Thursday, November 17, 2016

11172016 - John Cortina - Portage Kustom Auto Towing - FEDERAL INDICTMENT DOCUMENT - Federal Program Bribery











Officer praised in probe of graft
Help led to charges in Hammond area
The Journal Gazette
November 25, 2016 

HAMMOND – A retired police officer was instrumental in an investigation that led to charges alleging that a northwestern Indiana sheriff, his top deputy and a mayor collected bribes in return for contracts for towing and other services, a federal prosecutor said.

United States Attorney David Capp said the voluntary cooperation and assistance of Scott Jurgenson, owner of Samson’s Towing of Merrillville, helped investigators uncover the alleged corruption, The (Northwest Indiana) Times reported.

Capp said Jurgenson spent 22 years as an officer with the Merrillville Police Department before retiring.

The indictments announced Nov. 18 name Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, Chief Deputy Tim Downs, Portage Mayor James Snyder and two owners of local tow companies – William Szarmach of Chase Street Auto in Lake Station and John Cortina of Kustom Auto Body in Portage.

Prosecutors allege that between February 2014 and October 2016, Buncich, Downs and Szarmach worked to enrich Buncich and his campaign committee, Buncich Boosters, through towing contracts.

Buncich received over $25,000 in cash and $7,000, often collected by Downs, in checks from Szarmach and an unnamed individual for towing contracts in Gary and Lake County, prosecutors said. Buncich, who is chairman of the Lake County Democratic Party, was elected to his fourth term as sheriff in 2015.

Snyder, a Republican in his second term as Portage’s mayor, is accused of soliciting and receiving bribes to receive contracts and obstructing the IRS from collecting unpaid taxes from his private mortgage business.

Buncich, Downs and Szarmach all face wire fraud charges, while Buncich and Szarmach are also charged with bribery.

Cortina is accused of making illegal payments to Snyder and the unnamed individual for towing contracts in Portage, located in neighboring Porter County.

Capp declined to immediately identify the unnamed individual, saying the federal investigation is still ongoing.

Buncich, Downs, Snyder and Cortina are free on bond awaiting trial, now set to begin in January. Szarmach remains in federal detention.












Portage Mayor Snyder indicted on bribery, tax charges
NWI Times
UPDATED - November 23, 2016

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.

Times reporter Bill Dolan contributed to this story.












Feds: Former cop helped break bribery schemes
NWI Times
November 23, 2016



CROWN POINT — Federal authorities are crediting a retired Merrillville police officer with coming forward to expose an alleged bribes-for-towing scheme that has engulfed the Lake County Sheriff’s Department and Portage City Hall.

United States Attorney David Capp said the voluntary cooperation and assistance of Scott Jurgenson, owner of Samson’s Towing of Merrillville, has been instrumental in helping federal investigators uncover corruption in the awarding of towing contracts.

He said Jurgenson was a 22-year veteran of the Merrillville Police Department.

Last Friday, the government charged Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, Timothy Downs, the sheriff’s second-in-command, and Portage Mayor James E. Snyder.

Buncich and Downs are accused of wire fraud and receiving $34,500 in illicit cash payments.

The government charged William “Willie” Szarmach, operator of CSA Towing of Lake Station, with paying bribes to Buncich and Downs.

The government charged Snyder with soliciting and receiving $12,000 in bribes in exchange for a towing contract with the city of Portage.

Snyder also is charged with soliciting and accepting $13,000 in bribes to influence public contracts and a construction project in Portage, and obstructing the IRS from collecting unpaid taxes from Snyder’s private mortgage business.

The government charged John Cortina, owner of Kustom Auto Body of Portage, with making illegal payments to Snyder.

Buncich, Downs, Snyder and Cortina are free on bond awaiting trial, now set to begin in January.

Szarmach has been in federal detention since his arrest Friday. He appeared Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Hammond to try to win pre-trial freedom too, but the matter was delayed.

Jurgenson is ‘Individual A’
The U.S. attorney identified Jurgenson’s role in the federal investigation, following a Times review of Buncich’s campaign finance records indicating Jurgenson’s towing firm was at the center of the wide-ranging bribery investigation.

Last week’s indictments mention an “Individual A” who gave Buncich and Downs $19,500 in contributions to Buncich Boosters, the sheriff’s campaign election committee.

Capp declined to immediately identify Individual A, saying the federal investigation into corrupt towing would continue.

Earlier this week, The Times obtained a 2014 campaign finance report Buncich had filed with the Lake County Voter Registration and Elections Board. Earlier this month, federal authorities subpoenaed that report along with others of Buncich dating back to 2008.

Last week’s indictments state Individual A wrote a $2,000 check to Buncich’s campaign on April 8, 2014.

