Monday, July 21, 2014

[IN] Portage Mayor James Snyder - FBI Investigation













Portage Mayor Snyder indicted on bribery, tax charges
Joyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 548-4352    
November 19, 2016 - 1:00AM
PORTAGE — Mayor James Snyder has been indicted in federal court in Hammond on bribery and obstruction charges.

U.S. District Attorney David Capp announced the indictments in a press conference Friday morning.

While the charges were being read from the federal courthouse in Hammond, Snyder met with city department heads and employees at his home.

U.S. marshals escorted Snyder, 38, into court about 3:30 p.m. Friday. He flashed smiles at his lawyers, Thomas Kirsch and Thomas Dogan.

He pleaded not guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Cherry to felony bribery, extortion and tax dodging counts, which carry long prison terms if he is convicted.

He was freed on a $20,000 recognizance bond, but has to surrender his passport and firearms he owns. When the judge asked Snyder if he has a passport, Snyder smiled and said, “We’ve been looking for it since 7 a.m.”

Snyder’s administrative assistant, Amanda Lakie, said he would not be making a statement and directed The Times to Snyder’s attorney. Lakie said Snyder met with employees to encourage them to continue their work for the city.

“Mayor James Snyder has been under investigation for nearly two and half years and today was indicted on three counts,” said Snyder’s attorney, Tom Kirsch, of Chicago. “Mayor Snyder believed that this extremely lengthy federal investigation had been concluded without charges being sought. Today’s indictment comes as a complete surprise. This is particularly so because these charges are meritless. Mayor Snyder has always been cooperative with federal agents throughout the relentless investigation. Mayor Snyder looks forward to fighting these charges in a court of law and to complete vindication. Mayor Snyder and his family are grateful for the outpouring of support they have received from residents, friends, and family and asks that they continue to believe in him through this time.”

Federal authorities arrested and arraigned John Cortina, owner of Kustom Auto Body, 5409 U.S. 6, Portage, earlier Friday. He is pleading not guilty to his role in the scheme and is also free on bond.

Cherry set their trial to begin the week of Jan. 23, although the date could change if the defense needs more time to prepare.

The charges
The first charge names Snyder and Cortina.

Snyder and Cortina are both charged with a violation of the federal bribery statute. Snyder is alleged to have corruptly solicited and received two checks totaling $12,000 from Cortina, in exchange for a towing contract in the city of Portage, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice. Cortina is charged with corruptly offering those checks to Snyder.

Cortina’s business was raided last week by Indiana State Police and U.S. Treasury Department agents. Cortina told The Times then that his business was not the subject of the raid, that a towing company which leases property from Cortina was being investigated.

Snyder is also charged with a second violation of the federal bribery statute. That count alleges that between Jan. 1, 2012 and Jan. 10, 2014, Snyder corruptly solicited and agreed to accept a bank check in the amount of $13,000 in connection with Portage Board of Works contracts, a Portage Redevelopment Commission project and other consideration, stated the release.

The final charge against Snyder alleges obstruction of the internal revenue laws. This count sets forth an alleged scheme, undertaken by Snyder between January 2010 and April 2013, to obstruct and impede the Internal Revenue Service’s collection of personal taxes he owed and payroll taxes owed by his mortgage business, First Financial Trust Mortgage LLC. Snyder is alleged to have diverted funds away from FFTM to a sole proprietorship he created, and submitted three forms to the IRS which failed to disclose, among other things, the existence of the sole proprietorship and its bank account – all during a time when the IRS was attempting to collect the aforementioned tax debt.

Lengthy investigation
The indictment comes after more than two years of investigation by the FBI into the city and Snyder and less than two months after Snyder attempted to get the city’s Utility Service Board to pay some $93,000 in legal fees involving the investigation.

In September, Snyder had two checks cut by the department and sent to two legal firms without approval by the board. The legal firms allegedly returned the checks because they were not from Snyder directly. The funds were returned to the department and Mark Oprisko, City Council president and utility board vice chairman, called for an investigation by an independent attorney into the claims.

While state law allows Snyder to request the reimbursement it can only be done if he was cleared of the investigation and there were no impending indictments.

Reactions
Oprisko said he had the “wind knocked out of me” when he heard about the indictments and was “disheartened,” thinking that the investigation was over a couple of months ago.

“It is a black eye to the city. The investigation is what it is. He is innocent until proven guilty. He still has a job to do. He has to pick it up and move forward,” Oprisko said, adding the same is true for city employees and other elected officials. “Our job is to serve the citizens of Portage, and we will continue to do that.”

“While this is a sad day for the city of Portage, Jim Snyder deserves his day in court,” said Portage Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham. “However, I am focused on ensuring myself and the City Council continue to lead Portage forward despite the mayor’s troubles. Now, more than ever, Portage needs good leaders. We are more than any one person and the issues of one won’t derail our progress.”

“Today’s indictment issued by the United States Attorney in connection to Portage Mayor James Snyder is deeply concerning,” said Portage Councilman Collin Czilli in a written statement, promising residents that city business will continue unimpeded. “However, like any other individual, Mayor Snyder deserves his day in court and the right to defend himself. As a city Councilman, I am of the mindset that we must allow the judicial process to continue and to not interfere in that process for political purposes.”

“These investigations are not over. Our public corruption team will continue its work, particularly into the towing contracts in both Lake and Porter counties,” Capp said in the press release.

Anyone with information related to these public corruption charges is encouraged to call the FBI at (219) 769-3719.
























SOURCE: Sheriff, One Other to be Indicted Tomorrow
Ken Davidson
Northwest Indiana Gazette
11172016
http://nwigazette.com/2016/11/source-sheriff-one-indicted-tomorrow/


November 17, 2016-During Operation Bar Tab and Operation Lights Out, “Federal Friday” sent chills down the spines of Lake County Politicians on a regular basis. The term was used in political circles after several high profile cases were announced on a Friday afternoon. The Gazette has received credible information that two indictments will be handed down tomorrow, November 18, 2016. “The Sheriff will be one of them” our source told us. The Source also said that Sheriff Buncich will be asked to step down as Sheriff. Charges are rumored to center around towing contracts and payments related to those contracts. The Gazette cautions that information from sources is never 100% accurate and no one can know for certain what is going to happen tomorrow. Thus, we print this with the express caveat that it could be wrong.

The home and office of Lake County Sheriff John Buncich was raided a week ago today. Additionally, FBI and US Treasury Agents raided CSA Towing in Lake Station and Samson Towing in Portage. Both Samson and CSA tow for the Lake County Sheriff’s Department. Agents also requested records from Lake County 9-1-1 and the Lake County Board of Elections and Voter Registration.

Friday after the raid was a holiday, but Sheriff Buncich returned to work on Monday. The Sheriff issued an official statement that his office was cooperating with Federal agents conducting the investigation. It is not known if the FBI received records responsive to the supboenas from Lake County 911 or the Election Board. In past cases, the time frame between a raid and an indictment has been as long as a year and a half. The office of Lake County Surveyor George Van Til was raided in June, 2012 and he was indicted in December, 2013. The office of Calumet Township Assessor Mary Elgin was raided in March, 2014 and she was indicted in December, 2014.

Buncich is also Chair of the Lake County Democratic Party.












Search warrant offers insight into federal probe in Lake County
Carrie Napoleon
Post-Tribune
November 14, 2016 - 7:10PM


Investigators who seized records from Lake County offices last week were gathering evidence as part of a federal probe into a possible bribery scheme involving an unidentified local government official, according to a federal search warrant obtained by the Post-Tribune.

Federal agents were investigating a possible "receipt of a bribe by an agent of a local government receiving federal funds," "mail/wire fraud," "conspiracy to commit mail/wire fraud," and "Hobbs Act extortion under the Color of State Authority," according to the search warrant. It was unclear the identity of the local government official under federal scrutiny.

Nevertheless, investigators who seized records from Lake County offices last week were looking for records relating to the county's towing operations over the last six years, the search warrant said. The search warrant, which was delivered to the county's E-911 department on Thursday, also sought maps, towing logs, a list of tow companies, phone and dispatch call data for police and tow companies, emails from any sheriff's department personnel related to Lake County towing and dispatcher work schedules.

FBI and Indiana State Police officers first visited the Lake County Sheriff's department Thursday before moving over to the main county complex. Ryan Holmes, of the U.S. Department of Justice, confirmed last week that a federal search warrant was served in the vicinity of the Lake County Government Center. Holmes declined to elaborate.

"The Lake County Sheriff's Department is cooperating with our federal law enforcement partners, fully assisting the FBI with their inquiry," the sheriff's department said in a statement last week. "Regular Sheriff's Department operations are continuing. We assure the citizens of Lake County that their safety remains our top priority."

Sheriff John Buncich did not return calls seeking comment.

After starting at the Sheriff's Department, federal and state authorities moved into the administrative building, at the same time as a Veterans Day ceremony was winding down. Officials stopped by the Board of Elections and Voter Registration, the E-911 office, auditor's office, data processing and the County Commissioners.

"There's more questions than answers," Lake County Commissioner Michael Repay, D-Hammond, said Monday.

Jim Wieser, Lake County election board attorney, confirmed last week that the office was served a subpoena seeking records but did not disclose what records were requested.












FBI looking for evidence of Lake towing bribery
Bill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328  
November 14, 2016

CROWN POINT — State and federal agents are looking for evidence of bribery, extortion and fraudulent denial of honest government services in connection with car towing ordered by the Lake County Sheriff's Department.

The Times has obtained a copy of a federal search warrant served Thursday on the Lake County E-911 offices demanding telephone, radio and email data as well as paper documents, including a list of towing firms authorized by county government to tow cars and documents tracking their activity.

State police and FBI agents raided the Lake County Sheriff's Department and descended on Sheriff John Buncich's Crown Point home Thursday before leaving with several boxes of documents from the entrance of the sheriff's office building.

Federal agents also raided a Portage business site, whose owner said was connected to a Merrillville-based towing firm.

Agents served a subpoena seeking documents from the Lake County Voter Registration and Elections Department, which tracks campaign contributions and spending for all candidates for county, township and municipal offices.

They served a search warrant on the E-911 office, which coordinates communications among the public, the county sheriff and 15 municipal police, fire and emergency medical service providers.

The E-911 warrant states the government is looking only for towing data. Lake County elected officials and their lawyers said they are cooperating with federal authorities.

Federal authorities petitioned a federal magistrate Nov. 9 to authorize the E-911 search warrant.

They sought 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 could result in felony convictions and long prison sentences.

The warrant identifies what is to be seized as: Data and information contained in the computers and all storage media used by the Lake County E-911 Dispatch Center relating only to Lake County towing from the time period of 2010 to present.

The year 2010 was the last year in office for former Sheriff Roy Dominguez. Sheriff John Buncich has been serving as sheriff since 2011.

County government was in the midst of a financial crisis, because the 2008 recession and state-mandated property tax cuts had cut county government revenues to the point it was prepared to lay off 10 county police officers.

Buncich asked the County Council in 2012 to raise to $75 from $20 the fee the county charges each time a county police officer calls for a towing firm to remove a car on public streets. Buncich said he would use the revenue from those fees to support the endangered officers' salaries and benefits.

Buncich said then he would become more aggressive in towing disabled cars as well as vehicles belonging to targets of his department's gang and drug task forces.

The county collected $220,000 in towing fees last year and $164,000 this year to date from the thousands of cars towed.












Portage mayor's legal fees turned over to outside attorney
Joyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222 
November 11, 2016
PORTAGE — Mayor James Snyder’s $93,000 in legal fees will be turned over to an outside, independent attorney for review and investigation.

Utility Services Board Vice Chairman Mark Oprisko said this week he had hired John Hughes of Hoeppner Wagner & Evans in Valparaiso to review Snyder’s legal fees associated with a more than 2-year-old federal investigation. However, Oprisko said after spending an hour and a half with Hughes on Thursday, Hughes decided it would not be in his law firm’s best interest to take on the issue, Oprisko said.

Oprisko said he would move forward, seeking another attorney for the job.

Oprisko, also president of the City Council, said after last month’s controversy he spoke with City Council and Utility Services Board members and felt this is the right way to go. Snyder chairs the board.

Snyder, who has been under investigation by the FBI, had two checks cut by the utility department on Sept. 26, totaling more than $93,000 to pay his two attorneys representing him during the investigation. The checks initially were sent to the firms without board approval. The money was returned to the utility department after the firms said they couldn’t collect payment from the utility department because it was not their client.

The request for reimbursement for the legal fees is legal under Indiana law, but only “if a grand jury fails to indict the officer or employees and the acts investigated by the grand jury were within the scope of official duties of the officer or employee.”

Snyder’s request for reimbursement would indicate the federal investigation is over.

Oprisko, who was on vacation and out of the country at the time, asked the matter be tabled upon further investigation.

Oprisko said he has no guarantee that the investigation is over and if the funds are reimbursed to Snyder and Snyder is indicted, the utility department will have lost the money.

He also said he’s uncertain if the entire investigation has to do with Snyder’s role as board chairman. The investigation began over Snyder using a utility department credit card to take a trip to Austria that he said was for economic development. However, it spread beyond to include the street department and purchasing of garbage trucks.

Snyder said before Wednesday’s Utility Board meeting that he had no intention of submitting the claims to the board a second time until the review was completed. Even then, he added, he may not submit the claims.

“This is the right, the fair thing to do,” said Oprisko about reviewing the claims. “I till have an obligation to anyone sitting on this board to find out what is correct and legal.”

