A 2014 plea in court could impact a Vigo candidate for treasurer

Apr. 25—A Democratic candidate seeking his party's nomination for Vigo County treasurer may have a problem with his candidacy.

Billy Joy of West Terre is one of two candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in the spring primary, the other being Tona J. Bean. On the Republican ballot, Josie Swalls-Thompson is the lone candidate.

Two anonymous tipsters this week sent the Tribune-Star documents including printouts from a state courts online database — mycase.in.gov — regarding a criminal case against Joy filed in 2013 and resolved in 2014.

Joy was arrested in November 2013 and charged with three counts: corrupt business influence (Class C felony), money laundering (Class C felony) and professional gambling (Class D felony).

In February of 2014, Joy entered a plea agreement in Vigo Superior Court 5 in which he pleaded guilty to a charge of professional gambling as a Class D felony, but with judgment entered as a Class A misdemeanor. He was represented by attorney Joseph Etling.

Joy was sentenced by Judge Michael Rader to a year in jail, with credit for one day served, one day good time and 363 days suspended. He paid a fine of $1 and court costs of $174 and was placed on informal probation. He also agreed to a $500 donation to a local charity, per the case summary.

Joy paid all fees and costs, totaling $229, as of Feb. 25, 2014; the court ordered his bond of $950 returned to him.

The complaint raised by the anonymous tipsters appears to stem from a 2024 Indiana Candidate Guide published by the election division of the Indiana Secretary of State's Office.

On Page 25 of that guide under a section headed "Disqualification of a Candidate or Officeholder" appears item No. 3. It says state law disqualifies a person from assuming or being elected a candidate for office if that person "... was found guilty of a felony by a jury or the court, entered a plea of guilty or nolo contendere [no contest] to a felony even if the felony conviction was later reduced to a Class A misdemeanor under IC 35-50-2-7 or IC 35-38-1-1.5."

Joy on Wednesday said he was caught off-guard by the issue but did not dispute the 2014 resolution of his case.

"It was knocked down to a Class A misdemeanor," he said. Joy said the case amounted to "a bunch of my buddies and me were playing cards ... and they slapped us with charges."

Tribune-Star clips from November 2013 indicate Joy's arrest came in a roundup that resulted from an investigation by the gaming control division of the Indiana Gaming Commission into gambling dating back to 2011.

Larry Rollins, then the director of the gaming control division, said the illegal Wabash Valley gaming in question involved poker games, betting on sporting events and other gambling.

Rollins at the time said not all of the people arrested were gambling together, but they were aware of each other's activities and "worked in concert with each other so they don't step on each other's toes."

In that sweep, according to a Tribune-Star article on Nov. 14, 2013, a total of 21 people were picked up or were to be picked up on Classs C and Class D felony charges. Another 19 were to be summoned to court on misdemeanor charges.

Joy said he might consult with the Vigo County clerk and the county prosecutor, but he had no immediate plans to take the matter to a lawyer. He thought that having been allowed on the ballot, the misdemeanor conviction was not an issue.

"If the legal system tells me I have to take my name off, that's the way it will have to be," he said.

The Tribune-Star left messages seeking comment Wednesday and Thursday for Vigo County Clerk Brad Newman and Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt. By virtue of his clerk's position, Newman is a member of the Vigo County Elections Board; Modesitt is the attorney for the elections board.

The newspaper also left a message for attorney Etling, who represented Joy in 2013-14 and who is chair of the Vigo County Democratic Party.

With primary ballots already published and early voting underway, it appears Joy's candidacy might only be an issue if he were to win his party's primary.

In that case, an objector might seek removal from the general election ballot via the elections process or in court.

The primary elections are May 7.

Contact Mark Fitton at 812-231-4333 or mark.fitton@tribstar.com.