Chesterton Tribune



Lake County Sheriff convicted of wire fraud and bribery

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Lake County Sheriff John Buncich was convicted this morning of wire fraud and bribery, following a two-week jury trial in federal court, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Indiana reported just before deadline.

Buncich was indicted earlier this year on five counts of honest services wire fraud, after investigators accused him of awarding business to towing companies in Lake County and Gary in exchange for check and cash payments. He was also indicted on one count of bribery in connection with the towing scheme.

Today the jury convicted Buncich, 71, on all six counts, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Also indicted were Timothy Downs, formerly Lake County Chief Deputy under Buncich; and William Szarmach, who owns and operates CSA Towing in Lake Station.

Under Lake County ordinance, the sheriff has exclusive authority to determine which companies will provide towing services to the Lake County Sheriff’s Police, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. “From February 2014 continuing into October 2016, Buncich devised a scheme to deprive the citizens of Lake County of their right to the honest services of the sheriff’s office. The scheme was designed to enrich Buncich personally and his campaign committee, known as Buncich Boosters. The trial evidence established that a number of checks and cash payments, often collected by Downs, from Szarmach and Scott Jurgensen, were exchanged for Buncich awarding them county towing business and towing in the City of Gary for ordinance violations.”

Jurgenson, a former Merrillville Police Officer, is the owner of Sampson Relocation and Towing, and “provided significant assistance to the United States during the course of this investigation,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

“The jury convicted Buncich of five counts of honest services wire fraud in connection with this scheme,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. “The jury also convicted Buncich of a charged violation of the federal bribery statute in connection with corruptly soliciting, demanding, and receiving over $25,000 in cash and $7,000 in checks in exchange for favorable actions by Buncich regarding the towing contracts.”

Szarmach and Downs, who both testified at trial, are awaiting sentencing on their guilty pleas to the following charges in the indictment: Downs pleaded guilty to one count of honest services wire fraud and; Szarmach, to three counts of honest services wire fraud, bribery, and failure to file a tax return.

“The United States Attorney’s Office will continue to vigorously prosecute public officials who use their public office as means for personal enrichment,” Acting U.S. Attorney Clifford Johnson said. “All citizens deserve public officials who work for the public interest and not their own interest.”

“Public officials who abuse their positions for personal financial gain at the expense of the taxpayers will not be tolerated,” W. Jay Abbot, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis Division. “The FBI and our federal, state, and local partners will continue to aggressively pursue those across Indiana who corrupt their office for self-serving motives. Also instrumental in these investigations are the honest and patriotic citizens who come forward and assist in uncovering the truth as was the case in Lake County.”

“Taxpayers expect their elected officials to protect and improve their communities,” added Gabriel Grchan, IRS Criminal Investigation special agent in charge. “Rather than serve his community Buncich abused his position and devised a pay-to-play towing scheme that benefited him and few others financially. Today's verdict reminds us that public corruption will not be tolerated and no one is above the law.”

Buncich served as sheriff from 1994 to 2002, was elected again in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.


Posted 8/24/2017




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