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La Porte County Commissioners approve ordinance aimed at tax fraud by 2-1 vote

La PORTE — An ordinance aimed at preventing tax fraud has been passed by La Porte County officials, but not unanimously.

The La Porte County Board of Commissioners, at its May 4 meeting, passed 2-1 on second reading an ordinance amending the current county ordinance on prevention of certain contractor fraud.

The ordinance, introduced April 20, comes after the recent arrests of two subcontractors on a major construction project in La Porte.

Commissioners Sheila Matias and Rich Mrozinski voted in favor of the ordinance, while Commissioner Joe Haney cast the dissenting vote.

John Carr, senior representative for the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters, told the commissioners that municipalities across Northwest Indiana have adopted a tax fraud ordinance.

“It’s come with a lot of support. It’s a bipartisan issue. It’s an issue that’s growing and it’s affecting all of our skilled trades people working construction on a daily basis. The problem is real and we see it, and we can’t rely on the state to enforce it because we’re not getting any help,” Carr said.

Attorney Joseph Svetanoff, representing the Council of Carpenters, said the local legislation will provide certain county officials with additional tools to not allow this type of fraud to occur in their county.

“What happens is, some employees are being identified as independent contractors – a 1099 employee instead of being identified as a W-9 employee where they have to pay all the benefits,” he said.

In April, Pro Paint & Finish, and Drywall Hanging Services, both based in Goshen; and their agents, Adeeb Kupty and Fadi Kupty, were each charged with multiple felonies for alleged unlawful business practices for work on The Banks, a $30 million residential and retail project in La Porte.

Both businesses were drywall subcontractors for the general contractor, Indianapolis-based Flaherty & Collins Construction.

According to charging documents filed in La Porte County Circuit Court, both businesses and both men are charged with fraud greater than $50,000, money laundering, obstruction of justice and corrupt business influence; Adeeb Kupty is additionally charged with forgery. All the charges are felonies.

The charges allege they:

Hired employees without checking documentation

Classified employees as independent contractors despite directing their work

Failed to pay prevailing wage for drywall work

Paid groups of employees by single checks without withholding payroll taxes, insurance or workers compensation

Did not keep track of hours worked or overtime earned

Haney voiced issues with verbiage of the ordinance and stated that La Porte’s similar ordinance did not stop what happened at NewPorte Landing.

“Stopping fraud and mistreatment of workers I believe is crucial, but passing feel-good laws that we see have no impact on stopping this corrupt behavior, while at the same time adding additional red tape and bureaucracy to legitimate business owners in La Porte County, I don’t think is the right way to go,” he said.

Svetanoff said officials must have the wherewithal to enforce the ordinance.

“Sometimes that can’t happen within those municipalities for whatever reason, but luckily you have a strong prosecutor here that was able to enforce it under Indiana Code. We’re giving you the local tool now to go ahead and enforce it in La Porte County itself,” Svetanoff said.

La Porte County Attorney Shaw Friedman said the ordinance provides the commissioners with a civil remedy in addition to the criminal remedy.

“I think we need to be clear on that. The prosecutor utilized criminal remedies that exist under Indiana law. This provides the commissioners and the building commissioner with a civil remedy that’s been adopted in a dozen different communities,” he said.

Matias said she was astounded that Haney had questions on the ordinance.

“Fraud is fraud. This isn’t about paying the babysitter cash or paying the neighbor who’s a plumber and who comes over to fix your clogged pipe on a Saturday afternoon. This is calculated and this is big money.

“We cannot turn a blind eye to crooked corporate greed and unscrupulous companies who refuse to follow the law while the rest of us – law-abiding workers including union tradesmen and women – play by the rules ... and pay their just taxes to support community services while earning a good wage for their families,” she said.

Matias, who was raised in a union family, and as a teacher belonged to a union, said she is proud to support union workers.

She shared how her father, an immigrant from Ireland, almost died working his first union job on a road crew laying asphalt in 125 degree heat in Yuma, Arizona.

“How did my dad survive as a newcomer who knew no one and had no connections? Because the unions fought for and protected my dad so he, in turn, could work hard and support his family,” Matias said.

Mrozinski, also a union member, voiced support of the ordinance.

“This issue is pretty simple. You either oppose tax fraud or you’re OK with it,” he said.

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Michigan City youngsters learn life lessons from Rotarians on Apple Dumpling Days

MICHIGAN CITY — Third-graders in Michigan City learned an important lesson about truth, fairness, goodwill and friendship over the past two weeks.

Members of the Rotary Club of Michigan City, and several other volunteers from the community, traveled to each third-grade classroom in town, where they read “Andy & Elmer’s Apple Dumpling Adventure” to the kids, and engaged them in activities to drive the point home.

At the start of each of the weekly meetings, Rotarians recite their Four-Way Test of the things they think, say or do:

Is it the truth?

Is it fair to all concerned?

Will it build goodwill and better friendships?

Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Relatively abstract concepts for the average 8-year-old to ponder; but the illustrated, fictional story – in which Andy and Elmer work together to build a successful apple dumpling business that benefits everyone – helps young students connect the dots and apply the Rotary tenets to their own lives.