Oprisko said he will share what information he receives with the board and council.













FBI raids Lake sheriff department
Bill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328
November 11, 2016 - 11:20AM
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/crime-and-court/fbi-raids-lake-sheriff-department/article_677e5038-f0f5-5da3-85da-0222e1f28c3a.html
CROWN POINT — FBI and Indiana State Police were raiding the Lake County Government Center early Thursday.

A number of FBI agents and state police investigators entered the sheriff's offices at the Lake County Government Center, 2293 N. Main St., about 9:30 a.m.

Ryan Holmes, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office, said federal authorities were serving search warrants on the county sheriff early today. He declined to comment on what documents are being sought or who is being targeted.

Dean Delisle told The Times he was in the Sheriff's Bureau of Identification, where police records are held, to obtain a copy of an accident report when agents and state police walked into that office and ordered everybody, including the sheriff's employees, to leave the building.

"They were taking pictures of everything," Delisle said. He said sheriff's employees appeared upset as they were preparing to leave.

A source within county government said federal agents and state police entered the building with dollies, which can be used to move large quantities of documents and equipment. A source said all employees in the building were ordered to leave the building.

A source within county government said federal agents then fanned out to the Lake County Voter Registration and Election offices, where vote totals are kept, the Lake County E-911 offices and other departments within the administration building.

The Lake County Jail, where the sheriff has offices, has been under a U.S. Department of Justice mandate for the last eight years for failing to meet federal healthcare standards for inmates.

Sheriff John Buncich couldn't be reached for comment.













FBI raids Lake County Ind. Sheriff’s office
November 10, 2016 - 4:38PM

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PORTAGE, Ind. -- The FBI raided the Lake County Sheriff's office today. Insiders say the agents are investigating corruption charges.

Federal agents and Indiana State Troopers are seen leaving the Lake County Sheriff's Department.

Some carried  boxes and bags seized in the raid that began about 9 a.m. today and involves additional departments within county government as well.

Federal authorities confirm to WGN News they were on county property executing search warrants.

Also today, agents were seen leaving the nearby home of Sheriff John Buncich.

Buncich is a career law-enforcement officer and has been elected several times, the most recent in November of 2014.

According to published reports, the investigation centers around allegations of bribery concerning the contracts of towing companies and campaign donations.

A department spokesman issued a statement in response to the investigation saying:

The Lake County Sheriff's Department is cooperating with our Federal law enforcement partners, fully assisting the FBI with their inquiry. Regular Sheriff's Department operations are continuing. We assure the citizens of Lake County that their safety remains our top priority.












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UPDATE: FBI raids Lake County sheriff's offices; searches may have Porter ties
Bill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328
November 10, 2016 - 8:30PM
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/crime-and-court/fbi-raids-lake-sheriff-department/article_677e5038-f0f5-5da3-85da-0222e1f28c3a.html

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CROWN POINT — The FBI and Indiana State Police raided the Lake County Sheriff's Department and were parked outside the sheriff's home early Thursday.

A number of FBI agents and state police investigators entered the offices of Lake County Sheriff John Buncich at the Lake County Government Center, 2293 N. Main St., about 9:30 a.m.

They left early Thursday afternoon with several boxes of documents they loaded into an FBI panel truck.

Indiana State Police and federal investigators' cars, both marked and unmarked, were parked late Thursday morning outside Buncich's Crown Point home. FBI Special Agent Bob Ramsey, who appeared outside the sheriff's home, declined to comment further.

Ramsey and Ryan Holmes, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said federal authorities were serving search warrants on the county sheriff. Holmes declined to comment on what documents are being sought or who is being targeted.

Sources within county government said investigators were looking into rumors of bribery involving towing vendors and police, and were looking for towing contracts and campaign finance reports.

Simultaneous raid
At the same time that federal agents were raiding the Lake County sheriff’s office, several members of the Indiana State Police and the U.S. Department of Treasury shut down Kustom Auto Body, 5409 U.S. 6, Portage, in an apparent raid Thursday morning.

John Cortina, owner of Kustom Auto Body, said his business was not the target of Thursday morning's raid.

Cortina said the agents were seeking information on Sampson Towing, a Merrillville-based business that leases storage space in his back lot.

Police vehicles blocked the entrance to the business. Police could be seen going in and out of the building. The treasury agent referred all questions to a department spokesperson, who did not return calls. 

FBI order all to leave building
In Lake County, Dean Delisle told The Times he was in the Sheriff's Bureau of Identification, where police records are held, to obtain a copy of an accident report when agents and state police walked into that office and ordered everybody, including the sheriff's employees, to leave.

"They were taking pictures of everything," Delisle said. He said sheriff's employees appeared upset as they were preparing to leave.

A source within county government said 38 federal and state agents were inside the Lake County Sheriff's Department. Another source said all employees in the sheriff's office building were ordered to leave.

Federal agents then fanned out to the Lake County Voter Registration and Election offices, where campaign finance records are kept, and the Lake County E-911 offices, which keeps records of police radio communications, to serve subpoenas for documents.

Buncich's campaign finance reports indicate he received more than $9,000 in contributions in 2014 and 2015 from several towing and auto firms in Crown Point, Gary, Highland, Hobart, Merrillville, St. John and Whiting.

The elections board office and E-911 offices were allowed to remain open and continue operating.

Mark Back, a spokesman for the sheriff issued a statement 2:43 p.m. Thursday, which said: "The Lake County Sheriff's Department is cooperating with our federal law enforcement partners and fully assisting the FBI with their inquiry. Regular Sheriff's Department operations are continuing. We assure the citizens of Lake County that their safety remains our top priority. There was no interruption of police duties."

Back said the sheriff's department continued to function through the day. "Employees were asked to at least step away from their desks while the FBI were completing their inquiry and look for whatever they were looking for," Back said.

As to what the FBI was looking for or removed from the sheriff's department, "You would have to ask the FBI," Back said. He said Buncich was continuing to perform his duties as sheriff.

Buncich could not be reached for comment and was not seen Thursday outside his home.

The county sheriff's department has had agreements with as many as eight towing firms who police use to remove abandoned cars from accident and arrest scenes.










Warrants served at Lake County government offices
November 10, 2016 - 11:58AM
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-lake-fbi-visit-st-1111-20161110-story.html

FBI officials Thursday morning visited a string of Lake County offices.

FBI and Indiana State Police officers first visited the Lake County Sheriff's department before moving over to the main county complex. Officials stopped by the 911 office, auditor's office, data process and the County Commissioners.

Ryan Holmes, of the U.S. Department of Justice, confirmed that a federal search warrant was served in the vicinity of the Lake County Government Center. Holmes could not discuss the case any further.

An FBI official at the courthouse was unable to comment on why federal officials were visiting the offices.

Lake County Sheriff John Buncich did not respond to a call for comment Thursday morning.












FBI Raids Sheriff’s House, Office, Contractors
November 10, 2016
NW Indiana Gazette
http://nwigazette.com/2016/11/fbi-raids-sheriffs-house-office-contractors/

Federal Agents and State Police swarmed the home and offices of Lake County Sheriff John Buncich early today. Agents also raided at least one and as many as three towing contractors. The Gazette first received reports of the incident at approximately 9:00 a.m. when an FBI Van and several marked Indiana State Police cars pulled up in front of the Jail wing of the Lake County Government Center. Sources close to the investigation stated that agents came into the building and asked everyone to leave except the Sheriff’s bookkeeper Melanie Dillon. Agents removed records from the office of the Bookkeeper after spending several hours inside. FBI Agents also raided the home of Sheriff John Buncich and the home of at least one towing contractor. Additionally, Agents went to the Lake County Board of Elections and Voter Registration and the Data Processing Department within the Government Center.

Sources said at least three towing contractors were also visited by agents. CSA Towing in Lake Station, Samson Towing in Merrillville and Gary, and Kustom Towing in Portage were all reportedly visited by FBI Agents today. At least one of the homes of the owners of the above businesses was also visited. When asked if the FBI visited, an employee of Samson Towing replied “no comment.”

It is important to remember that a criminal investigation does not imply wrongdoing. FBI Agents have seized records many times and those seizures of records do not always result in criminal charges being brought.

Sheriff John Buncich issued a statement which read “The Lake County Sheriff’s Department is cooperating with our Federal law enforcement
partners, fully assisting the FBI with their inquiry. Regular Sheriff’s Department operations are continuing. We assure the citizens of Lake County that their safety remains our top priority.”

We will keep you updated with any additional details, please Like us on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter for all the latest.













BREAKING: Mayor Reports FBI at Lake County Government Center
Ken Davidson / 2 hours ago
November 10, 2016 - 10:00AM
http://nwigazette.com/2016/11/breaking-mayor-reports-fbi/

November 10, 2016-Just moments ago Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, Jr. posted the photo above with the caption “FBI and Indiana State Police parked in front of Lake Ct. Gvt Ctr-approx 30 officers entered offices of Sheriff John Buncich”

This is a breaking story, we will provide additional details as soon as information becomes available. See the update Here-FBI Raids Sheriff’s House, Office, Contractors













EDITORIAL: Snyder skipped propriety in legal fees matter
The Times Editorial Board
Updated October 17, 2016
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/editorial-snyder-skipped-propriety-in-legal-fees-matter/article_ef3ccac0-722c-5b0d-84a0-7cc547755c26.html


It’s the type of mistake, innocent or not, that paints an undesirable portrait of local government.

Portage Mayor James Snyder and other city officials owe their ratepayers an apology for putting the cart before the public discussion horse while attempting to pay his legal bills following an FBI probe of Snyder’s practices.

At issue are checks cut from the funds of the Portage Utility Service Board, of which Snyder is chairman, to pay for Snyder’s legal fees in the long-running federal probe.

On Sept. 26, Snyder directed the board’s secretary/treasurer to cut two checks totaling more than $93,000 to two law firms that represented him during the probe.

The mayor did so even though the payments weren’t discussed, much less voted upon in a public forum, by the Portage Utility Service Board.

In fact, the board didn’t vote to approve those payments until Oct. 12 — after the law firms already had returned the money, having determined they were improperly paid by a public utility rather than their actual client, Snyder.

Snyder seeking to have the board cover his legal expenses isn’t what’s wrong in this situation.

State law allows for a government body to cover such expenses if an official involved in a possible criminal probe isn’t indicted by a grand jury or if “the acts investigated by the grand jury were within the scope of official duties of the officer or employee.”


In short, if there’s proof the federal probe uncovered no wrongdoing by Snyder, his fees should be covered by the utility board under state law.

However, the public deserved an appropriate procedure to be followed before those checks were cut.

A discussion and vote in a public meeting should have occurred first, and that didn’t happen.

Snyder, and any public official, should realize the sacred confidence they must keep with voters regarding fiscal propriety. Northwest Indiana has seen too many cases of abuse over the years, and we’re frankly sick of flippant handling of public money.

Factor into that history that Snyder’s checks were cut because of a federal probe into his activities, and it’s not hard to see why a public discussion and board vote should have occurred prior to release of these payments.

Snyder is now doing the right thing.

He’s asking for the board to consider reimbursing him for legal expenses following a future public discussion and vote.

It’s unfortunate a course correction was necessary.













Portage mayor's request for attorney fees remains up in the air
Joyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222  
10122016

PORTAGE — The Portage Utility Service Board did not decide whether to reimburse its chairman for his legal fees in regard to a long federal investigation.

The members never even discussed the matter during their monthly meeting Wednesday.

The board did approve claims that included two checks to Mayor James Snyder’s attorneys totaling over $93,000. However, that money has been returned to the utility.

Snyder, who chairs the utility board, didn’t answer many questions.

He said he intends to submit claims to get reimbursed for the legal fees, but wants board vice chairman Mark Oprisko to return and have a discussion before he submits any claims.

Oprisko, who is out of town, objected to the claims, saying earlier this week he wanted time to conduct research before approving anything. He wanted the issue tabled until he returned.

Last month Snyder submitted claims to pay the firms of Winston and Strawn of Chicago and Dogan and Dogan of Portage totaling just over $93,000. The checks were cut and distributed to the law firms before they were approved by the board. The firms said they could not accept the checks because they were from the utility and the utility is not their client. The money was returned to the utility this week.

State law allows Snyder to seek reimbursement of the legal fees “if the grand jury fails to indict the officer or employee and the acts investigated by the grand jury were within the scope of official duties of the officer or employee.”

Asked Wednesday if that means he has been cleared of any potential charges during the nearly three-year investigation, Snyder said he couldn’t comment.

“I can’t answer that either. We have several legal people looking at it,” Snyder said. “We are going to get through it and do the right thing.”

Snyder did say he approached the utility because the investigation started with a trip he took to Austria using the utility’s credit cards. The investigation expanded, however, with FBI agents delivering several subpoenas for various financial records, including the purchase of garbage trucks. The FBI interviewed dozens of city employees.

“As a board member, I don’t know enough about it,” said James Hazzard, adding he only learned of the situation Monday when he picked up the claims docket and saw the two claims to the two attorneys.

“I want to know the exact statute and how it reads,” Hazzard said, before making any decision.

Member Marci Kunstek said she trusts the board’s attorney “to walk us through the decision,” adding she would have no problem reimbursing Snyder’s legal fees if that was the recommendation.













Portage mayor asking city to pay his attorney fees
Joyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222  
NWI Times
10102016

PORTAGE — Mayor James Snyder has submitted two claims to the city’s Utility Services Board to pay more than $93,000 in attorney fees in defense of a 2-year-old federal investigation.

