Officials delve into LaGrange County land deal
WOLCOTTVILLE -- Ruth and Alvin Lambright Jr. grew up together on the family "homeplace" in rural LaGrange County.

Ruth and her younger brother, Alvin, ran the farm together for decades after their parents died and are described variously as "salt of the earth," generous and strongly devout.

Alvin lost much of his left arm to a hay baler as a young man but could still be seen working his own land until his last years, friends say, even carrying buckets in the crook of what was left of that elbow.

Ruth, who once ran a truck stop in Ligonier, also kept house. The two tended the grapevine an ancestor brought from Germany, a beloved dog Alvin would call "somethin' special," and their many barn cats that apparently carried a cleft palate gene.

Ruth died first, in 2007 at the age of 92. She had lingered, one friend recalls, showing signs of dementia.

Alvin was devoted to her, keeping her at home as long as he could, said Dr. Mark O'Shaughnessy, a Fort Wayne cardiologist. O'Shaughnessy treated Alvin's heart problems and then, with a cottage on nearby Oliver Lake in LaGrange County, grew to know the Lambrights well.

"He could hardly leave the house without her coming out crying, 'Alvin, where are you?' " O'Shaughnessy recalls of the brother's devotion. "He'd say, 'I'm right here, Ruth.' "

Alvin followed Ruth and their several siblings in October 2008, when he was 90.

When they died, they left behind more than 500 acres in addition to the homeplace, some of it woods, some of it bordering popular Oliver Lake.

The Lambrights had mandated in a trust and in deeds that the acreage remain undeveloped. They appointed a third cousin, Kurt Bachman, as a co-trustee with the two of them, also naming him executor of their estate and a beneficiary. Bachman, who practices in the LaGrange branch of a Fort Wayne law firm, is also the attorney for LaGrange County.

Under the terms of the trust, Bachman was to have the sole use of the property for as long as he lived, including the income from renting the farmland. After he died, the entire 516 acres would go to LaGrange County.

But in 2009, according to documents, Bachman gave up about half of his lifetime interest in the land to the county and, as trustee, approved selling the rest of the property to a firm he had just established.

What happened and how the deal was conducted has drawn a highly critical report from Indiana's State Board of Accounts late last year, prompting a second special prosecutor's review -- and some raised eyebrows in LaGrange County.

'Watchful omniscience'

On the hillier east side of the county, in a home on Pretty Lake, Tom Mason sits at his kitchen table, stacks of documents in front of him.

The retired Fort Wayne businessman has spent 20 years trying to keep LaGrange County politicians honest, he said, ever since a dispute over a beachside business in the mid-'90s "forced" him into learning state laws and how to research public documents.

Although others in the county have told a reporter they worry about repercussions if they speak publicly about the Lambright Trust, Mason said he's open about trying to expose what he sees as corruption. In fact, he said, he provided the State Board of Accounts and the FBI copies of documents.

His interest began when someone called him in 2009 and said, "'You might just look into this, this really smells,'" he said.

"I'm the county terrorist," Mason said. "I'm nothing but a troublemaker."