Buncich’s 2014 campaign finance report states Jurgenson’s Samson Towing was the only donor to make a donation of that amount on that day.

Jurgenson could not be reached for comment.

Buncich reported receiving more than 460 donations totaling $222,000 in 2014 and 2015 from a multitude of individuals, corporations and labor organizations.

Contributions missing
But those reports don’t mention $12,000 in donations Szarmach and his towing firm allegedly made to Buncich, according to last week’s indictment.

The government is alleging Buncich hid towing-related payments from the public to cover up the bribery, and that he was illegally fundraising on government time, a prohibited activity under county government rules.

County police order thousands of cars towed annually from public streets for a variety of violations.

County government gives the sheriff exclusive authority to pick which towing firms can remove cars and charge the owners hundreds in towing and storage fees.

Buncich has used as many as a dozen towing firms, the government alleges.

The indictments state Jurgenson’s Samson Towing and Szarmach’s CSA Towing won an increasing share of the county’s towing business with their payments to Buncich and his campaign.


Last week’s indictments allege Portage Mayor Snyder accepted two bank checks of $10,000 and $2,000 earlier this year from Cortina and Jurgenson to win towing contracts for Cortina’s and Jurgenson’s firms.











Indictments outline alleged public corruption in Lake, Porter counties
Post-Tribune
November 19, 2016 



This past April, Lake County Sheriff John Buncich went into a Gary towing operator's vehicle and fetched a $3,500 cash bribe from the front seat, a payment federal court records claim was part of a larger scheme to steer towing business to companies based on cash payments and campaign contributions to the sheriff.

Within a week of the payment, which also included $2,500 from another towing operator, Buncich directed the sheriff's department to enforce Gary's ordinance violations, according to court records.

Later, after an officer assigned to enforcing ordinance violations in Gary was injured, two towing operators involved in the bribery scheme complained about a subsequent dip in the city's tow business, court records say. Buncich responded by assigning another Lake County patrol officer to enforce ordinance violations in Gary, according to a federal indictment announced Friday against the sheriff, his second-in-command and a towing operator.

"This is a sad day for the citizens of Northwest Indiana," U.S. Attorney David Capp said at a Friday press conference.

The indictments announced Friday unveiled startling public corruption allegations that included charges against Buncich and, in a separate case, Portage Mayor James Snyder. While the investigations in Lake and Porter counties were separate, both involved allegedly soliciting and accepting money from towing company operators.

In addition to Buncich and Snyder, Capp announced indictments against Timothy Downs, chief of the Lake County Sheriff's Department police; William Szarmach, of Chase Street Auto in Lake Station; and John Cortina, of Kustom Auto Body in Portage.

Buncich, Downs and Szarmach are named in the multicount indictment alleging the illegal towing scheme in which the sheriff accepted bribes in the form of thousands of dollars in cash and in donations to his campaign fund, Buncich's Boosters. All three are facing charges of wire fraud, while Buncich and Szarmach also are charged with bribery.

Buncich, Downs, Szarmach and Cortina were all arrested and taken into custody Friday morning, Capp said, adding that he's asked that Szarmach remain in federal detention.

Buncich and Downs each were each released on $20,000 unsecured bonds.

Snyder surrendered to federal authorities Friday afternoon, officials said. He was released on a $20,000 unsecured bond. If he attends all of his hearings, Snyder will owe no money. If he misses any, he will have to pay the $20,000 and faces arrest. Snyder also was ordered to turn over his passport and any firearms to federal authorities.

Buncich, a Democrat, was elected to his fourth term as sheriff in 2015. Snyder, a Republican, was elected to his second term as mayor in 2015.

"The citizens of the region are tired of this," Capp said.


Lake County allegations
The sheriff, whose department was in charge of deciding which companies were called for towing services, and the chief allegedly steered business toward towing operators in exchange for cash and checks, the U.S. attorney alleged in a 14-page indictment. Buncich allegedly took more than $25,000 in cash bribes and $7,000 in checks from Szarmach and another towing operator identified as Individual A, an unidentified towing operator who was working with investigators, according to the indictment.

Individual A voluntarily offered to provide information to federal authorities, Capp said, adding that the decision by Individual A to step forward was critical for the investigation.

While Buncich's office had the authority to determine what towing operators were awarded contracts, according to Lake County ordinance, the county commissioners ultimately approved the sheriff's recommendations.

According to the indictment, Buncich's office had a list of up to a dozen towing companies used to handle tows in different parts of Lake County. But from February 2014 to October 2016, according to the indictment, Buncich used his power and authority as sheriff to steer towing business to firms based on their cash payments and campaign contributions.

Certain towing companies on the towing list saw an increase or drop in business based on their cash payments and campaign contributions, the indictment alleges. Certain towing firms were allowed to remain on the towing list based on the level of campaign fundraising tickets they bought, the indictment said.