The request for reimbursement for the legal fees also could indicate that the investigation by the FBI is over.

Snyder has been under investigation by the FBI for more than two years. Agents have subpoenaed hundreds of records from city hall, the utility services department and the city’s street department as well as interviewed dozens of city employees.

In September 2014, agents visited the street department requesting information on the purchase of automated garbage trucks in 2012.

In July of that year, the agency visited the city’s Utility Services Department and requested documents about Snyder’s travel expenses for a city economic development trip to Europe.

FBI agents also requested copies of his campaign finance records and reports, and last year they requested meeting minutes from Portage FOP Lodge 145.

The Times received the latest information Monday after filing a Freedom of Information Act request on Oct. 3, asking for copies of checks written by the Utility Services Board between Sept. 20 and Sept. 30. Included in that information were checks made payable to the Chicago law firm of Winston and Strawn for $87,389 and to Portage law firm Dogan & Dogan for $6,118.

The checks, dated Sept. 26 were made out to the law firms and sent directly to their bank for automatic deposit, according to a statement from the city.

According to the statement, the law firms cannot take the checks directly from the utility department because the department is not their client, and will return the money. When the money is returned, the department will issue payment directly to Snyder. The statement said the payments were for “legal invoices pertaining to the Federal Investigation of James Snyder that started in his role as chairman of the Utility Service Board.”

Neither of the checks issued on Sept. 26 were approved by the Utility Services Board. Board attorney Katrina Spence and city Director of Administration Joe Calhoun said that was a mistake, but did not say who was responsible for sending the checks without board approval. They said the checks should not have been mailed to the law firms until the expenses had been reviewed by the Utility Services Board.

The Utility Services Board will meet Wednesday afternoon with Snyder’s claims on its agenda.

Wants second opinion
One member is not so sure he’s going to approve the claims.

Mark Oprisko, board member and City Council president, will be out of town for Wednesday’s meeting and will ask the board to table action on the claims until he returns and has a chance to do some research.

Oprisko said he wants to know how much of the investigation has to do with Snyder’s personal business.

“I want to see the bills. I want to get a second opinion. I want to try and contact the federal prosecutor and find out where the investigation is,” he said.

The board already approved payments to local attorney Kevin Milner for legal fees for Assistant Street Department Superintendent Randy Reeder and for Snyder’s administrative assistant Amanda Lakie. In January, the board approved claims of $4,125 for Lakie and $7,375 for Reeder. In September, a second claim for Reeder for $8,375 was approved.

Neither Spence nor Calhoun anticipate additional requests for reimbursements will be made to the department.

Only official duties covered
Spence said the reimbursement is legal under Indiana law. The code, 36-1-17-3(b), states that an officer or employee of a unit or municipal corporation may apply for reimbursement “if the grand jury fails to indict the officer or employee and the acts investigated by the grand jury were within the scope of official duties of the officer or employee.” In an email from Spence to Snyder on Sept. 26, Spence tells Snyder that he can present the bills to the utility department “since the Grand Jury specifically investigated your actions as the Chair of the USB ...”

Susan Gordon, of the Indiana State Board of Accounts, said while the law does allow for the reimbursement, it must be proven the fees covered only the part of the investigation pertaining to his professional duties. Gordon said it is likely to toss up a “red flag” when the department’s financial statements are audited by the state.

Gordon said paying a claim without board approval is not allowable unless specifically addressed by a city ordinance. Portage Ordinance 2-109 addresses bills that can be paid without board approval. Attorney fees are not included on the list.

Spence and Calhoun said they didn’t know if all of the legal fees cover the investigation of Snyder in his official capacity, or if it would cover any investigation into his personal business, a local mortgage company.

Spence said that is something the board will have to discuss.

The request for reimbursement may mean the end of the more than two-year investigation; the funds can only be paid “if the grand jury fails to indict,” according to the law.

“That is what we have been led to believe,” said Spence.

Snyder did not immediately return telephone, text or email messages.












Snyder submits $93K bill for legal fees to Portage
Michael Gonzalez
Post-Tribune
10102016

Anyone or any business that pays user fees for sewer or storm water sewer service in Portage may also be on the hook for paying legal bills related to a federal investigation of Mayor James Snyder.

The seven-member Portage Utility Services Board, whose majority is made of mayoral appointees, is expected to consider reimbursing Snyder's $87,389.75 in legal expenses from Chicago law firm Winston and Strawn and $6,118.75 in expenses from Portage-based law firm Dogan and Dogan, as part of its claims, or bills that have been paid. Snyder serves as the board's chairman.

Boards often pile up bills in their claims sections and vote them up or down as part of consent agendas. Individual items rarely come up for discussion or a separate vote.

City Council President Mark Oprisko, who is the vice chair of the utilities board, said he encourages the board to table a vote on the reimbursement until members can get more information on Snyder's request.

"It's awful hard to get two bills that total more than $90,000 without having all the facts," said Oprisko, who is out of town and will not attend Wednesday's meeting. "I want to see what the bills were, dates, hours and I want to go a step further.

"Was there anything found that the mayor did that was illegal as far as the utility end or the city end? (Snyder) keeps saying there's nothing there, but I'd sure like to see some proof of that before the board cuts a check for more than $90,000."

Snyder could not be reached for comment Monday.

The board also will consider paying $8,375 in legal expenses for Randy Reeder, assistant superintendent of the streets department, and Amanda Lakie, the mayor's secretary, though the amount of her legal expenses were not in the claims list.

Director of Administration Joe Calhoun said both employees were called before grand juries for the investigation.

According to Calhoun, federal officials began looking into a trip Snyder took to Austria after an invitation from Fronius, an Austrian-based manufacturer of solar panel technology, whose U.S. headquarters is in Portage.

The company did not pay for the trip, Calhoun said.

Snyder used his utility board-issued credit card to take the trip and later asked political supporters who contributed to a political action committee to reimburse the utility board for expenses related to the trip.

"It was kind of an economic development-type trip that many government officials often take about implementing new things and bringing new jobs to the city," Calhoun said.

Calhoun said the trip caught the attention of federal investigators.

In 2013, federal officials began an investigation related to the Austria trip, Calhoun said, but that could not be verified by federal officials Monday, a federal holiday.

Snyder hired the law firms when the investigation began, Calhoun said.

The utilities board issued a statement Monday indicating state law allows the board and other governmental entities to pay for legal expenses of board officers related to work done for the board.

Because Snyder went to Austria to represent the utilities board, the board can pay for his legal expenses related to the investigation, Calhoun said.

Calhoun also said Snyder has been paying his legal bills for the three years of the investigation, and he had reason to believe the investigation concluded without an indictment.

"(Snyder) wanted to make sure he went through the process and waited until (the investigation) had reached this level of conclusion," Calhoun said. "Obviously, at this point, (Snyder) feels there's a level of conclusion, and thats why he submitted the bills at this point."












Portage, county officials at odds?
Joyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222
May 22, 2016
NWI Times
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/portage-county-officials-at-odds/article_40053fc8-9c84-564b-8315-6cc475141046.html

PORTAGE — Porter County officials say they are just as committed to helping Portage residents as any other in the county despite a recent rift with Mayor James Snyder.

However, they added, they may sidestep directly communicating with Snyder, at least for a while, and work with his staff and the City Council instead.

For his part, Snyder, a Republican, admits he needs to do better when communicating with county officials and said he wants to improve dialogue between the two governmental agencies, but feels it needs to go both ways.

"My entire goal has been to have an open dialogue with the county," he said, adding he believes Portage has not been consulted in instances of major decisions, such as the location of the new county animal shelter. "I'm trying to learn how to talk to the county and not be treated like a red-headed stepchild."

The latest friction began at the Portage City Council's April meeting when Snyder made comments regarding the county and why the city was considering a wheel tax.

Those comments prompted all 10 members of the Porter County Council and commissioners, Democrats and Republicans alike, to sign a letter rebuking Snyder's comments and giving their side of the spending issue.

The letter prompted Snyder to hire a Chicago-based law firm, at a cost of nearly $1,600, to research the role of county government and to make a formal request for county records regarding the generation of the letter. Snyder said he hired the outside firm because they are experts in open door laws.

"The mayor made comments that are blatantly incorrect," said Porter County Council President Dan Whitten, a Democrat, adding he brought up the comments at a meeting and wrote a letter to set the record straight. He said he doesn't believe there has been a rift between the two entities nor has there been a problem with communication.

"Newsflash. There has been dialogue between the city and county for years. The mayor made blatantly inaccurate comments," Whitten said.

Snyder said he believes county officials took the comments out of context and he didn't intend to blame the county for the city's adoption of the wheel tax. He said he was surprised to hear about the letter. He said county officials should have contacted him directly if they had an issue or question about what he said at that April meeting.


"I think the mayor is making it worse. He was attacking us on the wheel tax," said Councilman Jeremy Rivas, a Democrat representing Portage. "He just needs to tone it down. We need to focus on the projects we can work on together."

"I've got a relationship with the people in Portage," said Rivas, adding he has met with Director of Administration Joe Calhoun on issues and he and Whitten recently met with City Councilmen Mark Oprisko and Pat Clem and Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham on the possibility of locating a county building in the city's downtown.

As for the possibility of the county constructing a downtown building, Snyder said this week he believes a deal can be reached by the end of the year.

County officials said that is just an example of Snyder's sometimes over aggressive manner of doing business.

Republican Commissioner Jeff Good said Snyder "needs to change his tenor, needs to change his tone" when he discusses such issues.

Whitten, Rivas and Good all said they have not made any decision on a downtown county building. All three said they are awaiting a study to be completed on all county facilities, which will determine if the North County Government Complex can be repaired or renovated or should be replaced.

"I've told the mayor 100 times I can't tell you what we are going to do until the feasibility study is done," Whitten said.

"Nothing he is doing is going to have any impact on what I do for the city," said Whitten, a Portage native whose law office is in the city. "Portage is the biggest city. I told the mayor a million times I want to see good things for Portage."

"I'm committed to working with Portage just as I am working with Valparaiso and Kouts," said Good, adding the county approved a stormwater fee and is looking at correcting issues on County Road 700 North and Willowcreek Road, which has been a problem for Portage.

"As far as I'm concerned, it is business as usual. There are no hard feelings," Good said.













Portage mayor defends search of county email
05192016
Chicago Tribune

Portage Mayor James Snyder defended hiring a law firm to dig up emails and correspondence between Porter County Council members and commissioners preceding an statement they signed last month criticizing him.

The firm, Bingham Greenbaum Doll, will continue its work until "a real dialogue" happens between his administration and county officials, Snyder said, something he claims may already have begun.

But, one county official and one city leader said the move was a bad idea, adding city and county officials have been talking on a number of key issues.

"I would say I'm having dialogue (with city officials) and continue to have dialogue with officials in the City of Portage," said Porter County Councilman Jeremy Rivas, who represents Portage, pointing to meetings he's held with members of Snyder's administration. "It's difficult when the chief executive of the city want to create conflict and call it dialogue."

As reported in the May 17 Post-Tribune, the city so far has paid almost $1,600 to Bingham Greenbaum Doll, which Snyder said specializes in Open Door law issues, from the city's legal fees budget item. According to its website, Bingham Greenbaum and Doll, offices in Indianapolis, Jasper, Evansville and Vincennes in Indiana, and in Ohio and Kentucky, specializes in a wide range of topics in business and government including Open Door laws.

Snyder contacted the law firm to shed light on why the County Council and Commissioners signed the letter, he said.

Rivas also criticized Snyder for using city funds for the information search. The city recently raised garbage collection and sewer rates and voted in a wheel tax.

Snyder described the payments to the law firm as an appropriate use of city funds "because many times we do different things, but especially if it creates an open dialogue and a better dialogue and gets all of us to operate in a more open and transparent manner."

"We're not done" searching, Snyder said, pointing to a stack of documents on his office table he said were from the county. He declined to share the documents.

Snyder did not get much backing from Portage Councilman Mark Oprisko, D-at large, who said County Council President Dan Whitten already has promised to include Portage on a committee to assess county buildings to determine their best locations and uses.

"I think there is dialogue, and I think James Snyder sometimes is too aggressive and ruffles feathers," Oprisko said. "I think the dialogue is going to be there, so, to me, the (Freedom Of Information Act requests) is like a waste of taxpayer money."

Snyder described years of Porter County officials allegedly overlooking Portage, the largest municipality in the county.

"Portage is not going to be pushed into a corner anymore," Snyder said. "We're not going to be the last people that hear about things. We are a large portion of the county. We are a large portion of the electorate, and my constituents need to be heard from."

The revelation of Portage's use of the firm has already caused some conversation, Snyder said. The mayor said he already has had more conversations with two County Council members since word broke of his document search.

"It's already worked to some degree," he said. "It may not be all positive talk, but, here in Portage, we have learned here how to take negatives and turn them into positives."












Law firm's billing riles Portage pols
May 16, 2016
Amy Lavalley
Post-Tribune
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-portage-legal-fees-billing-st-0517-20160516-story.html

The city of Portage is being asked to cover almost $1,600 in legal fees for the work of a Chicago law firm to access emails and texts between members of the Porter County Council and Board of Commissioners.

"I'm appalled that taxpayer money was used for trying to check the emails of the county commissioners and the council. I was shocked at that. That isn't how we spend tax dollars," said Councilwoman Sue Lynch, D-at large, adding invoices go through the city's Board of Works.

