Friday, December 16, 2016

12162016 - Lake County Police Chief Timothy Downs - Pleads guilty


Lake County Police Chief Timothy Downs pleaded guilty to federal charges, in plea agreement:








I “Woefully” Broke the Law: LC Police Chief Tim Downs
The Northwest Indiana Gazette
Ken Davidson
December 17, 2016
http://nwigazette.com/2016/12/woefully-broke-law-lc-police-chief-tim-downs/

Lake County Police Chief Tim Downs became the latest in a long line of Sheriff’s officials to stand in front of a judge and admit to breaking the laws they are sworn to uphold. For his part, Downs placed the blame on Lake County’s top cop, Sheriff John Buncich. Downs said he was ordered to solicit towing companies for campaign contributions in exchange for county work. In short, he was the bagman for bribes. Downs admitted that he solicited these contributions during regular working hours, using a county provided vehicle. In fact, the charge for which he plead guilty involves wire fraud-receiving a pay check via direct deposit while not working.

The Campaign Finance:
The plea agreement mentions three specific dates-April 8, 2014, October 21, 2014 and June 3, 2015. Campaign finance reports filed by Sheriff John Buncich show no contributions on April 8, 2014. Midnight Blue Towing in Crown Point and Stan’s Auto Body Shop and Towing in St. John each appear on the campaign finance report on April 30, 2014 with a $1,000.00 contribution. On October 21, 2014 the campaign finance report shows two contributions, one from Assistant Police Chief Daniel Murchek in the amount of $200.00 and another from an individual not involved in towing. No contributions are shown on June 3, 2015 and shows only one towing related contribution on June 29, 2015. That contribution was from Z’s Incorporated, in Gary in the amount of $1,000.00

It is important to note that contributions do not equate to alleged bribes. In fact, the indictment clearly states that some contributions were listed on the campaign finance report and some were not. Buncich reported raising approximately $170,000 in 2014 and $72,000 in 2015. Notably, Buncich was re-elected in 2014 and could not run for Sheriff again. The question seems to be not only why would he be raising such a large amount of money, but more important, why would anyone be giving that much money to someone who could not run again? This is not unusual in Lake County politics but never seems to garner the attention of local or federal prosecutors.

History of Corruption:
The Lake County Sheriff’s Department has a long history of corruption in its upper ranks. Under former Sheriff Roy Dominguez, officers were selling machine gun parts out of the county building and he didn’t notice. In 2011, Lake County Officers Joseph Kumstar, Ronald Slusser and Joseph Kabella were convicted of selling barrels of guns and gun sights which were for use by the military and police only. No one has ever traced any of those gun parts and we don’t know if they ended up on the streets of Lake County or elsewhere. Again, Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter was eerily silent during the prosecution. Dominguez maintains to this day that he knew nothing about the gun-running operation which happened on his watch.

Former Lake County Police Chief Mike Mokol was convicted of taking bribes in 1991 and former Sheriff Rudy Bartolomei was similarly convicted. Bartolomei ultimately entered the witness protection program and helped to convict 18 other politicians and crony contractors.

Where do we go from here?
It is very likely that more Lake County Sheriff’s Police Officers will be indicted, or at the very least implicated, in the towing for bribes scandal. According to the plea agreement, Downs visited towing companies to collect bribes while being paid by the taxpayers. Sources close to the investigation indicate that he did not do this alone. If someone else was in the car with Downs, is that person cooperating or will that person be indicted? Is it possible the person was in the car and did nothing illegal?

We have three towing operators involved so far and we know there were at least 12 companies that did towing for the county. Will we see more indictments of towing operators? What about other contractors? Did the pay to play scheme only apply to towing company operators or did some of the other county contractors provide illegal kickbacks to the Sheriff? If the investigation broadens to other contractors, is it possible that the feds will begin to look at contributions to other local politicians? What about Mayors who had similar relationships with towing companies?

2017 is certain to be an interesting year in Lake County, Indiana.










Sheriff's top commander pleads in bribery case
Bill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328  
Updated - December 17, 2016 - 12:30AM 
NWI Times



HAMMOND — The sheriff's Chief of Police is resigning and pleaded guilty Friday afternoon to his role in the Lake County Sheriff Department towing bribery scandal.

Timothy Downs, 65, admitted to cheating the public of honest government services by using his authority within the Lake County Sheriff's Department to do political fundraising for Sheriff John Buncich while he was on duty and using his publicly provided police car.

Downs said he knew what he was doing was prohibited by county government directives, but did so under orders of Buncich.

"I did wrong, and I want to clear it up," he told U.S. District Court Judge Rudy Lozano during a nearly two-hour hearing.

Downs admits he has previously been helping investigators and will cooperate in any future prosecutions in return for the government's promise to recommend he receive the minimum possible prison time under federal sentencing guidelines.

U.S. Attorney David Capp disclosed last month Scott Jurgensen, owner of Merrillville-based Samson’s Towing, also has been cooperating with his office as a witness to payments made to Buncich.

Valparaiso defense attorney Bryan M. Truitt, who represents Buncich, said Friday his client disagrees with the allegations contained in the plea agreement.

"Sheriff Buncich is very proud of his honest public service and his good works, and is completely innocent," Truitt said.

Downs' plea hearing comes only two weeks after the government arrested Buncich, 70, Downs and William "Willie" Szarmach, who operates CSA Towing, of Lake Station.

