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County official is named in civil lawsuit

Sworn statements filed and later sealed in a civil lawsuit in Elkhart County Superior Court accuse Terry Rodino, a second-term Elkhart County commissioner, with making inappropriate sexual advances against female employees at his companies, buying liquor for an underage female employee, knowingly hiring illegal aliens and making racial slurs against competitors.

Posted on April 26, 2010 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on April 26, 2010 at 4:34 p.m.

Editor's note: The headline initially used on this story was incorrect. Some documents in the case are sealed but the lawsuit itself is not.

GOSHEN -- Sworn statements filed and later sealed in a civil lawsuit in Elkhart County Superior Court accuse Terry Rodino, a second-term Elkhart County commissioner, with making inappropriate sexual advances against female employees at his companies, buying liquor for an underage female employee, knowingly hiring illegal aliens and making racial slurs against competitors.

Though the suit between Rodino and former business partner Tim Dugle has been pending for more than five years, the allegations only recently came to light after an anonymous source provided The Elkhart Truth with copies of the affidavits.

The affidavits were made under oath by several former employees and filed as part of the case in 2008. At that time, Judge George Biddlecome ordered that the affidavits, along with other materials filed in the case, be kept confidential.

RODINO'S RESPONSE

Rodino referred all questions to his attorney, Earl Spencer Walton Jr. Walton said the allegations are "just garbage. There's no validity to them."

He said the charges are "groundless and baseless," suggesting that the complaints, if legitimate, should've been made years ago to a government oversight agency like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. No such complaints were made, he said, and he denied the allegations brought up in the six affidavits.

THE AFFIDAVITS

Several of the people who made the affidavits verified that The Truth has accurate copies of the sworn statements. Rodino's attorney, Walton, also confirmed their existence. The court file reflects sealed affidavits and elsewhere identifies employment records and other links between the people in the affidavits in the case. A deposition of Rodino showed him saying he was unaware of any harassment complaints against him by women listed in the affidavits, which were filed after the deposition.

None of the allegations in the affidavits deal with Rodino's behavior as a county commissioner. The allegations span more than a decade, from 1997 to 2008, and are made by multiple people who worked with or for Rodino.

THE SPECIFICS

In the affidavits, three female employees described how Rodino -- their boss -- would corner them in a back room at Lee's Wood Products and either make sexual comments or outright pressure them to have sex with him.

"Terry Rodino would ask me to go with him into the back conference room where there was a couch and where he could lock the door so that I could perform oral sex on him. I always declined his requests," wrote Kellie Lee, who worked for him at Lee's Wood Products until 1999.

Lee and Kyleen Miller also said Rodino would require them to take car rides with him, where he would proposition them. "Terry Rodino would make me go with him in the car to run basic errands which he could have done himself so he could get me alone in the car to proposition me for sex," Lee wrote. "He would say things like 'we could go to a motel room, an empty office somewhere, or someplace to engage in sexual activities.'"

Miller wrote, "On one occasion when Terry and I made a trip to Graber Box and Pallet, Terry stopped and purchased alcohol for me at a liquor store since I was not 21. He kept putting his hand on my leg, flirting, stopping the car in the middle of nowhere and making sexual suggestions ... on the way back I fell asleep, and I woke up when Terry Rodino was touching my leg, my arm and my chest."

Miller's affidavit detailed a persistent pursuit by Rodino. "Terry Rodino would also dangle significant financial benefits in front of me in order to attempt to induce me to have sex with him such as paying off loans, purchasing a vehicle or buying a house," she wrote. She said Rodino would quiz her about her sex life and talk about his own. He even put money in her purse, she wrote, "to get a room. I would always return the $100."

Miller also wrote that Rodino frequently unzipped his pants while she was in the office and made suggestive gestures toward her.

Rodino also tried to get female employees to dress suggestively, three of the women wrote. "Terry Rodino asked me to dress 'sexier' at work," Lee said in her affidavit.

"Terry Rodino pressured both Stephanie (DeJong) and I to dress inappropriately and to act sexually in the workplace," Miller wrote in her affidavit.

DeJong, who still works for Rodino, said she couldn't comment about the case.

"I'm sorry, I can't comment at this time. I'm a single mother with three children to take care of," she wrote in an e-mail to The Truth.

Another former employee, Susan Smith, wrote that a coworker confided in her about Rodino making sexual advances while that woman worked at Duro Recycling. Smith also said Rodino's sexual talk, routine in the workplace, was worse around female high school interns.

In addition to the sexual environment at Recycled/New Pallets, at Lee's Wood Products and at Duro Recycling, other allegations were raised in the affidavits.

Bill C. Lee, who has worked for Rodino at Lee's Wood Products for most of the last 14 years, filed an affidavit saying, "Terry Rodino knowingly hired illegal aliens as employees of Duro, Inc.

"There were times when employees of Duro, Inc. had problems with their Social Security numbers, and Terry Rodino would instruct the employee to come back with another I.D. so that the employee could continue to work for Duro, Inc.," Lee wrote. He continued that "there were times when the same employee of Duro, Inc. went by a different name altogether after the employee followed Terry Rodino's instructions and got a different I.D."

Lee also said that the Shah family, owners of competitors Global Group Inc., were the targets of racial slurs by Rodino. Dugle heard the same epithets, he wrote in his affidavit.

Dugle's attorney, Mike Christofeno, said he couldn't comment on the case because of a gag order and the sealed affidavits.

WHO IS RODINO?

Rodino, 55, is a lifelong resident of Elkhart County, according to his website, terryrodino.com. He has two grown children and has been married to his wife, Stacey, for a quarter of a century.

A former president of the Rotary Club in Elkhart, he has served on the ADEC board, the advisory council for REAL Services of Northern Indiana and the Blazer Club boosters of Elkhart Central High School.

He is president and owner of Recycled/New Pallets. According to court documents, he also runs Duro Realty Inc., Duro Recycling Inc., Duro Transport Inc., and Duro Inc., which bought Lee's Wood Products.

He was elected as a commissioner in 2004 and 2008 and serves as the commission's liaison to the county's drainage board.

He was honored in 2008 for fundraising efforts to benefit Families First.

THE CASE

The lawsuit was filed in 2004 after Dugle accused Rodino of forcing him out of the businesses and he tried to sell his stock to Global Group.

The case spent some time in federal court and remains pending in Elkhart Superior Court 3. Several attempts at mediation haven't succeeded, according to documents in the court file.

In addition to these affidavits, several other pieces of information were sealed in the case, though most of those stemmed from the federal case. Those include information on clients of the companies, trade secrets, information on the financial affairs of the company and information related to stock sales and negotiations to sell stock.

At a hearing in February, Biddlecome ordered both sides to have all relevant materials shared with each other by early August, though he said he may extend that deadline. No trial date has been scheduled.

Truth reporter Tim Vandenack contributed to this story.

WHAT IS A COUNTY COMMISSIONER?

The three Elkhart County commissioners govern the county. They're elected by the more than 200,000 residents of the county. They have some legislative functions, enacting ordinances, and they also serve as the county's executive branch. They are in charge of county buildings, lands and property; purchases and authorizing payments; signing contracts; supervising a variety of county departments; and performing other governing functions.

Source: Elkhart County website.




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