A May 10 invoice from the Chicago office of Bingham Greenebaum Doll and addressed to the office of Mayor James Snyder details legal expenses from April 18 to April 29 totaling $1,562.09. The invoice includes $795 for three hours of work for "research and analysis of powers of County Commissioners and County Council."

Snyder did not respond to requests for comment via email and telephone, but two members of the City Council were not happy that the city was being billed for the legal work.

Lynch called the legal bill "irresponsible spending. There's no basis to be charging the taxpayers to spy on the county commissioners' emails."

She questioned the purpose of the records request, and said she didn't know if the State Board of Accounts, which audits the city's spending, would find the transaction justifiable.

"I think it's kind of immature of the mayor to go to that length. We have other business in the city that's more important than that," she said.

Councilman Collin Czilli, D-5th, hadn't seen the invoice but was familiar with the matter, and said it concerned him.

"To me, it's not a city matter and the city shouldn't be paying for it," he said. "It's not something the city or any city entity should be paying for."

The press release, signed by all 10 members of the county's two elected bodies, came out on April 8 as a response to remarks made by Snyder about the county's finances. The Post-Tribune published the release as a letter to the editor on April 10.

County officials received a public records request from Bingham Greenebaum Doll in late April for any emails and texts between commissioners and council members concerning Portage's wheel tax and the creation of the release put together by the two bodies, said Scott McClure, the county's attorney.

"There's no explanation of why they want it, which is not required," McClure said, adding he didn't think all of the requested information was subject to the state's Access to Public Records Act.

Members of the council and the commissioners discussed putting out the press release during a joint public meeting on April 5 to discuss the county's foundation for handling the proceeds from the sale of the county hospital.













Porter County Commissioners and Council reply jointly to Portage mayor
Chesterton Tribune
04/11/2016

The Porter County Council and Commissioners have released the following joint statement, in response to comments recently made by Portage Mayor James Snyder.
The statement in full:

“Due to recent blatantly false representations made by the Mayor of the City of Portage, the Porter County Commissioners and Porter County Council feel the need to present the residents with an accurate picture of the state of Porter County.

“We are pleased to report that the county is financially secure. The county tax rate has decreased this year. Fiscal responsibility and avoiding unnecessary government spending and borrowing has been a focus that has led to savings to our taxpayers.

“One of the misrepresentations is that hospital proceeds are simply sitting in a bank somewhere and of no value to our residents. Nothing could be further from the truth. The County Council and County Commissioners have made history in the formation of the Porter County Foundation. Porter County is the only county in the State of Indiana to have forged this new ground. We have protected the proceeds over the years rather than spend foolishly and have now invested them in the Foundation. This joint action will reduce the tax burden on the residents of Porter County up to $8 million every year, permanently. The formation and funding of the Foundation has insured that not only is our County solvent now, but it will remain solvent for generations to come.

“Another misrepresentation is that the County government has done nothing to benefit the City of Portage. This too is completely incorrect. The City of Portage has borrowed millions of dollars from the County at a much reduced interest rate. Further, the County has implemented many initiatives that have directly benefited the citizens of Portage. For example, the county absorbed the cost of the 911 system, funded the countywide drug task force, and is constructing an animal shelter without asking Portage to contribute. We also fund all County departments utilized by Portage citizens.

“The Mayor of Portage has also recently criticized County Government for not raising taxes. Fiscal responsibility and working under a sustainable budget has been our goal. We simply will not create unnecessary taxes.

“In addition to working lean, there are many projects being undertaken by the County. Some great examples of these projects include capital projects like construction of a new animal shelter, a new stormwater system, and upgrade to our bridges and roads. We are also assessing and upgrading all of our current buildings and infrastructure.

“Simply put, we will not apologize for our fiscal responsibility as representatives of ALL of Porter County, and we certainly look forward to continue working alongside the people of Portage as well as of all of the Porter County municipalities in the future.”

The statement is signed by all seven members of the County Council and all three Commissioners.












Letter to the editor: Porter County commissioners, council members respond to Portage mayor
April 08, 2016 - 3:30PM
Chicago Tribune
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/opinion/ct-ptb-letter-porter-st-0410-20160408-story.html

Due to recent blatantly false representations made by the mayor of the city of Portage, the Porter County Commissioners and Porter County Council feel the need to present the residents with an accurate picture of the state of Porter County.

We are pleased to report that the county is financially secure. The county tax rate has decreased this year. Fiscal responsibility and avoiding unnecessary government spending and borrowing has been a focus that has led to savings to our taxpayers.

One of the misrepresentations is that hospital proceeds are simply sitting in a bank somewhere and of no value to our residents. Nothing could be further from the truth .The County Council and County Commissioners have made history in the formation of the Porter County Foundation. Porter County is the only county in the State of Indiana to have forged this new ground. We have protected the proceeds over the years rather than spend foolishly and have now invested them in the foundation. This joint action will reduce the tax burden on the residents of Porter County up to $8 million every year, permanently. The formation and funding of the foundation has insured that not only is our county solvent now, but it will remain solvent for generations to come.

Another misrepresentation is that the county government has done nothing to benefit the City of Portage. This too is completely incorrect. The city of Portage has borrowed millions of dollars from the county at a much reduced interest rate. Further, the county has implemented many initiatives that have directly benefited the citizens of Portage. For example, the county absorbed the cost of the 911 system, funded the countywide drug task force, and is constructing an animal shelter without asking Portage to contribute. We also fund all of the county departments utilized by Portage citizens.

The Mayor of Portage has also recently criticized county government for not raising taxes. Fiscal responsibility and working under a sustainable budget has been our goal. We simply will not create unnecessary taxes.

In addition to working lean, there are many projects being undertaken by the county.

Some great examples of these projects include capital projects like construction of a new animal shelter, a new storm water system, and upgrade to our bridges and roads. We are also assessing and upgrading all of our current buildings and infrastructure.

Simply put, we will not apologize for our fiscal responsibility as representatives of all of Porter County, and we certainly look forward to continue working alongside the people of Portage as well as all of the Porter County municipalities in the future.

John Evans, Laura Blaney and Jeff Good, Porter County Commissioners

Dan Whitten, Karen Conover, Robert Poparad, Jim Biggs, Sylvia Graham, Mike Jessen and Jeremy Rivas, Porter County Council













County blasts Portage for misleading information about Foundation
Chesterton Tribune
04/06/2016

Comments made by Portage City elected officials have stirred up ire on the Porter County Council and the County Board of Commissioners regarding the new foundation endowment fund established for investing the proceeds from the sale of the county’s Porter Memorial Hospital.

The Council and Commissioners met jointly Tuesday for their quarterly meetings on the Foundation. The two make up the Foundation’s board of trustees.

Quickly approving the three firms to serve as their non-voting advisors -- 1st Source Bank of Valparaiso, Peoples Bank of Munster, and Horizon Bank of Michigan City -- board members expressed a need to counter claims made by Portage Mayor James Snyder and some City Council members.

“It’s all misleading and it’s all wrong,” County Council Dan Whitten, D-at large, said. “We have taken a lot of heat from a frame of mind that is just completely backward.”

While the Council and Commissioners provided no direct quotations of what has been said, Whitten said it has been insinuated that the County is “sitting with $200 million under a rock somewhere” and is not willing to share it with cash strapped municipalities.

“I’d like to know where the other $50 million is,” said Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, pointing out the total in hospital sale proceeds available for investment is closer to $150 million.

Whitten said the accusation that the County is not lending money is untrue because the total of hospital money that has been borrowed from the County, reported by County Treasurer Michelle Clancy, is currently $13,220,000, with $2.975 million lent to the City of Portage.

Other amounts are $1.135 million to be paid back by the Town of Chesterton, and $9.11 million to be paid back by Valparaiso Schools, according to the County Treasurer’s office.

The money is due to be paid back to the County from this year until 2019 when it will be available for the County to invest into the foundation.

Whitten said he plans to send out a “very informative” press release and believes the Council and Commissioners deserve credit for the thought and preparation that has been put into investing the hospital funds so that they can achieve the biggest return possible and make Porter County prosperous.

Other County officials speculate the negative accusations can be blamed on election year politics.

“This is really childish,” said Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, who was also expressed annoyance at the comments.

Council member Karen Conover, R-3rd, said the Foundation money is “for everyone in Porter County.” She and Council member Robert Poparad, D-at large, hope the County’s efforts can be respected.

“We need to get the word out. We have changed the landscape of this county for my grandchildren,” Poparad said.

A call to Mayor Snyder for comment was not returned this morning.

The next joint meeting for the Foundation will be in July.












FBI pays yet another visit to Porter County government
Bob Kasarda bob.kasarda@nwi.com, (219) 548-4345 
Dec 3, 2015 

VALPARAISO | An FBI agent visited the Porter County auditor's office late Wednesday morning seeking informational material about the health insurance plan offered to county employees and elected officials, according to Auditor Vicki Urbanik.

The lone agent was interested in documents that describe the various insurance options offered back to 2011, as well as the forms used as part of the plan, she said.

Urbanik said the agent assured her the auditor's office was not the target of the investigation, but was visited because it houses the desired documents.

The FBI had also visited the auditor's office in August, an agent confirmed at the time. The agent declined to go into detail about the target of the investigation.

Wednesday's visit was the the latest in what has become an ever-widening investigation into local units of government, including the county and cities of Valparaiso and Portage.

FBI agents visited the Porter County assessor's office this past summer where they targeted property tax appeals from 2012 and 2013, assessor's attorney Christopher Buckley said at the time.

The agents from the Merrillville FBI office did not specify the reason for the visit, Buckley said. They did not have subpoenas and thus did not review or walk away with any appeal records, he said.

Federal agents have visited various Porter County government offices for two years, looking at a variety of areas of operations. The investigations also have targeted Valparaiso and Portage.

There have been no indictments as of yet stemming from the investigations.













Snyder wins re-election as Portage mayor
NWI Times
Joyce Russell 
Nov 3, 2015





PORTAGE | Incumbent Republican Mayor James Snyder entered the hall at Woodland Park late Tuesday night to the tune of "We Are the Champions."

Snyder, who appeared only after all the votes were counted and he was declared the winner, shouted "Four more years" as he took to the podium with his wife and children.

In a tight race Tuesday marred by some early difficulties at polling places, Snyder defeated Democrat Portage Township Trustee Brendan Clancy by 225 votes.

Because of the difficulties, polling places remained open an hour later. Votes cast between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. were considered provisional ballots, but it is not likely enough were cast to make a difference in the outcome of the election.

"I can't begin to tell you the feeling of four more years in this great city," Snyder told the crowd of supporters who chanted back at him, "Four more years."

"This city and this campaign were synonymous. We worked hard and the people in this city work hard," he said. "I look forward to four more years with the best department heads this city could have.

"I look forward to four more years with the best workforce this city or mayor could have. I look forward to four more years with the best people this mayor could serve," Snyder said.

Snyder told the crowd that his win proved that "negative campaigning and divisiveness" doesn't work.

"Party politics doesn't work," he said.

"Thank you and I look forward to God blessing this city for four more years," Snyder told his supporters.

Clancy, a former city councilman and second term Portage Township Trustee, said he believed the two fought a good campaign.

"We raised a lot of good, valid points. I believe there will be a closer eye on the city's purse strings and on the Redevelopment Commission," Clancy said after the votes were tallied.

"I want to give kudos to the mayor for running a good campaign. I look forward to working together to move the city of Portage and Portage Township forward," Clancy said.













Snyder tops Clancy in Portage
November 03, 2015 - 10:40 PM
Post Tribune
Carole CarlsonContact Reporter


Portage voters handed Republican Mayor James Snyder a second term Tuesday with a narrow win over Democrat Brendan Clancy.

In unofficial totals, Snyder won by 225 votes garnering 51 percent of the 7,135 votes cast. He'll again work with a Democratic city council as John Cannon was the lone GOP winner. Democrats took six seats with wins for incumbents Sue Lynch, Mark Oprisko, Patrick Clem, Elizabeth Modesto and newcomers Scott Williams and Collin Czilli.

Snyder secured a second term as head of Porter County's largest city with a hard-fought campaign against Clancy, the Portage Township trustee and a former city councilman. Both men claimed strong labor support.

"We're really excited. It's a great feeling to get the stamp of approval," said Snyder. "We worked very hard and we knocked on a lot of doors."

Snyder campaigned on his accomplishments, including the creation of a downtown identity for the city's Central Avenue corridor that will include new $8.25 million police and fire stations.

Snyder boasted that he orchestrated the projects with bipartisan support from Democrats on the City Council.

Snyder also championed a local developer's plan for a $50 million Promenade at Founders Square, a combination of 300 upscale apartments, and retail and commercial businesses on ground floors.

A new $5.7 million street department building is under way and garbage and recycling were automated at a cost of $1.4 million. About $3.5 million in improvements were completed in the parks department.

Snyder said he also brought economic progress to the city, too, with the new Meijer store on U.S. 6 providing about 300 new jobs and a Monosol expansion with about 150 jobs.

In the past year, Snyder said he has paved 36 miles of roads in the city, which he said was more than the previous 10 years combined.

Under Snyder, Portage issued five bonds totaling $22.42 million.

Clancy, the owner of a pub in the Portage Mall, criticized Snyder for escalating the city's debt with all the bonding. He said Portage had one of the top debt levels in the state during last month's debate.

Clancy said the debt could make it difficult for the city to attract new business or industry.

Snyder stumbled along the way. He missed a deadline to file his 2013 campaign finance report, and the Porter County Democratic Party filed an election law complaint against him. He has since hired a new campaign treasurer.

