec. 18 entitled, “Naughty Elf in the STICC clinic.” The email includes four separate photos and captions of a toy elf performing a pap smear on what appears to be a female doll. Subsequent photos and captions show the elf hanging himself and bemoaning the fact the clinic is out of Xanax.

One of the captions reads, “caught in the act of suicidal behavior (trying to hang himself from an electrical cord).”

The email, obtained by I-Team 8, has drawn the ire of many veterans and their families. An online petition calling for Paul to be fired had more than 6,000 signatures by mid-March.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Indiana’s Medicaid program will receive more than $126,000 from a drug manufacturer that filed false claims to Medicaid and other federally funded health care programs.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller announced Monday that the settlement with Indiana, 48 other states and the federal government will resolve five lawsuits against the pharmaceutical company Daiichi Sankyo Inc.

The suits claim the company paid doctors kickbacks to prescribe drugs it manufactured. These prescription claims were then submitted to Medicaid.

Zoeller said the company’s effort to persuade doctors to overlook their medical judgment was a blatant violation of trust and the settlement will force the company to repay the public funds it owes.

The New Jersey-based company will pay state Medicaid programs and the federal government a total of $39 million in civil penalties.