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Prosecutor in Tipton case steps down; Local resident complains of conflict of interest in wind farm vote

The former special prosecutor investigating allegations that Tipton County Commissioner Mike Cline would receive profits from a wind farm development Cline voted to approve has stepped down.

Howard County Prosecutor Mark McCann asked Tipton Circuit Court Judge Thomas Lett to dismiss him from the case because of a potential conflict of interest on Monday.

Clinton County Prosecutor Louis Evans has been named to the case to determine if criminal charges will be filed against Cline, who is serving his second term as a county commissioner.

McCann removed himself as a special prosecutor in the case involving Cline after local resident Jim Leffler filed a conflict of interest complaint with the state’s disciplinary commission last year.

“There was a complaint made,” McCann said of his recent decision to remove himself as special prosecutor. “Although I believe there is no conflict, I wanted to be fair to the citizens of Tipton County. I wanted them to be assured the case was looked at in a fair and objective matter.”

The Tipton County Citizens for Responsible Development made the request for an investigation of Cline earlier this year. The group opposes the proposed 150-megawatt wind farm in Prairie and Liberty townships.

The group alleges Cline voted to approve agreements with juwi Wind for the proposed Prairie Breeze Wind Farm that could benefit him financially.

Cline’s mother Phyllis Schuck has signed leases with juwi Wind for five parcels of property amounting to 149 acres. According to records at the Tipton County Courthouse, Cline is listed as a trustee on the property as of last year.

When asked who was farming the property, Cline indicated he was.

Before leaving the case, McCann filed a subpoena with the Tipton County Clerk’s office to provide a true and complete, unredacted copy of Ralph Schuck’s last will and testament to the Indiana State Police.

Included in Schuck’s will is a copy of the Trust Agreement, which was not provided to the ISP detective investigating the allegations.

McCann has also requested lease agreements for potential wind farm developments signed by other county officials.

McCann said he submitted the request for documents so the investigation will not be slowed.

“In addition to the will, there are several other requests for documents,” McCann said. He declined to indicate what other records were sought. “It is important for someone involved in the investigation to look at other documents.

“The request for documents was extensive,” he said. “The documents are relevant to the investigation. There was a broad request made.”

McCann said although requests for documents involving other Tipton County officials were made, Cline remains the focus of the investigation.

When asked about Cline’s voting on Prairie Breeze matters, Jeff Stake, professor of law at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, said that in his opinion, if the commissioner gets a direct financial gain from his vote (which appears to be the case) it would be a conflict of interest and hence unethical for him to vote on it.

Cline previously has voted on the road use and decommissioning agreements between juwi Wind and Tipton County and served on the review committee on the company’s application for a 10-year tax abatement. The tax abatement was approved by the Tipton County Council.