Criminal Justice

Federal Grand Jury Indicts Sheriff, Portage Mayor

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By: Chris Nolte

November 18, 2016 — Lakeshore Public Radio, U.S. Attorney’s Office

HAMMOND — Lake County Sheriff John Buncich and Portage Mayor James Snyder were indicted on Friday on public corruption charges during a lengthy probe into bribery and extortion involving contracts with private towing firms in Lake and Porter County.

Sheriff Buncich and his Chief Deputy Timothy Downs are charged with mail fraud, and Buncich is charged with receiving a bribe in connection with his campaign committee. Snyder and Portage towing service owner John Cortina are charged with violating the federal bribery statute. Lake Station towing company owner William Szarmach is also charged in the multi-count indictment along with Buncich and Downs. Cortina’s company also tows vehicles for the Lake County Sheriff’s Department.

Capp said at a late-morning news conference that Buncich, Downs, Szarmach and Kortina were all arrested and taken into custody Friday morning.  Snyder will surrender to federal authorities later.  Buncich, Downs and Snyder are expected to be released on their own recognizance.  Buncich is expected to appear in federal court in Hammond for an initial hearing .

Capp also referred in his remarks to another unnamed defendant, a local businessperson described as “Individual A.” Capp said “Individual A” is the owner of a towing business who voluntarily came forward and cooperated with federal prosecutors.

Federal attorneys asked a U.S. District Court magistrate earlier this month for authorization to seize evidence of crimes involving receipt of bribes by an agent of local government, mail or wire fraud of honest services, conspiracy to commit mail or wire fraud, and honest services mail/wire fraud and extortion by state authorities.

The crimes listed in the federal indictments could result in felony convictions and long prison sentences. But they are – for now – only allegations that will do doubt be contested in court. Capp stressed that the investigation is ongoing and more indictments will come.

The “Times” reports there is no indication that Buncich will step down as the county’s law enforcement officer or as Lake County Democratic Party chairman, although pressure is expected to build to oust him at least from the chairmanship.


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