The FBI is investigating various city contracts and has sought Snyder's 2011 campaign finance records. Snyder has said the FBI was investigating other municipalities in Porter County, as well.

"We've risen above it and Portage is better for it," he said during the mayoral debate.














Snyder, Clancy tangle in Portage mayor's race
October 30, 2015 - 8:07 PM
Chicago Tribune
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-portage-mayoral-race-st-1101-20151030-story.html

Surviving as a red-blooded Republican in a quintessential blue-collar city is a skill Portage Mayor Jim Snyder has mastered.

Now, that talent is being tested by a veteran Democratic office holder with his eye on City Hall.

In what many describe as the most hotly contested race in the area, Democrat Brendan Clancy, Portage Township trustee and a former city councilman, is taking on Snyder in Tuesday's general election as he asks voters for a second term.

So far, early voting is heavier in Portage than other Porter County communities, according to Porter County officials.

Both men point to strong labor union support, a key to winning elections in a city where union halls are plentiful.

Snyder throttled Democrats in 2011, upsetting former Mayor Olga Velazquez by 237 votes. Snyder lost to Velazquez in 2007 by about the same margin.

Clancy, a pub owner who's married to Porter County Treasurer Michelle Clancy, hopes to return Portage to its Democratic stronghold status.

"I always believed in myself and my leadership ability," Clancy said. "I'm not afraid to attempt something if I think something is wrong."

Clancy thinks Snyder is wrong for Portage. He said Snyder has maxed out the city's credit card with bonds for various projects like paving, new police and fire stations, and a new street department building.

"If we get another Fronius that needs help with debt structure, we can't do it," Clancy said referring to Fronius USA, the Austrian solar inverter producer that moved its U.S. headquarters to Portage in 2011.

Snyder fired back, criticizing the debt load Clancy authorized when he was on the City Council. It included bonding for the University Center project at 6260 Central Ave., recently vacated by Indiana University Northwest because of low enrollment.

The city is now remodeling it with a $2.5 million bond for use as a police station. A new $3.97 million fire station is being built at Founders Square, just east of University Center along Central Avenue in an area Snyder envisions as the city's downtown identity.

In addition, a local developer is planning the $50 million Promenade at Founders Square, a combination of 300 upscale apartments, and retail and commercial businesses on ground floors.

Snyder hails the University Center transformation as an example of the bipartisan teamwork he said he's been able to accomplish in the heavily Democratic City Council. In the May primary, Clancy beat Leo Hatch Jr. with 2,137 votes to 468. Snyder picked up 577 votes, running uncontested in the GOP primary.

Snyder said he inherited a city in 2012 with a $1.9 million deficit and an A- credit rating. He says he built up a $2.5 million surplus and an A-plus credit rating from Standard & Poor's.

He's been sharing his accomplishments with voters in a series of mailings financed by the Citizens for Snyder campaign committee, which raised $193,855 to Clancy's $111,635 in the last reporting period.

"I think the message I took to the people was a positive one about the changes," Snyder said. "My opponent is resting on the fact that he's got a party affiliation. I sat on the debate stage with him for two hours and didn't hear one plan for what he was going to do."

Snyder hasn't followed the traditional GOP path that steers away from labor. When the GOP-dominated General Assembly dismantled Indiana's right-to-work and common wage laws, Snyder opposed the repeals in Indianapolis, as did Clancy.

Snyder also takes credit for automating Portage's garbage pickup, an initiative he says saved the city $1.25 million, and for paving more than a quarter of city streets last year.

Clancy challenges Snyder's union support and motivation.
"I don't think he's all that pro-union," said Clancy. "He does that to get elected. Voters will be able to differentiate."

Clancy, who was honored as the Indiana Trustee of the Year in 2012, said he has plans for the city.

"There will be open and honest government with transparency," he said.

He criticized Snyder for failing to establish a budget for the Redevelopment Commission, despite state law.

Clancy doesn't think Portage needs more apartments, referring to the Founders Square development. Because it's in a tax increment finance zone, the Portage Township Schools won't receive any tax money for students who live in the apartments, Clancy said.

"I would try to establish fiscal responsibility in government itself and a long-term program for downtown development that has a plan that doesn't change every half-hour," he said. "The most important thing is the financial stability of the city."














2015 Portage Debate with Mayor Jim Snyder at Portage High School
Published on Oct 22, 2015
Kevin Hansberger - YouTube
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWbVuhFl-0M





video
Audio snippet from Mayor Snyder's debate - October 2015 

Portage Mayor James Snyder:
"... The Federal Government is trying to restore trust and confidence in local government. As a result, they are looking at the Porter County government, Valparaiso Government, Portage Government. And believe you me, they are being very thorough. This is a good thing for the residents of Portage. 
Portage can be proud, that with the microscope that we've been under, we have risen above it, and Portage is better for it."
















Will Portage campaign tactic backfire on Dems?
October 16, 2015
Jerry Davich
Post-Tribune
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/opinion/ct-ptb-davich-political-flier-st-1019-20151016-story.html


The  large, glossy political flier arrived in my mailbox with a handful of other similar fliers, but its accusatory tone immediately grabbed my attention. Just as its creators hoped it would.

"Is an indictment imminent?" the flier asks in bold black lettering.

The flier shows a dark, shadowy photo of Portage Mayor James Snyder alongside bullet-point accusations of an alleged investigation into his City Hall office by federal prosecutors.

"Portage cannot afford another four years with James Snyder as mayor," the flier concludes.

At the bottom, in fine print: "Authorized and paid for by the Porter County Democratic Party."

Surprised? Of course not. Snyder is a Republican incumbent hoping to stay in office against his Democratic challenger, Portage Township Trustee Brendan Clancy. Clancy's party obviously believes the flier will benefit their Democratic candidate's chances of winning the city's mayor's office in the Nov. 3 General Election.


I'm not so sure.

I posted a photo of the flier on my social media sites to gauge public opinion, asking a simple question: Is this typical politics in action or is this going over the line?

The responses were divided by partisan political lines, as expected, but the majority of readers (aka voters) believed it crossed the line into shady campaign tactics.

"I may not like (Snyder) but that's a low blow," wrote Heather K.

"This propaganda is disgusting," added Rozana B.

"Absolutely disgusting they would spend so much to tarnish the competition by repeating known unfounded allegations," said Shannon R. "They must be getting desperate."

No, countered Jeremy S., adding, "Being investigated by the FBI as a public official definitely should be made known."

But no formal investigation has been announced or confirmed by the feds, as others noted.

"That is the way the Republicans have been doing it and no one said anything then," noted Diane B.

Yes, true, but it doesn't make it the right thing to do. Nor does it make it the smart thing to do, at least in my book.

Last fall, just before Election Day, Porter County Republicans took a similar jab at the Democratic candidate for sheriff, David Reynolds. Like most voters, I thought it appeared strictly as a last-ditch campaign tactic, not relevant or informational.

The Republican Party filed a complaint with the election board, claiming Reynolds didn't properly itemize donations he received during a fundraising golf outing.

"They made this an emergency meeting to get it in the papers this weekend," Reynolds told me before Election Day.

It worked. The filed complaint made the newspapers, but it also made the Republican Party look bad, I wrote. And most voters would agree with me regardless if they voted for Reynolds or his Republican opponent, Valparaiso Police Chief Mike Brickner.

Filed just a few days before the primary, that complaint "reeks of politics," Reynolds said. He was right. This is precisely what irks voters and what keeps non-voters from registering to vote, let alone getting off their butt to cast a ballot.

Voters are forced to wade through the knee-high muck of politics to choose candidates they believe will do the right thing once in office. This latest campaign flier also reeks of politics.

Snyder agrees.

"Portage is winning and Portage critics and opponents can't stand it," he told me.

"We will continue to run a campaign that represents the hard-working men and women of Portage, including worn shoe leather, calloused knuckles and a hoarse voice from walking, knocking on doors and talking to the good people of this city," he said.

"I don't need to go negative because my record and the accomplishments of Portage can be seen and felt by every Portage resident," Snyder concluded.

For the record, Clancy said he had nothing to do with the flier, which was created, produced and distributed by the county's Democratic Party.

"Quite frankly, I think it's informational," he told me, noting he gave no permission for the creation of the flier. "I don't think it's slanderous or a smear campaign."

Clancy has distanced himself from the flier, insisting his home-stretch campaign is still founded on his award-winning accomplishments as Portage Township Trustee and his mayoral plans for Portage.

"My job as a candidate is to talk about my past accomplishments and my future plans," he said. "I think my record speaks for itself."

In May, Clancy easily beat longtime Portage real estate developer Leo Hatch Jr., garnering more than 80 percent of primary voters. In his acceptance speech, the former City Councilman told supporters he would run his campaign with "class, dignity, honor and respect."

Those four words were not illustrated in any form on that political flier, regardless who created it. Instead, I suggest voters look for these admirable words during Wednesday night's Portage mayoral debate at Portage High School. Hosted by the League of Women Voters, the "Meet the Candidates" debate begins at 6 p.m. in the PHS west auditorium.

Both candidates will discuss the issues, not rumorous indictments. Action plans, not accusations. Platform promises, not political fliers.

Election Day is already like a masquerade ball and voters are the naked guests trying to figure out who is who behind the masks of lies, complaints and allegations.

Similar to last fall's election for county sheriff, I believe such campaign tactics do more harm than good in the big picture. Candidates – and their supporters at the county level – need to know this, too.













FBI visits Porter County auditor's office
NWI Times
August 11, 2015

VALPARAISO | FBI agents visited the Porter County auditor's office Monday as part of an undisclosed investigative action, agency spokesman Dave Crawford said.

Crawford confirmed reports of the visit, but declined to go into detail about the target of the investigation.

The visit is the the latest in what is becoming an ever-widening investigation into local units of government, including the county and cities of Valparaiso and Portage.

Porter County Auditor Vicki Urbanik was out of town for a conference Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

FBI agents visited the Porter County assessor's office a week ago where they targeted property tax appeals from 2012 and 2013, assessor's attorney Christopher Buckley said at the time.

The agents from the Merrillville FBI office did not specify the reason for the visit, Buckley said. They did not have subpoenas and thus did not review or walk away with any appeal records, he said.

Federal agents have been visiting various Porter County government offices for nearly two years, looking at a variety of areas of operations. The investigations have also targeted Valparaiso and Portage.

There have been no indictments as of yet stemming from the investigations.














FBI seeks records on commercial property assessment appeals
Chesterton Tribune
August 05, 2015

Porter County Assessor Attorney Christopher Buckley confirmed with the Chesterton Tribune and other media Tuesday that agents from the FBI’s Merrillville offices came to the Assessor’s office that morning and asked for documents regarding appeals of commercial properties between 2012 and 2013.

In a statement, Buckley said that agents asked to speak with the Assessor’s Director of Commercial Operations for the information but “were not equipped with subpoenas from the U.S. Attorney’s office, and therefore, did not retrieve or review any individual appeal records.”

The agents did not specifically state what information they were interested in, Buckley said.

Buckley told the Tribune on Wednesday that the appeals in question were exclusively for commercial properties and were settled by the Assessor’s office before they would have been assigned to the Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals.

Included in appeal cases is non-disclosure information that would require a subpoena in order to be obtained, Buckley said he told the agents. The agents then left the building, and it’s possible they may return, he said.

Buckley said it was about 10 a.m. when the agents arrived at the Assessor’s Office inside the County Administration Building in Valparaiso and they left at approximately 11:30 a.m.

County Assessor Jon Snyder declined to comment on the matter.

The investigation so far

This is the second time in the past two months the Tribune has received reports of the FBI seeking to investigate Porter County Government offices. Witnesses reported seeing agents enter the County Commissioners’ office in June, but no one from the Commissioners’ office would make comments regarding the visit.

The FBI in November 2013 took documents related to the December 2012 contract between the County Commissioners and Porter Regional Hospital concerning the employee wellness plan. Since then the agency has also acquired conflict of interest disclosure statements from 2007 to 2013, payroll information for the County Expo Center from 2013, bid proposals related to 2010 and 2011 contracts with the County Highway Department, and building permits for Porter Regional Hospital and its adjacent medical center.

In July 2014, agents began looking into Portage Mayor James Snyder’s campaign finance reports and the Citizens for Snyder political action committee finance report from 2011.

Last September, agents entered the Porter County Auditor’s Office and obtained copies of two sales disclosures related to the Valparaiso Promenade development involving the City of Valparaiso’s Redevelopment Commission.

The FBI has not yet made public any results or indictments.
















FBI pays another visit to Porter County government
NWI Times
August 05, 2015

VALPARAISO | Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation paid yet another visit Tuesday to the Porter County government building.

The target this time was the county assessor's office and property tax appeals from 2012 and 2013, according to the assessor's attorney, Christopher Buckley.

The agents from the Merrillville FBI office did not specify the reason for the visit, Buckley said. They did not have subpoenas and thus did not review or walk away with any appeal records, he said.

The Merrillville office of the FBI referred an inquiry by The Times to its Indianapolis bureau which had no comment.

No further details were available from Buckley or Porter County Assessor Jon Snyder.

Federal agents have been visiting various Porter County government offices for nearly two years, looking at a variety of areas of operations.

The investigations have also targeted the University Promenade development in Valparaiso and various records in the city of Portage, including campaign fund expenditures of Portage Mayor James Snyder.

There have been no indictments as of yet stemming from the investigations.













