Phil Nichols, former chairman for a political party in Delaware County, and Jess Neal, sergeant for the Muncie Police Department, have been indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and witness tampering, U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler announced in a press release.
The arrests, the press release states, are part of a multi-year-long and ongoing investigation by the United States Attorney’s Office and the FBI into payment for public works projects in Muncie.
The press release states Nichols and Neal join Debra Nicole Grigsby, former district administrator for the Muncie Sanitary District, and Tony Franklin, owner of Franklin Building and Design, LLC., who were initially indicted in July 2019 on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, making false statements and falsification of documents in a federal investigation.
Nichols and Neal were arrested Thursday morning in Muncie and had their initial court appearance Thursday afternoon in the federal courthouse in Indianapolis.
“Public servants need to serve the public instead of serving themselves,” Minkler said. “When someone betrays the public’s trust by stealing tax dollars for personal enrichment, my office will identify, investigate and, if the evidence supports a charge, prosecute the individual who violates that sacred trust.”
Nichols served as the chairman for a political party in Delaware County from approximately 1990-98, the press release states. Though Nichols had no official leadership position or title within the political party after approximately 1998, it states he maintained a private office at the political party’s headquarters and continued to exert influence and control over multiple official acts performed by certain Muncie public officials.
Neal has been a longtime MPD sergeant and is the owner of Red Carpet, Inc. and Express Properties, LLC.
“Public corruption is a significant priority for the FBI. Crimes of this nature are something we take very seriously because those who exploit their official position for personal gain undermine public trust and confidence,” said Robert Middleton, acting special agent in charge at FBI Indianapolis. “Today’s indictment and arrest of Phil Nichols and Jess Neal is just one more step in seeking to bring to justice those who have victimized the hard-working, tax-paying residents of Muncie.”
Tiffany J. Preston, assistant U.S. attorney who is prosecuting this case for the government, said Nichols and Neal face up to 20 years of imprisonment if convicted of all charges.