MUNCIE, Ind. - The sentencing hearing for a Delaware County contractor charged in a federal investigation of corruption in Muncie city government has been rescheduled for Sept. 6.
Rodney A. Barber, 54, had most recently been set to enter a guilty plea - to a count of fraud - and be sentenced on July 27. U.S. District Court Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson granted Barber's request for a continuance.
According to a plea agreement signed in 2021, Barber will admit to paying Phil Nichols, ex-local Democratic Party chairman, $5,500 in cash in exchange for winning a contract to do work for the Muncie Sanitary District, and giving then-MSD official Tracy Barton $5,000 in cash to "illegally contribute" to Mayor Dennis Tyler's re-election campaign.
The latter payment led to Tyler's November 2021 conviction on a count of theft of government funds. The former mayor later spent five months in a federal prison in West Virginia.
From 2021: Dennis Tyler's legacy discussed as ex-Muncie mayor receives prison term
According to court documents, Barber also has admitted to removing a tree from outside Tyler's northside home "in exchange for favorable consideration" in the awarding of future public works contracts.
Barton was scheduled to enter a guilty plea on June 24 to a count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. That charge stemmed from a conspiracy - also involving Nichols, MSD administrator Nikki Grigsby, then-city police officer Jess Neal and contractor Tony Franklin - to solicit bribes in exchange for the awarding of Muncie Sanitary District contracts.
However, Barton's sentencing hearing was not held in June, and online court records do not indicate it has yet been rescheduled.
Grigsby and Neal are now serving sentences in federal prison after entering guilty pleas.
Franklin also entered a guilty plea, in May, and had been scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 8. Last week, however, Judge James Sweeney II agreed to postpone that hearing until Dec. 7.
The judge sealed a motion, filed by Franklin's attorney, that apparently referred to his client's health.
Nichols - described in court documents as the ringleader of the bribery conspiracy - in March signed an agreement to plead guilty, to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
However, his attorney later filed a motion saying his 75-year-old client has been diagnosed with dementia.
More:Phil Nichols' Muncie political saga has spanned decades
In recent weeks, both Nichols's lawyer, Brent Westerfield, and federal prosecutors have exchanged suggestions for how the ex-Democratic Party boss could be examined by mental health professionals, apparently in anticipation of a hearing on his competency.
Westerfield has asked that his client not be placed in a hospital for such testing, suggesting a removal from his home "would be detrimental to (Nichols') mental condition and could cause a more rapid decline in his mental functioning."
The federal investigation of corruption in Tyler's administration and the sanitary district began in 2014 and continued until at least 2020.
Douglas Walker is a news reporter at The Star Press. Contact him at 765-213-5851 or at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Muncie Star Press: Contractor's sentencing in corruption case reset for September