Szarmach and Individual A were awarded towing operations in Gary, the indictment said.

Buncich and Downs allegedly collected money from Szarmach and Individual A, the indictment said.

In July, the indictment said, Individual A handed Buncich $2,500 in cash, which he pocketed. That same person handed Buncich a $7,500 cash payment, which he put in his right rear pocket, the indictment said.

Between July and August, Buncich also accepted $3,500 in cash and checks from Szarmach, the indictment alleges.

Both Szarmach and Individual A got "a larger share of towing involving large semi-tractor trailers, ordinance towing in the City of Gary, towing in other Lake County municipalities and towing for other entities," the indictment said.


Portage mayor
Snyder and Cortina, named in a separate indictment, were charged with bribery. Capp said the mayor solicited money from Cortina and Individual A and gave them a towing contract for Portage.

According to the indictment, Cortina paid Snyder $12,000 in exchange for a towing contract between him, Individual A and the City of Portage.

Snyder also allegedly accepted $13,000 in connection with a Board of Works contract and obstructed tax laws by impeding the government's collection of tens of thousands of dollars in personal taxes he owed and payroll taxes owed by his mortgage business, First Financial Trust Mortgage LLC.

Snyder declined to comment after his hearing, but his lead attorney, Thomas Kirsch, of the law firm Winston and Strawn, said they were surprised by the indictment, "particularly so because these charges are meritless."

A woman who answered the phone Friday afternoon at Cortina's body shop, 5409 U.S. Highway 6, Portage, promptly hung up when asked for comment on the indictments. The business was the site of a raid by officials with the U.S. Department of Treasury on Nov. 10, the same day of a sweep of several Lake County offices.

According to online campaign finance reports, Cortina donated thousands of dollars to Snyder's campaigns.


Local reaction
Buncich's office on Friday released a statement that said services will go uninterrupted at the department.

"The Sheriff's Department is continuing to run as normal. There has been no disruption of any operations. The proud men and women of the Lake County Indiana Sheriff's Department continue to serve and protect our citizens," Buncich said.

Dan Murchek, deputy chief of police for the sheriff's department, declined to comment on the charges or the investigation. He said in his position as deputy chief he is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the sheriff's department and providing the services the public needs and that will not change.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, a former Indiana attorney general, said she has always believed a person is innocent until proven guilty. But she called the indictments a sad day from a personal standpoint, from a professional standpoint and a political standpoint. She described both Buncich and Snyder as friends.

"It shows the U.S. Attorney is not targeting one group over another," Freeman-Wilson said of the cross-party charges.

Buncich also is Lake County's Democratic Party chairman. His Republican Party counterpart, Chairman Dan Dernulc, said he was "extremely disappointed, even upset."

Dernulc said he has had a good working relationship with Buncich despite not always agreeing.

"As elected officials and appointed officials, we really have to always be above. People look up to us. This is another black eye in Lake County," Dernulc said.

Lake County Commissioner Mike Repay said the charges undermine both the hard, honest work most police officers do, and the work by outside contractors who are playing by the rules.

"I'm disappointed. It's a mark on the county. It's a mark on county government. It's unfortunate and sad. I'm mad. I'm just kind of conflicted on the whole thing. There is a range of different emotions. It is not a great day in Lake County," Repay said.

"We have a great city, and we're going to continue to move forward," Portage City Council President Mark Oprisko said. "It's a sad day for me, and I'm beside myself. In 28 years on the council, I've never dealt with anything like this, but the mayor has a very good staff, and he does care about the citizens of Portage.

"(Snyder) needs to keep his head up and keep leading."

FBI agent Jay Abbott said that when the public trust is betrayed, it erodes the trust in public institutions that people rely on.

"When these types of cases occur, it's a tragedy," Abbott said. "It's a tragedy for law enforcement, and it's a tragedy for the community."

Capp said the investigations into corruption related to towing contracts in Northwest Indiana continue and more charges are anticipated.

"You know who you are, and we know, currently, who some of you are," Capp said. "And we are coming after you. And if any of you want to try to help yourself, time is running short."

Michael Gonzalez and Carrie Napoleon are freelance reporters for the Post-Tribune. The Associated Press contributed.












Portage Mayor Snyder indicted on bribery, tax charges
NWI Times    
November 19, 2016 
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.












Lake County sheriff, Portage mayor accused of taking bribes for towing contracts
FOX 59 News
November 18, 2016
http://fox59.com/2016/11/18/lake-county-sheriff-portage-mayor-accused-of-taking-bribes-for-towing-contracts/

HAMMOND, Ind. – The sheriff of Lake County and mayor of Portage were indicted Friday on public corruption charges in connection with a towing and bribery scheme.

