Police raid Fairfield Twp. offices, Trustee Taletha Coles’ home
ISP takes files from Trustee Taletha Coles’ office, tools and more from her north end home. Looking on, Coles says she has nothing to hide, calls motivation ‘a bunch of backstabbing and bullshit'
A team of Indiana State Police investigators spent Friday at three Fairfield Township properties, removing more than a half-dozen bankers’ boxes from the trustee’s office on Wabash Avenue and sorting through things in a Greenbush Cemetery barn, before moving on that evening with a search warrant for Trustee Taletha Coles’ north end Lafayette home.
What they were looking for and who was the target of the investigation, Sgt. Jeremy Piers, a public information officer at ISP’s Lafayette post, said he wouldn’t confirm.
“I can’t get into any of the details other than this is a part of an active investigation,” Piers said early in the day, as state trooper vehicles – marked and unmarked – came and went from Fairfield Township properties.
Piers would offer a similar statement as investigators started pulling garden tools, a tile saw, construction material, exercise equipment, a ladder, string trimmers, a leaf blower and a pickup truck tailgate from inside Coles’ home.
Piers said ISP’s criminal investigation was different than a State Board of Accounts audit of Fairfield Township that has been going on since August 2021. The State Board of Accounts already had confiscated seven boxes of receipts, ledgers and more in January 2022 from Coles’ offices, amid accusations by Fairfield Township Board members and former township employees about questionable spending and shaky accounting by the trustee since she was elected in 2018.
No arrests had been made in the state police investigation, as of Friday, Piers said.
Coles stood across the street from her backyard at one point Friday evening, saying she’d been asked to leave while state police investigators searched her home and her detached garage.
She maintained that she had nothing to hide and that she actually was glad the Indiana State Police were there to prove it.
“I don’t know what they’re looking for,” Coles said, as her car idled on North 13th Street. “Whatever it is, I hope they find it and leave.”
Coles said Friday evening that she figured she would “have to prove my innocence with all this.”
Coles said she stored some township tools and equipment in her home, because there wasn’t enough storage space at the township offices at 718 Wabash Avenue, a township-owned residence next to her offices and a township-owned maintenance barn and lot across from the 12th Street entrance to Greenbush Cemetery. Coles said she marked those pieces of township equipment by writing “Fairfield Township” or some other marking on them to tell the difference between what belonged to the township and what was hers.
Coles said she’d “been begging” state police, state auditors and even the governor and the president’s office to help her fend off accusations – “All false, I might add,” she said – that she’d been spending township money inappropriately. She’s said several times in the past year that she was reluctant to show receipts and records to the township board because she believed it would be used to undercut her and the way she chose to run township operations. She said she’d wanted an outside investigation, instead.
(Piers did not say what prompted Friday’s search warrants, including whether pleas from the trustee had anything to do with it. State Board of Accounts officials have deflected questions since last summer about what prompted their audit of Fairfield Township books.)
Coles said she wasn’t nervous about Friday’s searches. (“Why would I be?” she asked. “I’ve done nothing wrong.”) But she said chalked the day up to the work of board members and others “who keep wanting to sabotage me.”
“This is all a bunch of backstabbing and bullshit,” Coles said. “They’ve been coming after me and accusing me from the start. … I should have walked away from the position years ago. But I’m not that sort of person to give up and walk away.”
Perry Schnarr, president of the three-member Fairfield Township Board, said state police hadn’t given him additional information about the search warrants or what police wanted to find.
Schnarr is no fan of Coles. During a board meeting last week, Schnarr suggested that the board should take advantage of a new Indiana law – one that goes into effect July 1 and that was inspired by episodes featuring Coles and former Wabash Township Trustee Jennifer Teising, who is appealing her 2022 theft conviction – that offers a path to ousting a trustee for being derelict in their duties. Schnarr said he was in favor of that, even though Coles is out at the end of 2022, after getting just 11% of the vote in her re-election bid in the May 3 primary.
As for having state police investigators raiding township offices?
“It’s just one more thing with that lady,” Schnarr said. “She’s crazy. … Hopefully, it’s something that has consequences. That’s all I can say.”
Neighbors near Wabash Avenue and along 12th Street near Greenbush Cemetery said state police arrived late Friday morning.
