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.
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
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.”
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.”
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.