These charges were announced by U.S. Attorney Joseph H. Hogsett, Southern District of Indiana. These criminal charges resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the Hamilton County Metropolitan Child Exploitation Task Force.
Michael Fleming, 58, of New Castle, Ind., was charged by criminal complaint with one count of perjury and one count of making a materially false statement. He is the former director of the Henry County office of the Indiana Department of Child Services and a member of the New Castle Community School Corporation's school board.
Fleming is charged with allegedly lying to a federal grand jury and to federal agents who were following up on a criminal complaint previously filed against Darrell Hughes in the Southern District of Indiana. Hughes is charged with three counts of sexually exploiting a child and attempting to sexually exploit a child. It is alleged that Hughes made contact with boys who he met at an alternative school operated by the New Castle School system. The alternative school is commonly referred to as "North Campus."
As part of its mission, DCS receives and investigates allegations of inappropriate behavior victimizing children. DCS also normally maintains records of such investigations. It was, therefore, predictable for investigators to seek to determine if DCS had records of any such allegations of inappropriate behavior by Hughes.
The criminal complaint pertaining to Fleming, which was unsealed March 11, alleges that on Feb. 4, HSI special agents visited Fleming's office in New Castle to further the investigation in the Hughes case. Special agents served Fleming with a subpoena to testify before the grand jury. At that time, the special agents asked Fleming if he knew Hughes had been arrested. He acknowledged that he did. When asked if he had ever heard complaints of alleged misconduct or inappropriate behavior by Hughes, Fleming said he had not. The special agents soon left the DCS office and asked Fleming to call with any follow-up information.
The complaint further alleges that two weeks later on Feb. 18, Fleming testified before the federal grand jury for the Southern District of Indiana. During that testimony, Fleming stated that he was familiar with Hughes because of counseling services that Hughes provided to children, but that he was not aware of any complaints related to Hughes before his arrest.
On Feb. 24, federal agents were contacted by legal counsel for DCS and informed that Fleming had been terminated from his position as local DCS director for encouraging a DCS subordinate employee to make false statements in the Hughes investigation. The DCS subordinate employee reported to supervisors that a complaint had been made against Hughes on at least one occasion and that Fleming was aware of this complaint. Fleming then encouraged the subordinate employee to make untruthful statements in the Hughes investigation. After his grand jury testimony, Fleming told the same employee that he gave inaccurate or incomplete information to the grand jury stating, "I didn't tell them anything, I guess I told a little white lie, if anyone asks, don't say anything."
"Interfering with an investigation will not be tolerated by this office," said Hogsett. "But when the crime involves the exploitation of Hoosier children and lying by a public official, it is even more egregious."
"These charges allege that Mr. Fleming chose to lie rather than assist authorities to investigate allegations of child sexual exploitation that took place under his watch," said Gary Hartwig, special agent in charge of HSI Chicago. "He betrayed the public trust by placing his own self-interest above the needs of the young victims in this case."
According to U.S. Attorney's Office Senior Litigation Counsel Steven DeBrota, Fleming could face up to 13 years in federal prison if convicted on both charges and be fined up to $500,000.
A complaint is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
This investigation was conducted under HSI's Operation Predator, an international initiative to protect children from sexual predators. Since the launch of Operation Predator in 2003, HSI has arrested more than 10,000 individuals for crimes against children, including the production and distribution of online child pornography, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking of children. In fiscal year 2013, more than 2,000 individuals were arrested by HSI special agents under this initiative.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.
HSI is a founding member and current chair of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies and private industry sector partners working together to prevent and deter online child sexual abuse.