Commissioners lips are sealed on latest FBI visit
Chesterton Tribune
By JEFF SCHULTZ
June 17, 2015

The Porter County Commissioners are refusing to comment on reports that agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation were in their office on Tuesday morning.

All three Commissioners -- President John Evans, R-North; Jeff Good, R-Center; and Laura Shurr Blaney, D-South -- declined members of the press’ request to speak on the matter, following the advice of County Attorney Betty Knight.

Knight was also tight-lipped on Tuesday.

Reports of the FBI visiting the County Administration Building began between late 2013 and Spring 2014, when agents took documents related to the December 2012 contract between the County Commissioners and Porter Regional Hospital over the employee wellness plan, conflict of interest disclosure statements from 2007 to 2013, payroll information for the County Expo Center from 2013, bid proposals related to 2010 and 2011 contracts with the County Highway Department, and building permits for Porter Regional Hospital and its adjacent medical center.

FBI visits reported by Porter County government representatives have slowed considerably over the last 12 months as the agency seemingly shifted its focus to local city governments.

In July 2014, agents began looking into Portage Mayor James Snyder’s campaign finance reports and the Citizens for Snyder political action committee finance report from 2011.

Last September, agents entered the Porter County Auditor’s Office and obtained copies of two sales disclosures related to the Valparaiso Promenade development involving the City of Valparaiso’s Redevelopment Commission.

After nearly two years of investigating, the FBI has not yet made public any results or charges.















FBI visits Porter County office, but no one's talking
Chicago Tribune
June 15, 2015

Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigations went through the Porter County Board of Commissioners' office late Tuesday morning, but no one will say why they were there.

Neither the commissioners nor county attorney Betty Knight would say why the agents were in the office, located in the county's administration building in Valparaiso, or what types of documents or information they may have been after – or acquired.

A special agent with the FBI did not return a call seeking comment.

Agents made frequent visits to county offices in late 2013 and early 2014 for a wide array of documents.

Those include conflict of interest statements filed with Clerk Karen Martin; communications from the servicing agent for the county's health insurance regarding the county's contract for clinic services; highway department bids and contracts for services and supplies for 2010 and 2011; and copies of building permits in the plan commission office regarding Porter Regional Hospital and a nearby medical office building.

So far, nothing has come of any of the investigations.













FBI continues investigation around Portage city government
April 28, 2015 3:15 pm
Bob Kasarda
NWI Times
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/porter/fbi-continues-investigation-around-portage-city-government/article_6eb4c990-d14a-5eaa-99d7-9b710c29e688.html

PORTAGE | The FBI is continuing its investigation in and around city government.

Agents recently requested and were provided with meeting minutes from the Portage FOP Lodge 145, which is made up of officers from the police department, said Recording Secretary Sgt. John Ryan.

The agency was after the lodge's monthly meeting minutes for all of 2011, Ryan said. The FBI gave no indication of a target or what they were looking for, he said.

The request came by phone and the minutes were transferred over electronically, Ryan said.

News of the request comes in the wake of several subpoenas being served last year around city government.

Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham confirmed in October he received an electronic subpoena from the FBI seeking records of all payments and invoices from Circle R Electric between Jan. 1, 2008 and the end of September.

Stidham also confirmed he was interviewed the month before by an FBI agent for more than an hour. During the interview, Stidham said they discussed a "wide range of topics" involving the mayor's office, Redevelopment Commission activities, property purchases and relationships between various individuals.

Stidham said he was also asked to provide certified copies of Board of Works minutes by the city attorney's office involving contracts for the purchase of garbage trucks. The information was necessary, he said, to fulfill a subpoena the city's street department received last month.

The clerk-treasurer subpoena was the latest in a string delivered by the FBI to various officials. In July, the FBI requested Mayor James Snyder's campaign finance records and records from his political action committee Portage Mayor Elect 2011. The Utility Services Board also received subpoenas that month seeking documents related to a trip Snyder took to Austria he initially funded through the department, but then paid back the cost.

Snyder declined comment at the time, but had previously said Portage will cooperate with all requests.













Fines considered for late campaign reports
By Amy Lavalley
Post-Tribune
March 13, 2015

VALPARAISO – Candidates who aren't filing their campaign finance reports on time are officially on notice.

The Porter County Election Board is moving forward with steps to let candidates and their treasurers know that there will be penalties for filing late reports, including sending them letters in the coming weeks.

"This is notice to everyone that this is it. They've got to file in a timely fashion," said board president David Bengs, a Republican, during Friday's meeting. He added some candidates, including those in major races, didn't file their reports, and faced no penalties for their inaction. "The game's over."

The matter first came up because Portage Mayor James Snyder, a Republican seeking his second term in office, didn't file his report on time because he got a new campaign treasurer, Kenard Taylor, who's also executive director of the county's Republican Party.

With the proper steps in place, which are being put together by board attorney Ethan Lowe, candidates will have a remediation process if they are fined for a late report, and the board can set the fine on the side for good cause, said board member J.J. Stankiewicz, a Democrat.

"I understand Democrats are going to get hit as well as Republicans, but our credibility is starting to take a hit," he said.

Bengs said "it's all over the board" how other counties handle late campaign reports, and Porter County isn't alone.

"No one even knows the last time there's been a fine. That's how long it's been," he said.

The board also addressed concerns raised by the county's Democratic Party about Snyder's campaign finances, including receiving more than the $2,000 that's allowable by state statute from a single corporate donor, and donations received from four companies sharing the same Portage address.

"We found a number of discrepancies I felt were egregious," said Democratic Party Chair Jeffrey Chidester.

At a minimum, he said he wanted proof to the election board that Snyder was paying back the extra funds, and clarification over the donations from the businesses with the same address.

Taylor said he has been hand-delivering the checks to the donors who went over the limit and explaining the state statute to them, so they won't make the mistake in the future. One business made a donation to a round table and then paid to be in a golf outing, without knowing that the fee for the golf outing was considered a campaign contribution.

"A lot of these are smaller corporations and they don't understand the rules," he said.

The refunds will be reflected on Snyder's pre-primary report, which is due April 17. Any penalty for a donation that's over the limit is against the donor, not the candidate, Bengs said.

He also said it's not unusual for different companies to have the same address.

"It does look fishy, but you can have multiple corporations in the same building," he said.

Additionally, the board approved early voting locations, times and dates. Early voting will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, starting April 7, in Room 309 of the County Administration Building, 155 N. Indiana Ave; in the North County Government Complex, 3560 Willowcreek Road, Portage; and Chesterton City Hall, 1490 Broadway.

Early voting also will be held at those times in those locations on the Saturday before the election, May 2. Early voting ends at all locations at noon on May 4.













Embattled Portage mayor eager for re-election bid
Jerry Davich
Chicago Tribune
March 11, 2015

Despite campaign finance report misstep and possible investigation, 
mayor still giddy to be in office

Despite consistent attacks from critics, recent allegations of missteps involving campaign finance reports, and investigators sniffing around his office, Portage Mayor James Snyder still appears giddy to be in public office.

"I'm a little more measured than I used to be, but I'm still very excited," said Snyder, who has been unapologetically optimistic since I met him four years ago.

Last month, Snyder, a Republican who is unopposed in the May primary, declared his re-election bid as mayor of the third largest city in Northwest Indiana, a surprise to no one. His State of the City address last month doubled as his first campaign speech, full of boasting about Portage's growth, lower crime rates and new developments.

Still, he knows that his Democratic mayoral challengers in November – either Portage Township Trustee Brendan Clancy, Leo Hatch Jr. or J. Robert Casko – will use against him the "self-inflicted wounds" regarding his mishandled campaign finance reports. Snyder missed the deadline to file his 2014 financial report, which ended up more than $18,000 in the red. The Porter County Democratic Party filed an election law complaint against him.

"No excuses. I should have had my campaign finances in order, period," he told me last week at City Hall.

Snyder raised nearly $140,000 in campaign funds last year and expects to raise $300,000 this year, an election year.

"I'm not independently wealthy but I've worked hard and campaigned hard for that campaign money," said Snyder, who still operates his mortgage company in the city.

He insists he has nothing to hide and nothing to be worried about. But when the investigators come for your records, it would shake anyone, even Snyder, a father of four who's had to use campaign funds for legal fees.

In his State of the City speech, he labeled 2012 as the "year of correction," focusing on trash collection automation, health insurance and cost savings. The next year was the "year of communication" to better relate with residents, and 2014 was "year of construction," including the new $5.5 million street department building.

The same can't be said for the proposed new fire station and police station renovations, as plans for both are on hold with city officials until their March 18 meeting. There has been talk of housing the police station inside the Portage University Center on Central Avenue, where a glaring amount of empty space is available. Snyder said he won't allow it.

"What would this say about Portage if we build a building for higher education and then use it for a police station?" he asked. "I'm going to fulfill the initial vision for that building."

Despite the dilapidated police station – which had its last major renovation in 1976 – crime in the city has dropped each of the past three years, according to police records. In 2012, by 17 percent, in 2013 by 13 percent and in 2014 by another 10 percent.

"This is the first time in our history we have had three straight years of crime decreases," Snyder said.

He gave all the credit to his city department heads, who he claims are the most talented, hardest-working personnel in Northwest Indiana, although the majority of them don't agree with him, ideologically speaking.

"They work so hard," he said.

It's no secret that Snyder has battled against a Democrat-dominated City Council since his first week in office, and every department is filled mostly with Democrats, too. With an eye on his re-election bid, Snyder said he has the support of city firefighters and is still courting city police, who served as his political muscle back in 2012.

The city has seen noticeable growth since then, reflected by a total of 2,000 new jobs created by year's end, he said. The breakdown ranges from 150 jobs at Monosol to 300 jobs at Meijer to an estimated 50 to 60 jobs at Mercy Diagnostics, which will be located in the Old Port Tavern.

If you're scoring at home (or running against Snyder for mayor), here is a more detailed breakdown, according to City Hall records: Ratner Steel – 30 jobs, Phoenix Services at the Port – 80 jobs, Green Sense Farms – 20 jobs, Pet Supplies Plus – 10 jobs, and Brain Balance – five jobs (look for an upcoming column on this intriguing new business).

This spring, Founder's Square will be opening with its new 2,300-square-foot splash pad underneath the downtown water tower. And construction will be starting soon at the property that once housed Don's Motel, the eyesore on U.S. 20 that was finally razed.

Snyder could barely contain himself over a new recreational development coming to just south of the Marina Shores property, south of U.S. 12. It involves a 180-acre proposal and purchase agreement for what would become the "biggest attraction in the Chicago area," he insisted.

"It's already approved and all the preliminary work is done," said Snyder, promising the deal will close by next month.

I'm skeptical about such promises, especially during an election year. But that's my job, not Snyder's, who enjoys engaging with residents on social media.

"Because of social media and Facebook, it's a new era in politics and public office," he said.

Snyder also hinted about a big name, high-profile national chain restaurant arriving in Portage, with a public announcement coming soon. "It will be a game-changer for this city," Snyder said.

I know what's (allegedly) coming but I promised not to reveal it, citing the obvious lack of big name, high-profile restaurants in my city of 35 years. Snyder disagreed, though acknowledging the lack of variety of stores and restaurants in Portage.

"There isn't a city in this country with a population of 40,000 that has a Bass Pro Shop on one end and an Imax theater on the other end," Snyder said.

Possibly, but if he truly wants to score brownie points with voters in the city, all he needs to do is land an Olive Garden. And no, that's not the promised game-changer.













New Snyder campaign complaint on panel's radar
By Amy Lavalley
Post-Tribune
March 11, 2015 - 4:02pm
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-porter-election-complaint-st-0312-20150311-story.html

VALPARAISO – Portage Mayor James Snyder raised the ire of the Porter County Democratic Party when he missed the deadline to file his campaign finance reports in January.

Now that those forms are in, the Democratic Party has filed a formal complaint with the county's election board, noting that Snyder, a Republican seeking his second term this year, accepted more money than he should have from contributors, and four of those contributors share an address.

"They are attacking businesses that are supporting James to cut finances for his upcoming campaign," said Kenard Taylor, who took over as the treasurer for Snyder's campaign at the start of the year. Taylor also is executive director of the county's Republican Party.

Jeff Chidester, chair of the county's Democratic Party, disputed that charge.

"This is about transparency and ethics," he said.

State statute limits contributions from a single corporation to $2,000 in an election cycle. Snyder is in the process of returning any excess donations that were over the limit, said Taylor, who also amended four years of Snyder's campaign finance reports when he took over the campaign's finances.

"We documented in the report that we are in the process of returning excess funds," he said, adding corporate donors don't always know what the state limits on donations are.

The FBI paid a visit to the county's Voter Registration Office in July, seeking copies of Snyder's campaign finance reports from 2007, when he first ran for office, through 2013. They also sought reports from a political action committee from his run for mayor in 2011.

According to the Democratic Party's complaint, four businesses share an address at 1201 Marine View Drive in Portage, including Rediehs Freightliner; Chief Freightliners; Combined Steel Carriers; and Combined Transport Systems. The contributions between the four total $10,400.

As far as Snyder's campaign understands it, all four of the businesses are separate corporations.

"It's not the campaign's responsibility to determine if they are different corporations or not," Taylor said, adding that job belongs to the election board.

Chidester wants clarification about the separate nature of the companies sharing the same address, and questioned how Snyder can return any excess funds when, according to his 2014 annual campaign fund report, the campaign has $621.45 on hand. The report states that Snyder raised $140,902.61 last year.

Amy Lavalley is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.