“It’s sad, but it’s not surprising,” Stepheney Bible, who lives next door to the township-owned house on Wabash Avenue, said. “I think it’s disappointing when you have someone in a public position where ‘trust’ is literally in the title doing these things.”
In recent years, Coles was lambasted by the township board for a spending spree on the last day of 2019 to buy a pickup truck and two trailers with money that had been designated for a land purchase next to the township offices. The board nixed a deal she tried to broker in 2020 to buy land along Fourth Street from Imagination Station to turn into a park without telling the board. And they’ve feuded with her about unaccounted spending in the township’s rainy day funds, Coles’ reluctance to deliver money set aside for the Lafayette Fire Department and her determination to buy a used ambulance to start an emergency service in the Lafayette-based township. The board also raised questions about extensive renovations of township offices, including granite counter tops and tile floors.
Several former employees left their township jobs, publicly questioning Coles’ management style and, in particular, how she spent township money, saying they didn’t want to get caught up in what they were afraid would be violations of some sort. (Recently released receipts, forced out by a Journal & Courier lawsuit, confirmed some of the stories former employees told, including one about Coles spending hundreds of dollars to take staff for lunch, massages and manicures on the township dime, as a ruse to avoid a meeting with township board members.)
On Friday, the scene that caught Trisha Fogleman’s attention was an image of investigators carrying two stationary bikes down Cole’s back steps and onto an ISP flatbed trailer.
Fogleman quit her job with the township last summer after coming across a check cut for a $5,130 purchase of exercise equipment in May 2021. She said she flagged that purchase for the State Board of Accounts.
“I screamed,” Fogleman said Friday evening. “To see that (picture) was every damn thing.”
It wasn’t clear whether the exercise equipment pulled from Coles’ house was part of that $5,130 purchase from a company in Crawfordsville. (Coles said she had that equipment in a shed behind the township offices and at the cemetery barn for a future fitness spot for employees.) Fogleman said she believed there was a reason state police took the Schwinn exercise bikes.
“I’m relieved and validated,” Fogleman said. “I’m very grateful to the ISP for listening and I’m very glad it will all come out. … I feel like a boulder is off my shoulders.”
Piers said the criminal investigation, once finished by ISP, would go to the Tippecanoe County prosecutor to decide whether charges are warranted.
The State Board of Accounts has not offered a timeline – or even a definitive reason – for its ongoing audit of Fairfield Township. But officials there have confirmed what they asked for and that Indiana State Police helped retrieve in January: financial statements/ledgers, bank statements, vendor invoices to support disbursements, receipts, payroll records, board minutes, resolutions, vehicle titles and death certificates.
SIDE NOTE: Coles said she found out about the state police search warrants when she went to get mowers and trimmers to take care of grass at Greenbush Cemetery ahead of a Tippecanoe County Historical Association tour scheduled for Saturday afternoon. As Friday’s ISP search wore on, TCHA postponed that tour until June 12.
FIRST MOSEY OF THE YEAR …
If the storms hold off – and the downtown Lafayette crowd was lobbying hard – Saturday will be the first Mosey Down Main Street festival of the year. Everything’s free. Things run from 6-11 p.m. If you typically time things based on the bands playing, here you go:
6 p.m., Tippecanoe Ancients Fife and Drum Corps, parade down Main Street
Security Federal Stage, Sixth and Main streets
6 p.m.: Joe Shelton
7:20 p.m.: Resounding Maybes
8:40 p.m.: Marc Ridge
10 p.m.: Relentless
Q106.7 Stage, Eighth and Main streets
6 p.m.: Blackheart Gypsy
7:20 p.m.: The Gazing Eyes
8:40 p.m.: Scratch Thing
10 p.m.: The Unusual Suspects
9th and Main streets
7-9 p.m.: Oasis Belly Dancing Troupe
11th and Main streets
6 p.m.: Amanda Parker
7:20 p.m.: The Blues Collar Band
8:40 p.m.: Jordan and Nisha Friend
10 p.m.: Luna Worldcast
THANKS FOR MAKING THE FIRST YEAR OF THE BASED IN LAFAYETTE REPORTING PROJECT WORK. READY TO SUBSCRIBE?