Dan Murchek pleads guilty to accepting an illegal campaign contribution associated with the ex-sheriff's bribery scandal
May 21, 2018
CROWN POINT — A former high-ranking Lake County police administrator pleaded guilty Monday to lying to the FBI about receiving illegal campaign contributions as part of a towing bribery scandal.
Daniel Murchek, a 24-year veteran of the Lake County police force, admitted to U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge John E. Martin he accepted a $500 check to fund his former campaign for Lake County sheriff knowing the money came from someone other than the person whose name was on the check.
Murchek said FBI agents questioned him several weeks later about whether he knew that contribution was questionable, and he falsely denied it was questionable.
His admission was part of a plea agreement Murchek made to avoid a trial on the charge and win the U.S. attorney's recommendation that Murchek receive the minimum sentence under federal guidelines and a fine of only $3,500.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Benson advised Murchek and the court that Murchek was pleading guilty to a felony, which likely would disqualify him from holding a future position with any labor organization.
Murchek has been president of the Northern Indiana Area Labor Federation and the Lake County Police Association Local 72.
Paul Stracci, one of Murchek's lawyers, issued a statement after the hearing:“Today marks a day of loss."
"Dan Murchek has served our community for nearly 35 years and has received numerous commendations throughout the course of his career. He has not only saved lives but has also given his time to many local labor unions and philanthropic organizations.
"Danny’s contributions to our community cannot be overstated. He’s impacted countless lives, and I am sure Danny will continue to work to improve the lives of all Lake County residents," Stracci said.
A police veteran falls to the bribery scandal
Murchek rose in the ranks of county police to third-in-command as deputy chief of the Lake County Sheriff's Department between 2011 and last fall under former Sheriff John Buncich.
A federal grand jury indicted Murchek last month on allegations Murchek began soliciting campaign financial support in fall 2015 from Willie Szarmach, owner of CSA Towing in Lake Station, and Scott Jurgensen, owner of Samson’s Towing in Merrillville.
Unknown to Murchek or Szarmach, Jurgensen was recording their conversations. He was an undercover informant who had been helping the FBI uncover bribery among towing firms doing business with area police and politicians since 2013.
The indictment alleges Murchek again met with the two towing owners in June 2016 to explain how they could disguise campaign contributions to him in the name of other people to avoid the maximum limit for business corporations, a practice the FBI calls a structured donation.
On Sept. 23, 2016, Jurgensen gave Murchek a $1,000 contribution in the name of the towing business and a $500 check illegally structured to look like a separate contribution from one of his towing employees. Jurgensen told Murchek he was the source of the money for both checks.
Four days after the FBI raided former Sheriff John Buncich's home and office Nov. 10, 2016, for evidence of illegal contributions from towing firms, FBI agents questioned Murchek about whether he received a structured contribution from Jurgensen.
Murchek said he didn't, but now admits his denial was a lie.
The federal investigation into the Lake County Sheriff's Department has swept up a number of local government figures, including in neighboring Porter County, and is expected to claim more in the near future. Rumors abounded Thursday that other figures under Buncich's administration and municipal officials who controlled towing would be next.
Timothy Downs, who was second-in-command under Buncich, pleaded guilty Dec. 16, 2016, to cheating the public of honest government services by using his authority within the department to do political fundraising for Buncich while he was on duty and using his publicly provided police car.
Downs is still awaiting sentencing.
Portage Mayor James E. Snyder and John Cortina, owner of a Portage towing firm, are now set to stand trial June 4 in U.S. District Court — Snyder for allegedly soliciting and receiving $12,000 in exchange for a Portage towing contract, and Cortina for allegedly offering the money. They are pleading not guilty.
Tom Goralczyk, a former Merrillville town councilman, pleaded guilty in January to accepting bribes — a 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee and a 2008 Ford Focus — in return for promises of a lucrative contract to Jurgensen, the undercover FBI informant. Goralczyk is awaiting sentencing June 5.
A U.S. District Court jury last August found Buncich guilty of soliciting and accepting campaign contributions from Szarmach and Jurgensen in return for giving them more lucrative towing work.
Buncich is serving a 188-month prison term, currently at a federal secure medical facility in Springfield, Missouri.