Federal prosecutors said the indictments were returned against Lake County Sheriff John Buncich and Portage Mayor James Snyder. Timothy Downs—Buncich’s chief deputy—and William Szarmach, who owns a company called CSA Towing, were also named in Buncich’s multi-count indictment. John Cortina, the owner of a towing business, was named in Snyder’s indictment.

The indictment involving Buncich alleges deprivation of honest services and receipt of illegal money. Snyder’s indictment alleges a violation of the federal bribery statute.

Buncich is also charged individually with violating the federal bribery statute. He, Downs and Szarmach are accused of using towing contracts to enrich Buncich and his campaign committee, which was called “Buncich Boosters.”

The indictment said Buncich and Downs collected cash and check payments from Szarmach and another individual in exchange for the awarding of towing contracts in Lake County and Gary. The second individual came forward to report the practice, prosecutors said.

Buncich, in a position of power as county sheriff, demanded more than $25,000 in cash and $7,000 in checks for the contracts, prosecutors said.

The FBI and Indiana State Police raided his office and home last week.

Snyder, the mayor of Portage, is accused of accepting $12,000 from Cortina and the aforementioned whistleblower in exchange for favorable towing contracts in Portage. Cortina owns and operates Kustom Auto Body.

Snyder is accused of a second violation of the bribery statute. Between Jan. 2012 and Jan. 2014, he allegedly solicited and accepted $13,000 in connection with Portage Board of Works contracts, a Portage Redevelopment Commission project and other consideration.

Snyder is also accused of impeding the Internal Revenue Service from collecting personal taxes and payroll taxes from his mortgage business.

Federal prosecutors said the investigations aren’t over yet and that towing contracts in Lake and Porter counties would be further scrutinized.












FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, November 18, 2016
The United States Attorney's Office - Northern District Of Indiana
United States Attorney David Capp
Lake County Sheriff John Buncich and Portage Indiana Mayor James Snyder Indicted Separately on Public Corruption Charges

HAMMOND – United States Attorney David Capp announced today the return of two public corruption indictments; one naming Lake County Sheriff John Buncich and the other naming Portage Mayor James Snyder.

Buncich, his chief deputy Timothy Downs, and William Szarmach were named in a multi-count indictment alleging a deprivation of honest services and receipt of illegal money in connection with towing contracts in Lake County.

John Buncich is the Lake County Sheriff.  Buncich earlier served as sheriff from 1994-2002, and was re-elected in 2010 and again in 2014.   Pursuant to a Lake County ordinance, the sheriff has exclusive authority to determine what entity would do any towing as required by the sheriff’s department.  Downs is the Chief in the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, the second person in command, having been appointed to that position by Buncich.  Szarmach owns and operates CSA Towing, located at 2599 DeKalb Street, Lake Station, Indiana.

The indictment alleges that from February 2014 continuing into October 2016, Buncich, Downs and Szarmach devised a scheme to deprive the citizens of Lake County of their right to the honest services of the sheriff’s office.  The scheme was designed to enrich Buncich personally and his campaign committee, known as Buncich Boosters.  The indictment details a number of checks and cash payments, often collected by Downs, from Szarmach and an Individual A in exchange for Buncich awarding county towing business and towing in the City of Gary for ordinance violations.  Individual A is the owner of a tow truck business who voluntarily came forward and cooperated with the United States during the course of this investigation.

Buncich is also charged individually with a violation of the federal bribery statute.  Specifically, Buncich is alleged to have corruptly solicited, demanded and received over $25,000 in cash and $7000 in checks in exchange for favorable actions by Buncich regarding the towing contracts.

The second indictment names Portage Mayor James Snyder and John Cortina.  Snyder was first elected as mayor in 2011 and was re-elected to a second four-year term in 2015.  Cortina owns and operates a towing business, Kustom Auto Body, 5409 US Highway 6 in Portage.

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 $12000 from Cortina and Individual A (same individual above), in exchange for a towing contract in the City of Portage.  Cortina is charged with corruptly offering those checks to Snyder.

Snyder is also charged with a second violation of the federal bribery statute.  That count alleges that between January 1, 2012 and January 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.

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 IRS’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.

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

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

The United States Attorney's Office emphasized that an Indictment is merely an allegation and that all persons charged are presumed innocent until, and unless, proven guilty in court.

If convicted in court, any specific sentence to be imposed will be determined by the judge after a consideration of federal sentencing statutes and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

These indictments were the result of an extensive, ongoing investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division.  Assistance was provided throughout by the Indiana State Police.  These indictments will be handled in the United States Attorney’s Office by Assistant United States Attorneys Philip C. Benson, Gary T. Bell and Jill R. Koster.











UPDATE: FBI raids Lake County sheriff's offices; searches may have Porter ties
NWI Times
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.

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