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Ethics expert says Lake County must get more training

– The sentencing of a former Lake County clerk to 18 months in federal prison won’t be enough by itself to keep other corruptible public officials on the straight and narrow, a government ethics advocate said.

Thomas Philpot is the latest of more than two dozen elected Lake County officials convicted of public corruption since 1985. He was sentenced Thursday for stealing more than $24,000 from child support incentive funds he controlled.

“We have to step back earlier and establish a culture that doesn’t approve of this type of behavior and prevents it,” Calvin Bellamy, president of the Lake County Shared Ethics Advisory Commission, told the Times for a story Saturday.

Philpot, 55, of Highland was convicted in August of paying himself from a special state fund used to reimburse Lake County employees who helped collect child support payments. State law bars elected officials from boosting their salary without a fiscal body’s approval. Philpot’s attorneys said Philpot didn’t know the payments were illegal.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Benson said Philpot should have been deterred by the 2009 conviction of former Calumet Township Trustee Dozier Allen in Gary for a similar theft of public funds. Instead, Philpot was illegally pocketing money meant to help collect child support for impoverished children while Allen’s conviction was capturing local headlines.

“Given the history of corrupt government in Lake County, he needs a sentence outside the guidelines. His crime destroys the public’s confidence when it goes to the polls,” Benson said.

Benson asked U.S. District Senior Judge James Moody to give Philpot a heavier prison term than the 12 months to 18 months that federal sentencing guidelines call for.

While Philpot’s sentence falls within those guidelines, Bellamy noted Philpot now is a convicted felon and is barred from seeking public office after he’s released from prison. Philpot will begin his prison term April 3 for his convictions on two counts of mail fraud and one count of theft.

Bellamy said he has been trying to convince local elected officials to employ the ethics commission, which started about a decade ago, to offer ethics training to all municipal employees.