SOUTH BEND, Ind. — St. Joseph County settled a pending lawsuit from REAL News Michiana regarding malicious acts from one of its officials in an attempt to silence REAL News Michiana from investigating corruption into her. The County has agreed to pay RNM thousands of dollars prior to the case going to court. Subscribers can view the settlement agreement below.
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The case involved former St. Joseph County Voter Registration employee, Aisha Avance who abused the courts to prevent journalist Clifton French from conducting an investigation into alleged grant fraud.
At the time, RNM had been investigating the City of South Bend’s Alive Grant program. RNM’s Investigations led to the discovery of actual fraud within the program, uncovered a scheme between a local funeral home and con-man who was taking a sharing nude photos of the recently deceased, the allocation of money to a convicted murderer and more money to an armed robber, allegations of food stamp fraud and accusations of one grantee propositioning a single mother for sex in order to assist her in a time of need.
According to the city’s website, the “Alive grant program is part of the City’s ongoing efforts to reduce incidents of gun violence in the community and provide constructive initiatives for South Bend’s young people.” The city gave 50 organizations grants totaling $350,000. The Alive program is run through the Department of Community Initiatives and its director Maurice Scott.
One of the subjects of RNM’s investigations involved St. Joseph County Voter Registration employee, Aisha Avance. Avance attempted to silence journalist Clifton French by filing an erroneous protection order after he approached her for comment in August of 2021. RNM uncovered a scheme in which Avance, who is a friend of Maurice Scott, was fraudulently awarded thousands of dollars in taxpayer grant money. The notice of tort claim reads as follows:
Aisha Avance is an employee of St. Joseph County, Indiana, specifically the voter registration office. Ms. Avance is a public employee and is employed in an office that is open to the public. On August 10, 2021, during the course of her work in that office, Ms. Avance was approached by reporter Clifton French, who asked her about certain events as part of performing his job as an investigative journalist. Mr. French used the public access window to contact Ms. Avance. Ms. Avance refused to answer Mr. French’s questions and told him to leave the office, which he did immediately. At no time did Mr. French threaten or harass Ms. Avance.
On August 12, 2021, during her working hours, Aisha Avance drafted and filed a Petition for an Order for Protection and Request for a Hearing with the St. Joseph County Circuit Court. In that petition, Ms. Avance made a number of false claims. Based upon those false claims, Ms. Avance was granted an Ex-Parte Order for Protection which enjoined Clifton French from coming within 300 yards of Aisha Avance or contacting her in by any means. This Order prevented Clifton French from performing his investigative journalist duties by preventing him from going into the County-City building and/or attending any public governmental hearings or meetings.
On August 18, 2021, during her working hours, Aisha Avance drafted and filed a Petition for Contempt. In that petition Ms. Avance asserted that Clifton French should be held in contempt for publishing online articles in the course of his job as an investigative reporter. Mr. French did not attempt to contact Ms. Avance by any means.
On October 27, 2021, a hearing was held on Clifton French’s objection to the issuance of the order of protection. Testimony was presented at that hearing and the magistrate judge dismissed the Order of Protection, finding that the incidents did not meet the requirements for the issuance of a protective order.
Aisha Avance, in the course of her duties as a St. Joseph County employee, abused the court process and prevented Clifton French access to any and all city and county services and offices, prevented Clifton French access to public meetings and hearings, and prevented Clifton French from being able to perform his duties as an investigative journalist.
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