Addisen Parker, a third-grader at Knapp Elementary School, likened the way the characters in the story work together to how she and her friends push each other on the swings at recess to ensure everyone has fun.

“I enjoyed how they read to us,” she said about Apple Dumpling Day at her school. “And how the story started with just one apple and ended with an apple orchard, from small to big. I also like how they went step-by-step to make the apple dumplings.”

Jessica O’Brien, a Rotarian who helps organize the Apple Dumpling initiative each year, said, “As Rotarians, the Four-Way Test is how we live our lives professionally, personally, at home and at work.

“It’s about being good people. And literacy is one of Rotary’s nine pillars, so this is a fun way for us to address that as a club.”

“Andy & Elmer’s Apple Dumpling Adventure” was written by a Rotarian in Ohio and brought to the Michigan City chapter more than 10 years ago by local Rotarian Mike Hackett. The club donates a copy to each class they visit.

After a volunteer reads the book to the class, he or she then helps the students complete some of the activities in the workbooks Rotary sends home with each kid. They also donate bookmarks on which the Four-Way Test is published, and a special apple dumpling recipe for the kids to take home and share with their families.

Rotarian Jenilee Haynes Peterson read to third-graders at St. Stanislaus School, and Coolspring and Knapp elementaries this year.

“I think the kids really enjoyed it,” she said. “They seemed to be very interested. It was a lot of fun to help them solve puzzles in their workbooks, and to call on each one and get them engaged.”

But the students weren’t the only ones to benefit from the initiative.

“I gained a lot from this experience,” Haynes Peterson said. “I think the kids are just so resourceful and inspiring. It makes me excited for the future.”

St. Stan’s Principal Chris Evans said he appreciates the Rotary Club’s visit each year, and not only for the lesson they teach on their Four-Way Test.

“Anything that we can do to partner with our community, local government, will always benefit the kids,” he said.

“We want them to see what’s going on outside of this building so they have a vision of what they can involve themselves in when they get older,” Evans said.

“We can only cover so much in school, and usually it’s on the state and national levels. But with organizations like Rotary coming in, we get a good flavor of what’s actually happening in the community that surrounds them.”

La Porte celebrates arrival of Patrick Industries' new Gravure Ink facility and new jobs

La PORTE — A supplier of decorative and textured printed wall vinyls to the RV, manufactured housing and marine industry has made its new home in La Porte.

The arrival of Patrick Industries’ new Gravure Ink facility, at 301 Enterprise Drive in the Thomas Rose Industrial Park, was celebrated Tuesday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“It’s two years ago, almost to the day, that we presented this idea to our board of directors about our expansion with Gravure. We knew then we had a big task ahead of us. We still have a little bit to do here. We have to fill up that machine,” said Jeff Rodino, president of Patrick Industries.

Last summer, Patrick Industries announced plans to open a new facility in La Porte, which would create up to 31 jobs by 2025.

Rodino said the state-of-the-art facility will serve as a complement to the Gravure Division in Bensenville, Illinois.

“We think it’s a bright future for us here. It’s a great complement to our incredible team that we have in our Bensenville facility,” Rodino said.

Patrick hopes to continue the partnership with the city as it grows the business in La Porte, he said.

“From the team at Patrick, thank you to the city of La Porte. You’ve been welcoming; you helped us out; you made it a good place for us to come to and be a part of,” Rodino said.

Patrick Industries CEO Andy Nemeth expressed excitement about the new opportunity in La Porte, as well as his appreciation for the support of the community.

“We’re very excited about the opportunity to continue to expand and continue to grow. I think this is a great reflection of the automation, the innovation we’re thinking about as we continue to push forward. We’re in a great spot today to continue to do that,” Nemeth said.

Mayor Tom Dermody said the project will provide high-quality employment opportunities.

“I just want to say thank you. We are so excited and blessed to have you as a part of our community. These are the types of partnerships we want and will continue to see in the city of La Porte.”

Founded in 1959, Patrick Industries is a manufacturer and distributor of component and building products for the RV, marine and manufactured housing industries.

It also supplies many of its products to certain industrial markets that include customers in residential housing, high-rise, hospitality, kitchen cabinet, office and household furniture, fixtures and commercial furnishings.

The technology at La Porte’s Gravure Ink facility will allow the company to continue to produce high-quality printed vinyl, but also offer the capability to print papers.

“A lot of times when you see the cabinetry, things like that, you’ll see the finish is made by this company. It effectively prints material from the back to the front and most of that is used in the RV industry,” explained La Porte Economic Advancement Partnership Director Bert Cook.

The printed vinyl produced in La Porte goes through several different print stations.

“The first layer that goes on is a base coat, which is a full brown,” said Production Manager Todd Swartz.

The next cylinders will put on portions of the print and continue to layer until the process is complete.

“Think of wallpaper, if you will. We send this out, it gets laminated to a 4-foot-by-8-foot sheet of lauan or composite board and then goes on to a wall in an RV or onto a ceiling panel,” Swartz said.