Portage mayor's finance report shows campaign in the red
February 17, 2015
Joyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/porter/portage-mayor-s-finance-report-shows-campaign-in-the-red/article_981a7184-2b5a-57ea-a6e0-5c81a93b8c6d.html


PORTAGE | Mayor James Snyder raised more than $138,000 in campaign funds last year, but ended 2014 more than $18,000 in the red.

It wasn't an election year for his office.

The Portage mayor filed his 2014 campaign year-end financial report on Thursday, nearly a month after the deadline.

Among his campaign's payments were nearly $700 for child care.

While Snyder raised what appears to be a significant amount of money in an off-election year, he spent more than $140,000 and his committee, Citizens for Snyder, is more than $18,000 in debt, according to the report filed by his treasurer, Kenard Taylor, of Valparaiso.

Taylor said it is not unusual for candidates to raise large sums of money in an off year, especially if that candidate anticipates opposition in the following year's election.

"In between elections, you try to raise money to try and do things to prepare for the next election," Taylor said.

In a written statement Tuesday, Snyder said the reports were made by a professional with knowledge of reporting requirements, "not by a campaign volunteer."

"The reports reflect the commitment the Snyder family has made to the city of Portage, as nearly $20,000 dollars are owed to him by the campaign primarily for expenditures for the city," Snyder said in the written statement.

The statement also notes the campaign has donated to "great Portage charitable causes" along with candidates, both Democrat and Republican.

"On top of normal campaign expenses, the money the Snyder campaign has raised has been useful in helping the mayor do city business and promotion when city's budget has been hard pressed for these kind of extras necessary in promoting jobs and bringing tax dollars back home to Portage, that in part is why we have been so successful in these areas," Snyder said.

While Snyder received contributions large and small, some of the income also came from loans. He loaned his campaign more than $4,300 and his business, SRC LLC, loaned the campaign more than $13,000.

In return, the campaign paid SRC LLC more than $21,000 during the year.

Taylor said the payments covered the loans, plus other costs of doing business, from office supplies to rent to salaries. Snyder maintains his campaign office within his business office.

His largest donation came from Chuck Shields, who donated $2,000 under his name and another $2,000 under the name of his company, Circle R Electrical, for a total of $4,000. Other larger donations were $3,250 from Combined Transport Systems LLC of Portage; $2,800 from Precision Towing of Portage; $2,500 from Combined Steel Carriers; $2,250 from Kustom Auto of Portage and $2,150 from Hodges and Davis PC, the city's legal firm, of Portage and Merrillville.

Snyder's biggest expenditure in 2014 were two payments to Winston & Strawn LLP, a Chicago law firm. He paid them a total of $25,000 from campaign funds. He also paid the local legal firm of Dogan & Dogan $2,500. Taylor said those expenses were directly related to the ongoing FBI investigation.

Snyder also paid his wife Deborah a total of $8,000 during the year, noting the payments were for "campaign work."

Another $695 of his campaign funds were noted as paying for child care.

Taylor said it is not unusual to claim those sorts of costs on campaign finances.

"You have expenses as a result of you being in office, but you are not reimbursed by that office," he said, adding Snyder and his wife have four children.

As mayor, the couple are required to attend certain events and must hire a baby sitter. However, the city doesn't reimburse him for those costs of doing business, so it paying for a baby sitter is a legitimate campaign costs, he said.

Taylor said the same is true for numerous other entries on the 73-page finance report that noted Snyder paid for "city car wash," "city trip" or "department head meetings."

Snyder also used campaign funds to reimburse the city's Utility Service Board for $7,154 in three payments, noting the payments were for "city business."

Taylor said Snyder reimbursed the board after using utility department funds for what he felt was legitimate city business, but was requested by the board to repay the funds.

Snyder's reimbursement to the utility department of funds used to pay for a trip was part of the records subpoenaed by the FBI last summer.

Taylor said Snyder's report is more detailed than is required, listing many expenditures for under $100 that could have been lumped into a nonitemized category.

"We wanted to make sure everything was open and available to see," Taylor said.













Snyder announces bid for second term as Portage mayor
January 28, 2015 3:00 pm
Joyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/elections/snyder-announces-bid-for-second-term-as-portage-mayor/article_793a5bad-9f34-53fe-9636-d55028ab9d93.html

PORTAGE | Mayor James Snyder has announced his intentions to seek a second term as Portage's mayor.

Snyder held an event Tuesday evening at Woodland Park to formally announce his re-election campaign.

"Portage has seen accomplishments over the past three years that many, including myself, did not believe possible," Snyder said.

"I am seeking four more years of the best job Portage has to offer and another four-year partnership with the best people in the United States of America, the people of Portage," said Snyder.

Snyder said when he sought the post four years ago he talked about safety, jobs and infrastructure and believes his administration has delivered on each of the issues.

Snyder cited a decrease in the city's crime rate over the last three years, the addition of school resource officers, adding new officers to the street and rebuilding the police department's K-9 unit as some of his administration's accomplishments.

Snyder also said in the last three years hundreds of jobs have been added in the city in retail, commercial and manufacturing and industrial segments.

"2015 will be a record year for Portage. We are on our way to nearly 2,000 jobs with over $300 million in new investments in Portage. New and exciting announcements will be coming that will make us not just the leader in the region, but also the undisputed Chicagoland South Suburban economic leader," said Snyder, adding he will continue to support labor unions.

Snyder also touted his efforts to improve the city's infrastructure, including the new street department facility, projects within the city's parks, improvements in drainage and street paving projects.

Snyder said he will seek a second term to continue the successes of his first term and will continue to push for the new fire station proposed along Central Avenue as well as a new or renovated police station.

In addition, he wants to see a festival at Founder's Square park, an effort to rejuvenate the city's west side and continue redevelopment of the city's U.S. 20 corridor.
















Dems file campaign fund complaint against Portage mayor
By Amy Lavalley
Post-Tribune
January 26, 2015
A formal complaint has been filed with the county election board against Portage Mayor James Snyder

The Porter County Democratic Party filed a formal complaint with the county’s election board Monday because Portage Mayor James Snyder, a Republican, did not file his 2014 annual campaign finance report on time.

The report was due at noon Wednesday.

Party chairman Jeff Chidester requested an emergency meeting be scheduled to discuss the matter.

While Snyder was not the only Republican to miss last week’s deadline, Chidester said the other people who didn’t file their reports ran in last year’s county elections, while Snyder is running for a second term as Portage mayor this year.

Chidester said he talked to David Bengs, president of the election board, who said Snyder’s campaign changed treasurers and needed more time to fill out the report, but there are no extensions for the filings.

Snyder could have filed the report and sent in an amended report later, Chidester said.


“I’m not going to nickel and dime it,” Chidester said, but the state sets the deadlines for the filings a year in advance. “If your treasurer has something happen, you have to file a report.”

Ken Taylor, Snyder’s new campaign treasurer and the Republican Party’s executive director, said he took over at the first of the year after Snyder’s treasurer resigned.

Taylor said he told Snyder the report would be filed late and contacted Bengs, who could not be reached for comment. Taylor also amended Snyder’s reports for 2011, 2012 and 2013. The one for 2011 has been filed and the other two will be in by early next week. He expects to file the 2014 report within the next two weeks.

“I wanted to make sure they were very accurate and correct,” Taylor said.

The FBI visited the county’s Voter Registration office in July, seeking copies of Snyder’s campaign finance reports from 2007, when he first ran for office, through 2013. Agents also sought reports from a political action committee from his run for mayor in 2011.

He called the complaint from Porter County Democrats political retribution for the Republicans’ complaint against the reports filed by Democrat David Reynolds, who successfully ran for sheriff.

Republicans asked for and received an emergency meeting over those reports. That meeting was scheduled within two days, and four days before the November general election.

The election board is made up of two Republicans, Bengs and Clerk Karen Martin, and one Democrat, J.J. Stankiewicz.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how quickly they call this meeting,” Chidester said.

The next regularly scheduled election board meeting is Feb. 13.











Portage mayor claims late taxes a 'misunderstanding'
November 19, 2014 6:30 pm
Joyce Russell
NWI Times
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/porter/portage/portage-mayor-claims-late-taxes-a-misunderstanding/article_0fdbeefa-4e84-567d-831f-3bc19b5b4a9e.html

PORTAGE | Portage Mayor James Snyder said Wednesday he's taking action to make sure he pays his property tax on time in the future.

Snyder owes $1,827 in taxes and penalties on his family's home. He and his wife own a home on Laurel Street as well, but records indicate taxes are paid through a mortgage company and have been paid in full.

"I believe the payment on our Austin property is currently nine days late and the payment is in the mail and will be current as it is on our Laurel property," Snyder wrote in an email.

His property taxes were due Nov. 10.

"We have also paid the penalties and interest due without any questions," his Wednesday email states. "We intend to sign up for escrows automatically deducted from our checking so that we don’t have this problem or misunderstanding in the future as we understand we are held to a higher standard as public officials."

He didn't offer an explanation as to why he didn't pay his taxes on time last week.

It isn't the first time he's missed paying property taxes on time.
According to public records, Snyder ended 2011 owing $1,596 in taxes and penalties. He didn't make a payment until Aug. 14, 2012, indicating he didn't pay either the spring or fall tax installments on time that year, ending 2012 with a $1,777 debit to the county on his Austin Street property.

He took office in 2012.

In 2013, he made two payments to the county, one in January and a second in May. He missed the November deadline and ended the year owing $1,676 in taxes and penalties.

His tax bill, according to the records, entering 2014 rose to $5,327. His only payment of $3,500 was made Aug. 22, 2014, leaving the current balance.

Matt Baker, Porter County chief deputy treasurer, said taxpayers are considered delinquent if they do not pay their installments by the deadline. Once the deadline passes, they pay a 5 percent penalty for 30 days if they have no prior delinquencies. If they have previous delinquencies or they past 30 days, an additional 5 percent is assessed on the tax owed.

After three consecutive installments go unpaid, a property can go up for tax sale.

In addition, there is a state law allowing a government employee's wages to be garnished if they fail to pay their property taxes. The county treasurer's office is required to inform the government entity and the employee's wages can be garnished to pay the back taxes, Baker said.

However, he added, past practice has allowed the garnishment to be bypassed if the employee shows some kind of effort to pay the tax bill.













FBI continues to request information from Portage officials
October 01, 2014 12:54 pm
Joyce Russell
NWI Times
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/porter/portage/fbi-continues-to-request-information-from-portage-officials/article_63645550-b9a0-5c79-9004-62609660568f.html

PORTAGE | Another Portage official has received a federal subpoena seeking information on city purchases.

Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham confirmed Wednesday that he received an electronic subpoena from the FBI seeking records of all payments and invoices from Circle R Electric between Jan. 1, 2008 and the end of September.

Stidham also confirmed that he was interviewed last month by an FBI agent for more than an hour. During the interview, Stidham said they discussed a "wide range of topics" involving the mayor's office, Redevelopment Commission activities, property purchases and relationships between various individuals.

Stidham said he was also asked to provide certified copies of Board of Works minutes by the city attorney's office involving contracts for the purchase of garbage trucks. The information was necessary, he said, to fulfill a subpoena the city's street department received last month.

Wednesday's subpoena was the latest in a string delivered by the FBI to various officials. In July the FBI requested Mayor James Snyder's campaign finance records and records from his political action committee Portage Mayor Elect 2011. The Utility Services Board also received subpoenas that month seeking documents related to a trip Snyder took to Austria he initially funded through the department, but then paid back the cost.

Snyder declined comment Wednesday afternoon, but has previously said the city will cooperate with all requests. 













FBI visits Portage street department
September 09, 2014 3:45 pm
Joyce Russel
NWI Times
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/porter/portage/fbi-visits-portage-street-department/article_f07989c4-6fcd-5028-8df8-b06ae1ee53bd.html

PORTAGE | FBI officials made their second visit to the city Tuesday.

This time they visited the city's street department requesting documentation related to the purchase of automated garbage trucks from Great Lakes Peterbilt, said Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham who confirmed the agency's visit.

City Attorney Gregg Sobkowski confirmed the FBI issued a subpoena for all bid packages received by the city for garbage trucks purchased from 2012 to the present.

"The city is going to comply with all the requests," said Sobkowski, adding they were given a Sept. 17 deadline to provide the information.

In late July, the agency visited the city's Utility Services Department requesting documents related to Mayor James Snyder's travel expenses for a city economic development trip to Europe.

The FBI also requested copies of Snyder's campaign finance records and records from his political action committee from the Porter County Administration Center in July.

According to minutes from a Board of Works meeting, the board approved the purchase of "solid waste collection vehicles" from Great Lakes Peterbilt on Jan. 28, 2013. While the minutes don't reflect how many garbage trucks were purchased or their cost, they do state that Street Superintendent Steve Charnetzky told the board that Great Lakes Peterbilt was the only responsive bidder and that other bids should be rejected.

Board of Works minutes from Dec. 23, 2013, also reflect the city bought two additional trucks from Great Lakes Peterbilt for $425,355. In that round of bidding, there were three other bids received, and Great Lakes Peterbilt appeared to be the lowest bidder.

The FBI has made frequent visits to Porter County this summer, most recently to the town of Hebron last week along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

They also visited offices of the Porter County auditor's office in August seeking information on a commercial development in Valparaiso.














