HAMMOND, Ind. — Former Democrat Board Member of the St. Joseph County Voter Registration Office, Arielle Brandy, continues to evade any backlash in her party for alleged timecard fraud and ghost employment. Despite an Indiana State Police investigation into the crimes, Brandy has been selected by current Hammond Mayor, Thomas McDermott Jr., as the director of voter engagement in his 2022 campaign for US Senate.
“Arielle Brings the energy we will need to get out the vote in 2022 and her organizing skills will ensure my name is on the ballot next year.” McDermott is quoted saying in a Northwest Indiana Times article from last week. “Arielle’s passion on women’s issues and empowering young people of color into leadership and mentoring will make sure those issues continue to be important parts of my campaign.”
In August, Brandy, who is also a former campaign director for Pete Buttigieg’s presidential run, was named the National Secretary of the Young Democrats of America. She was also named to that post despite an investigation into alleged ghost employment and timecard fraud that could have cost St. Joseph County taxpayers thousands of dollars.
REAL News Michiana confirmed the Indiana State Police have been looking into the potential fraud. Sources tell RNM, ISP recently wrapped up their investigation and sent it to a special prosecutor outside of St. Joseph County. We’re told the special prosecutor is in Lake County.
The City of Hammond, where Thomas McDermott is currently mayor, is the largest city in Lake County. McDermott and Lake County Prosecutor, Bernard Carter, also have a cozy relationship. Below is a screenshot of Prosecutor Carter endorsing McDermott during his failed 2020 congressional run. RNM reached out to Carter’s office to confirm his office was given the investigation and to get an update on a charging decision, his office never returned our calls.
RNM confirmed the initial investigation into Brandy in February, all stemming from her time as the Democrat Board Member of the St. Joseph County Voter Registration Office.
“I can confirm there is an investigation. The county commissioners have directed me to pull everything and send it to county attorneys. I’m happy that it’s finally being looked into and I’m confident they’ll do the right thing.” County Auditor, Mike Hamann, said at the time.
The county investigation came after RNM’s story uncovered several discrepancies from her time cards and text messages she sent to fellow colleagues in the voter registration office, during a nearly 2 month period in 2018. You can read that story and see all of the timecards and text message documentation here.
RNM also received an audit of the timecards from that same time period that show even more discrepancies. The audit shows in and out punches, the actual time they were entered, any edits that had been made and who was making them.
Aside from days off, nearly ALL of the IN punches were made long after the time Brandy indicated she was at work, 16 of her OUT punches were made long before the time she indicated she was off of work, 21 punches (both in and out) were completed a day or more later and multiple punches were edited days after the original punches to show more time worked. Some days show discrepancies of 15-30 minutes. Other days have discrepancies in the hours.
For instance, on February 9th, at 10:36am, Brandy notated on her timecard that she started work at 9:30am. 11 days later, she changed that time to 9:00am, showing she had worked an additional half-hour that day. Making the discrepancy go from 1-hour-and-6-minutes to an-hour-and-36-minutes. She did the same thing for a punch on February 7th, by editing her timecard 8 days later showing she had worked an additional 15 minutes.
Many discrepancies are hard to assess since Brandy would fill out the time card a day or more later. However, the discrepancies from day-of punches show nearly 80 hours of unaccounted time worked. Based on her salary at the time, that would account for approximately $1,500 in taxpayer money in that two month period. Below is a copy of the audit report received by RNM.
“When I saw these punches, I was like ‘Wow, this is a hot potato.’” County Auditor, Mike Hamann, said to RNM when we started digging into this story in early 2021. Below is information RNM first reported at the beginning of the year:
Hamann tells RNM he received an anonymous set of text messages along with claims that Brandy had been falsifying timesheets about a year ago. He immediately did an audit of every employee in the office.
“There were some discrepancies with a few (employees in the Voter Registration office) here and there. That happens. This individual had much more. I immediately forwarded it to the county attorney.” Hamann said. “He got everything you (RNM) got.”
RNM called County Attorney, Pete Agostino, who confirmed his office did receive the information from the County Auditor’s office about a year ago.
“Allegations were made. There was some investigation, but no findings of any falsifications.” Agostino initially said.
When RNM told Agostino about information received from the Auditor’s office, he deferred to Auditor Mike Hamann as the expert.
“There may be more information that I didn’t have access to.” Agostino said. “(Hamann) would have access to that information.”
“Pete Agostino got everything that was sent to you. It is astounding to me that anyone could look at those timecards and not come to the conclusion that something was amiss.” Hamann said in response.
According to Agostino, the only person with authority to fire Brandy would be the County Democrat Chair, who was Jason Critchlow at the time. While the position is paid for by county tax dollars, Board Members are appointed by the chairperson of the two major parties.
Brandy’s shift was scheduled to be between 8:00am and 4:30pm. From Jan 30th, to March 23rd, 2018, RNM found that Brandy’s earliest clock-in on the digital system was 8:45am. Every other day was 9:00am or later. However, text messages to her colleagues show many times she was not at work at the time documented.
From Jan 30th, to March 23rd, RNM found 16 days of discrepancies between her time sheets and text messages. Some of the discrepancies account for a minimum of a few minutes, others much longer.
The time sheets also depict Brandy working after business hours nearly everyday. RNM is working to find a way to verify that she was actually in the office at those times. According to several sources at the Voter Registration office, verification of those hours would be difficult because she would have been the only person there. RNM has requested the county auditor’s office check to see if they can tell when and how Brandy was clocking out to see if any discrepancies exist on the back end of the work days.
Multiple text messages refer to the county Democrat Headquarters and the Democrat Chair at the time, Jason Critchlow, with Brandy claiming to be at meetings with Critchlow or at the Democrat HQ. RNM reached out to the St. Joseph County Democrat party for comment, but messages were not returned. Critchlow has also not returned RNM’s messages. Arielle Brandy did not respond to RNM requests for comment to give clarification on the timecard discrepancies either.
RNM asked the county GOP Chair, Zach Potts, if meetings at the GOP headquarters with the Republican Voter Registration Board Member are considered “on the clock.” Potts said it’s usually not the case, but it could be on extremely rare occasions. He added that if he needed to meet with his appointee during business hours, he would go to the Voter Registration office, not have his appointee come to him. Potts said he only needs to meet with his appointee a handful of times per year.
According to Brandy’s LinkedIn account, she worked as the Democrat Board Member of Voter Registration from January 2017, until October 2019. After leaving her job at the Voter Registration office, Brandy worked for Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign as the Indiana State Director and in director level leadership for his campaign in South Carolina, according to her LinkedIn profile. Brandy is now the President of Indiana Young Democrats.
RNM independently verified the authenticity of the text messages through multiple sources who wished not to be named out of fear of retaliation. All of the text messages and Brandy’s timesheets are listed at the bottom of the page here for the public to see and compare. Names of personal family members and information from other colleagues in the office have been cut out and redacted.
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I was just reading about Mike Hamann being angry about the SJC board of commissioner vetoing the $1.65 million grant to extend the “Motels4Now” homeless-housing program, and it made me wonder whatever happened with the time card violation story. Just curious. Thanks!