The company is investing several million dollars to equip the new 60,000-square-foot facility, occupying a portion of the new 150,000-square-foot Qualls Spec Building being constructed by Quincy Development.

Ground was broken on the spec building in December 2020.

Favian Diaz, director of project engineering for Patrick Industries, designed the layouts for the build-outs and the specs for all the equipment needed for the main machine that does the printing, as well the installation requirements.

“In a word, it’s pretty awesome to look at everything. When we first came to this site there were no walls; there was no concrete; barely some beams that were being put up ... now to see everything mostly put together – we’ve still got a few things we need to finish – it feels good,” Diaz said.

From an operations standpoint, he said, they’re going to ramp up.

“We’re looking forward in the next three to five years to add another press and build on that and to do multi-shift operations,” he said.

Cook noted that both the La Porte City Council and Redevelopment Commission played a major role in the construction of the facility, as well as attracting Patrick Industries.

“This company in particular has been a joy to work with, start to finish. They looked at a lot of sites in other locations, so La Porte is very lucky and we’re very pleased they chose to make this investment in our city.

“I think they’re going to be great for the community. There are going to be a lot of people who work here making great wages,” Cook added.

Last year the La Porte City Council approved a 10-year tax abatement on the personal property investments. The Indiana Economic Development Corp. also offered Patrick Industries up to $360,000 in conditional tax credits based on its plans to create new jobs.

Those tax credits are performance-based, meaning the company is eligible to claim incentives once Hoosiers are hired.

“It’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it? I think this is what La Porte’s about. More factories, more business, more people come to La Porte. Hopefully they’ll live here, stay here, make this their community, which is good for everybody,” said Redevelopment Commission President Brian Chalik.

Zaria Truvillion of Michigan City placed third in the 100- and 200-meter dashes in the Duneland Conference Championship Tuesday at Portage.

Michigan City Redevelopment Commission approves new housing study

MICHIGAN CITY — A new local housing study will be underway soon after the Michigan City Redevelopment Commission voted unanimously Monday to commission a renowned real estate consulting firm to take on the project.

City Planning Director Skyler York said Tracy Cross & Associates out of Schaumburg, Illinois, has conducted housing studies for the city in the past. He wants to get an updated study because of all the new developments planned for Michigan City, especially in the new Transit Development District.

The new study will focus specifically on the part of town bound by Ohio Street on the west, Michigan Boulevard on the east and the CSX rail line on the south, York said.

He said the finished study will give the city a document it can hand out to prospective developers, which outlines the types of housing the city needs, already has and has planned in the near future – saving developers the time and cost of having to commission such a study themselves.

Specifically, the study will take a look at things like “voids in existing marketplace, growth initiatives, projects we already have, single-family, duplex, villa, townhome, condominium, sale offerings” and more, York said.

RDC President Chris Chatfield was on board, calling Tracy Cross “a respected, go-to company” trusted nationally by banks dealing in commercial lending.

Clarence Hulse, executive director of the Economic Development Corporation Michigan City, confirmed the need for an updated study, noting that “the market has changed tremendously” since the 2019 housing study from which the city is currently working.

York said the new study is expected to take six to nine weeks to complete, and is anticipated to cost $21,750.

The RDC voted to approve the contract in an amount not to exceed $22,750.

York also provided the RDC with an update on one of the projects that is expected to significantly affect the city’s housing market – the Station Block project. He said developer Flaherty & Collins Properties is still within its due diligence period.

He said some geotechnical work has begun at the site and that foundations are being designed.

RDC attorney Alan Sirinek said the only problem that currently exists is dealing with the clean-up of a former dry-cleaning business that was located at 10th and Franklin streets.

However, the issue doesn’t lie with the city or Flaherty & Collins, but with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, he said.

Despite the obstacle, Sirinek expressed confidence that the city and the developer will be able to work through it; although it may mean pushing out the development period of the project by another 30 days.

The RDC also got updates on two other major projects.

Ryan Laughlin of Haas & Associates provided a brief status report on the South TIF Connectivity Improvement Project, noting the first component – a new pedestrian crosswalk at U.S. 421 and Larkspur Lane, plus sidewalks along 421 in that vicinity – is ready to bid.

But while the contract documents are complete, Laughlin said, a permit still needs to be secured from the Indiana Department of Transportation, which owns and maintains that stretch of 421, to allow for construction to begin.

They also are waiting for land surveying firm DLZ to confirm it has secured the necessary land rights for the project to continue.

Aside from the initial construction associated with the crosswalk, Haas & Associates is continuing to work on the preliminary design addressing connectivity in the remainder of the South TIF.

Laughlin said geotechnical and wetland investigations were almost complete as of Monday, and that access authorization letters have been coming in weekly from private land owners.

He told the RDC that once the preliminary design is completed, he will submit it to the commission for review and feedback before moving on to the final design.

The You Are Beautiful site just north of U.S. 12 was the subject of another status update.

York said the developer is still within its 90-day due diligence period, and has secured a portion of the tax credits it needs, while seeking other tax credits in order to begin the project.

Surveying and geotechnical work have begun at the site, and York has provided environmental information at the developer’s request.