What's the Matter With Portage?
Posted by Alison Zuidervliet
August 18, 2014
Indiana Federation of Democratic Women
http://www.ifdw.org/what_s_the_matter_with_portage

Though I currently live in Indianapolis, I am proud to call Portage, Indiana my hometown. If you don’t know where Portage is, it is in the Region, northwest Indiana. It is the largest city in Porter County and sits on Lake Michigan between Chesterton and Gary. It is a city of hardworking people with steel mills and other blue-collar jobs dominating the landscape. Up until 2011, it had a successful string of great Democratic mayors.

In 2011, the people of Portage elected a young Republican, James Snyder, to be Mayor. It was a U-turn for the city. Snyder pursued familiar Republican policies and politics, including privatizing services, fighting with unions, and slowing the city’s progress. All the while,Snyder was mismanaging his campaign funds and the city’s tax dollars. He did this so blatantly that he is currently being investigated by the FBI. Their agents are making weekly trips to the county courthouse to pull documents and strengthen their case against Snyder.

Snyder, for his part, seems to not even realize he’s done anything wrong as the case against him grows stronger every day. This is a symptom of the disease that is the Indiana Republican Party.

Since the Republicans have come to their current position of overwhelming power in Indiana, they have systematically lined their own pockets and those of their buddies. The lineup of GOP criminals includes corrupt politicians like Tony Bennett who changes grades for cash, Rep. Eric Turner who stands to make over $900 million after asserting his power and lobbying against bills that would hurt his business deals, and Mitch Daniels who used his own Governor-appointed Purdue Trustees to make him president of the university.

The Indiana Republican Party is acting like it is straight out of a mafia movie. They are an organized crime syndicate, systematically stealing our money and hurting our state while they get richer and become more and more destructive. We should just call them what they really are: the Indiana Republican Mafia.

I need you to help the Indiana Federation of Democratic Women stand up to this corruption and call it out when you see it.

Have you seen an instance of political corruption in your community? Do you know of an official that has violated the public trust without consequence?

Please email me at ali@ifdw.org and let me know about what you see going on in your county. Enough is enough.

Onward to November!
















FBI WIDENS PROBE INTO PORTAGE MAYOR 
HPI Daily Wire
Howey Politics Daily Wire
Friday, August 01, 2014 7:37 AM 

The FBI has widened its investigation into Portage Mayor James Snyder to include plane tickets and travel expenses he funded through the city and/or its utility department from campaign funds (Kasarda, NWI Times). 

The federal investigators served members of the Utility Service Board with subpoenas earlier this week seeking documents related to Snyder writing checks to pay back the debt, said department Secretary/Treasurer Sherry Smolar. 

Smolar said she was working Thursday to fulfill the request. Snyder said in a written statement the reimbursement was for plane tickets and other expenses related to a city economic development trip to Europe. 

"We reimbursed them in the time allotted by the state board of accounts. The PAC and Campaign chose to reimburse the entire trip instead of the normal half as businesses contributed more money than we expected to raise for the express purpose of the trip, so the City incurred no expense for the City trip we took to promote Portage and visit the world headquarters (in Austria) for Portage-based Fronius. We also attended the world Intersolar convention in Munich, Germany as a guest of Fronius, who introduced Portage to a dozen or more potential new Portage businesses," according to the statement. 

The request for documents from the utility department comes one week after FBI agents appeared at the Porter County Administration Center seeking copies of campaign records for Snyder

Sundae Schoon, the Republican director at the Porter County voter registration office, said the FBI agents requested his campaign finance records and records from his political action committee Portage Mayor Elect 2011. 

Snyder responded in an email last week that he has done nothing wrong. "I have been advised that government agents have asked to review my campaign-finance records," he said in the email. "These records are now, and have always been, available to the public on the Internet. In fact, to my knowledge, I was the first public official in Porter County to post such records in a public forum. My campaign has done nothing wrong, and we look forward to this matter being wrapped up as expeditiously as possible," the message stated. 

Andre Joseph, who is the City Council's appointment to the Utility Service Board, said FBI agents interviewed him at his home last week. He said in a prepared statement Thursday, "The Portage Utility Service Board has profited from the growth and enthusiasm of Mayor Snyder. We would have gladly paid for his share of the trip, but he showed great initiative by raising all of the money himself. I believe in the importance of Mayors from cities like ours taking advantage of the global economy. We need jobs, and this Mayor understands that, and I'm proud to serve with him."















PORTAGE | The FBI has widened its investigation into Portage Mayor James Snyder to include plane tickets and travel expenses he funded through the city and/or its utility department from campaign funds.

The federal investigators served members of the Utility Service Board with subpoenas earlier this week seeking documents related to Snyder writing checks to pay back the debt, said department Secretary/Treasurer Sherry Smolar.

Smolar said she was working Thursday to fulfill the request.

Snyder said in a written statement the reimbursement was for plane tickets and other expenses related to a city economic development trip to Europe.

"We reimbursed them in the time allotted by the state board of accounts. The PAC and Campaign chose to reimburse the entire trip instead of the normal half as businesses contributed more money than we expected to raise for the express purpose of the trip, so the City incurred no expense for the City trip we took to promote Portage and visit the world headquarters (in Austria) for Portage-based Fronius. We also attended the world Intersolar convention in Munich, Germany as a guest of Fronius, who introduced Portage to a dozen or more potential new Portage businesses," according to the statement.

The request for documents from the utility department comes one week after FBI agents appeared at the Porter County Administration Center seeking copies of campaign records for Snyder.

Sundae Schoon, the Republican director at the Porter County voter registration office, said the FBI agents requested his campaign finance records and records from his political action committee Portage Mayor Elect 2011.

Snyder responded in an email last week that he has done nothing wrong.

"I have been advised that government agents have asked to review my campaign-finance records," he said in the email. "These records are now, and have always been, available to the public on the Internet. In fact, to my knowledge, I was the first public official in Porter County to post such records in a public forum. My campaign has done nothing wrong, and we look forward to this matter being wrapped up as expeditiously as possible," the message stated.

Andre Joseph, who is the City Council's appointment to the Utility Service Board, said FBI agents interviewed him at his home last week.

He said in a prepared statement Thursday, "The Portage Utility Service Board has profited from the growth and enthusiasm of Mayor Snyder. We would have gladly paid for his share of the trip, but he showed great initiative by raising all of the money himself. I believe in the importance of Mayors from cities like ours taking advantage of the global economy. We need jobs, and this Mayor understands that, and I'm proud to serve with him."












FBI eyes Portage mayor's finance reports
Post-Tribune 
July 23, 2014 9:42AM 
Updated: August 28, 2014 6:20AM

VALPARAISO — Agents with the FBI spent about 10 minutes in the Porter County Voter Registration Office last week, getting copies of campaign finance reports for Portage Mayor Jim Snyder.

All of the information is public record and is available on the county’s website, at www.porterco.org, said Sundae Schoon, Republican representative in the office, who handled the agents’ request.

“They asked for copies of Mayor Snyder’s campaign finance reports,” she said, as well as those for a political action committee from his run for mayor in 2011. 

The reports covered from 2007, when Snyder first ran for office, to the annual report he filed in 2013.

Snyder issued a written statement in response to the FBI’s request:
“I have been advised that government agents have asked to review my campaign finance records. These records are now, and have always been, available to the public on the Internet. In fact, to my knowledge, I was the first public official in Porter County to post such records in a public forum. My campaign has done nothing wrong, and we look forward to this matter being wrapped up as expeditiously as possible.













FBI returns to county, eyes Portage Mayor
Posted 7/22/2014
Chesterton Tribune
By JEFF SCHULTZ

After being quiet for more than three months, the FBI returned to the Porter County Administration Building on Monday and obtained campaign finance reports for Portage Mayor James Snyder.

According to County Voters Registration Republican Director Sundae Schoon, agents entered the Voters Registration Office, identified themselves to her and asked for copies of Snyder’s campaign finance reports and his Citizens for Snyder political action committee’s report from 2011. 

Schoon said she did not recall the exact time the FBI was in her office but they were there in the afternoon and stayed for about 10 minutes as she complied with the request to make copies. She said the agents did not indicate what interest they had in the reports.

Snyder emailed the following comment to the Chesterton Tribune before deadline today: “I have been advised that government agents have asked to review my campaign-finance records. These records are now, and have always been, available to the public on the Internet. In fact, to my knowledge, I was the first public official in Porter County to post such records in a public forum. My campaign has done nothing wrong, and we look forward to this matter being wrapped up as expeditiously as possible.”

Since November, numerous County offices have reported visits by FBI agents collecting information.

Agents were in the Porter County Auditor’s office in April and obtained payroll records for the Expo Center from 2013. 

In March, agents collected copies of building permits for Porter Regional Hospital and its adjoining medical center from the Porter County Plan Commission. They also downloaded records from the Plan Commission office from the County’s computer server in the IT office.

In addition, the bureau so far has taken documents related to the December 2012 contract between the County Commissioners and Porter Hospital for clinical services in the County’s Employee Health Plan, conflict of interest disclosure statements filed in the County Clerk’s office from 2007 to 2013, and project bid proposals related to 2010 and 2011 contracts with the County Highway Department. 














FBI requests Portage mayor's campaign finance records
July 21, 2014 - 6:24 pm 
NWI Times

VALPARAISO | FBI agents appeared at the Porter County Administration Building on Monday seeking copies of campaign records for Portage Mayor James Snyder.

Sundae Schoon, the Republican director at the county voter registration office, said the FBI agents requested his campaign finance records and records from his political action committee Portage Mayor Elect 2011.

Schoon said the agents were in the office about 10 minutes, just long enough for her to make copies of the records.

Snyder responded in an email stating he has done nothing wrong.

"I have been advised that government agents have asked to review my campaign-finance records. These records are now, and have always been, available to the public on the Internet. In fact, to my knowledge, I was the first public official in Porter County to post such records in a public forum. My campaign has done nothing wrong, and we look forward to this matter being wrapped up as expeditiously as possible," the message stated.













Shackles, high-profile raids highlight visual assault on region public corruption
April 19, 2014 10:30 pm 
Marc Chase
Bill Dolan 
NWI Times








HAMMOND | The clanking of shackles around wrists and ankles of elected officials charged with public corruption sends a sensory message, whether intended by law enforcement or not.

A message also comes across with the massive billboard-sized FBI logo on the sides of an evidence truck parked outside a local government building being raided.

At least one region defense attorney contends -- and some federal agents agree -- authorities here are sending a more visual, public message these days in a crack-down on alleged public corruption and other offenses.

Criminal defense attorney Scott King took note last year when his client, former Lake County Surveyor George Van Til, was led into Hammond federal court -- shackled hand and foot -- for his initial appearance on public corruption charges.

At the time, King said it was the first time he could remember seeing a client accused of nonviolent offenses marched into court in chains.

But it wouldn't be the last.

King also is representing Lake Station Mayor Keith Soderquist and the mayor's wife on charges of stealing from campaign and city food pantry funds, among other accusations. On Thursday, the U.S. Marshals Service led Soderquist, his wife and stepdaughter, who also face charges, into Hammond federal court with the defendants clad in wrist and ankle chains.

King said he vehemently disagrees with the practice of shackling defendants charged with nonviolent crimes before they've been convicted of doing anything wrong.

He said he went on record with the complaint last year, sending a formal letter of protest to Northern District of Indiana U.S. Chief Judge Philip Simon.

Simon was unavailable for comment Friday.

The U.S. Marshals Service, the agency providing federal courtroom security, would not comment on any security measures or decisions, agency spokeswoman Pamela Mozdzierz said.

But to King, the shackling practice is a visual splash that presumes guilt of nonviolent offenders before they've been tried or convicted.

"Historically, in cases of people accused of nonviolent offenses, you didn't see this practice," King said.

"It's a visual act that I don't think is justified by any real security threat. They're bringing people into the courtroom in chains at a stage where they're presumed innocent."

In the case of Van Til, he ultimately pleaded guilty to charges of using county government resources to further his campaign and then directing the destruction of evidence to cover it up.

But Van Til, who is free on bond awaiting sentencing in his case, had not yet been convicted in May 2013 when he entered a federal courtroom with shackled wrists and ankles that also were connected to a chain around his waist.

King acknowledged that since Van Til's initial appearance, he is seeing more use of shackles for all defendants during initial appearances on criminal charges in Hammond federal court.

Though the U.S. Marshals Service declined to comment on the practice of shackling inmates, another federal agency's office admits a concerted effort to become more publicly visible in some of its operations.

Last month, the 600 block of Connecticut Street in Gary was closed down, and a large white truck with a prominent FBI logo was parked outside the Calumet Township trustee's office.

FBI and IRS had closed down the office and were seen carrying boxes and at least one computer out of the trustee's facility while serving a federal search warrant.

Throughout the morning, and in spite of an intermittent cold rain, a few people living in the nearby neighborhood came out to gawk at the truck and snap its picture in front of Trustee Mary Elgin's place of business.

Though no charges or reason behind the raid have yet been made public, the FBI made no secret it was there.

And according to a local FBI supervisory agent, that's partly by design.

"We are going to be visible and active, because part of our success is our visibility in the community -- like when our personnel are actively engaged in investigations, collecting evidence and serving subpoenas," said Bob Ramsey, supervisory agent for the FBI's Merrillville office.

"It's a good indication we are out there working hard and protecting the public's interests. "There haven't been any directives specifically from Indianapolis. Just our mindset up here is that there is work to do, and we are going to be aggressive."

Ramsey acknowledged crime deterrence is one of several reasons for the agency's high-profile look.













Portage Mayor James Snyder's Campaign Financial Statement
January 01, 2012 - December 31, 2012
Submitted: March 05, 2013














































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