- Steve Bell apologizes for comments published by Indianapolis Star
A job offer extended to a candidate for Clay County Sheriff by Indiana's inspector general may have been misinterpreted by its recipient.
Steve Bell, a retired Clay County probation officer, had accused Inspector General David Thomas of attempting to dissuade him from running for Clay County Sheriff with the promise of an appointment to the Indiana Parole Board. The Indianapolis Star published Bell's comments Wednesday morning, and the Marion County Prosecutor's office launched a preliminary inquiry into the matter later that afternoon.
But in a prepared statement made to The Times Wednesday evening, Bell admitted he may have misinterpreted his conversation with Thomas.
"David Thomas has been victimized by my words. He was being a good friend and tried to help me with a job opportunity. My words have hurt him and his family deeply, and for that I am truly sorry," he said.
In an e-mail received by The Times Thursday morning, Bell said, "In my excitement to be considered for such a position I apparently heard what I wanted to hear."
Bell stopped short of identifying himself as the source of the tip that led to the article in the Indianapolis Star, but indicated he may have misunderstood Thom-as' intentions when the two discussed the job.
"We had a conversation I might have misinterpreted and I'm ready to move on," he said.
Thomas, who said he was acting not as inspector general but as Bell's friend when he brought up the appointment, was blindsided by the news.
"All I know is I got a phone call from the Indianapolis Star that Steve Bell had made some statements," he said.
In an interview published Wednesday in the Indianapolis Star, Bell claimed Thomas approached him Nov. 27 after a Sunday service at First United Methodist Church in Brazil. According to Bell's account, Thomas offered Bell a seat on the bi-partisan Indiana Parole Board on the condition that he shelve his intention to oppose Republican incumbent Mike Heaton in the 2006 election.
Thomas contended the offer was never made. Eric Holcomb, an aide to Gov. Mitch Daniels, had informed him of the state's interest in Bell as a potential member of the parole board, a position for which Bell had already applied, Thomas said. Holcomb asked Thomas to discuss the job with Bell because the two knew each other so well.
"That's the only reason I was even involved in it," Thomas said.
Jane Jankowski, Daniels' press secretary, maintained no job offer was ever made and said Thomas' actions were neither unethical nor illegal.
"That's not how we do business," she said. "These two gentlemen have been friends for more than 20 years. (Thomas) was simply gauging interest into whether the gentleman was interested in pursuing a job."
Thomas, a former Clay County Prosecutor who worked closely with Bell for years, said he was excited at the chance to personally inform his friend of the state's interest.
"I was very happy to relay the information on to Steve," he said. "(But) I don't have the authority to offer that job."