All three pleaded not guilty at the time to an indictment alleging they took part in the exchange of tens of thousands of dollars in illicit payments between February 2014, and last month, to enrich the sheriff and the Buncich Boosters campaign committee.

It was disclosed for the first time that some of the political contributions went to the Lake County Democratic Central Committee, which assists a number of Democratic candidates.

Buncich is chairman of the Lake County Democratic party and oversees the central committee's financial transactions.

Downs will remain free on bond. His sentencing was scheduled for March 16, 2017, but could be delayed until after all the trials in the case are finished to ensure his continued cooperation.

Downs, who had served as Buncich's second-in-command since 2011, said he soon became aware the sheriff was using his control over the department's tow list to extract political contributions and cash bribe payments in exchange for favorable treatment for certain Lake County towing firms.

Buying more tickets assured more business
Downs said the more fundraising tickets a firm bought, the more lucrative business they could expect from county police.

Downs said he sold the tickets during regular business hours using his government-provided sheriff's vehicle.

He said he didn't keep any of the money himself, but instead turned over more than $22,000 in cash and checks to Buncich and kept track of who bought tickets, and how many.

"Oftentimes, the owners of these companies did not even want the fundraising tickets or take physical possession of them, but simply wanted to make sure that the sheriff knew that they had contributed to his fundraiser," Downs said.

Downs said he later learned that many of the cash payments weren't recorded on the sheriff's campaign finance report as required by law.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Benson indicated a lot of the evidence against Downs was collected by Jurgensen, who recorded conversations among Downs, Szarmach and himself.

Benson recited evidence from the recordings that Downs promised Jurgensen and Szarmach a bigger share of the "heavies," a reference to towing tractor trailers stopped on Cline Avenue and found in violation of state weight restrictions.

Benson said the towing firms wanted assurances from Downs there would be enough trucks stopped and towed to make a larger profit for the towing firms.

Benson said Downs is overheard saying, "Don't worry. We are going to take care of you." One of the tow truck drivers said, "One every week would be fine." Downs replied, "We can pump that up."

Benson said towing firms that wouldn't return Downs' telephone calls about fundraising ticket sales were struck off the sheriff's list.

The conversations took place in fall 2014 when Buncich and a number of county and municipal officials were running for re-election.









Lake sheriff's 2nd-in-command pleads guilty to wire fraud
The Associated Press
Posted: Dec. 16, 2016 7:00 am 
Updated: Dec. 16, 2016 9:01 pm
Herald - WHIG

HAMMOND, Ind. (AP) — The second-in-command at the Lake County Sheriff's Department pleaded guilty to wire fraud Friday in a bribery case in which the sheriff and a tow truck operator also are charged.

Chief of Police Timothy Downs admitted using his position to solicit campaign donations from tow truck operators in exchange for giving them towing contracts.

"I did wrong. I want to clear it up," Downs told U.S. District Court Judge Rudy Lozano.

Downs, 65, also resigned Friday from the sheriff's department, ending a tenure of more than 37 years, according to court documents.

Downs said he performed political fundraising while on duty and while using his publicly provided police car on the orders of Sheriff John Buncich.

Buncich attorney Bryan Truitt said his client disagrees with the allegations contained in the plea agreement.

"Sheriff Buncich is very proud of his honest public service and his good works, and is completely innocent," Truitt said.

Buncich, Downs and William Szarmach of Chase Street Auto in Lake Station were named in a multicount indictment last month alleging the sheriff accepted more than $32,000 in bribes for towing contracts. All three were charged with wire fraud, while Buncich and Szarmach also were charged with bribery. Buncich and Szarmach have pleaded not guilty.

Downs said he sold fundraiser tickets to tow truck operators and would meet with them to make those transactions.

"The more they bought, the better they were treated," Downs said.

Downs said he has been helping investigators and will cooperate in any future prosecutions in return for the government's promise to recommend he receive the minimum possible prison time under federal sentencing guidelines. Downs also could face up to 20 years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine for the crime, said Lozano, who took the plea agreement under advisement.









Lake County chief pleads guilty to corruption charge
Chicago Post-Tribune
Craig Lyons
December 16, 2016 - 5:32PM



Judge Rudy Lozano had a question for Lake County Sheriff's Department's chief of police Friday as Timothy Downs pleaded guilty to a wire fraud charge: "Why?"

"I did wrong. I want to clear it up," said Downs, during a court hearing at U.S. District Court in Hammond. "I'm in fact guilty."

Downs, 65, pleaded guilty to a count of honest service wire fraud, using his position at the Sheriff's Department to solicit campaign donations from tow truck operators in a scheme to give more territory to those companies in exchange for the money, according to court documents.

Downs resigned Friday from the Lake County Sheriff's Department, ending a more than 37-year career with that agency, court documents said.

U.S. Attorney David Capp announced charges against Downs, Sheriff John Buncich and William Szarmach, of CSA Towing, at a Nov. 18 press conference.

Buncich, Downs and Szarmach were named in the multi-count indictment alleging an illegal towing scheme in which the sheriff accepted bribes in the form of thousands of dollars in cash and donations to his campaign fund, Buncich's Boosters, according to court records. All three were charged with wire fraud, while Buncich and Szarmach were also charged with bribery.

Buncich, whose department was in charge of deciding which companies were called for towing services, and Downs allegedly steered business toward towing operators in exchange for cash and checks, the U.S. attorney alleged in the 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," according to the indictment.

Buncich and Szarmach pleaded not guilty to the charges during their initial appearances.

Downs said he sold fundraiser tickets to tow truck operators and would meet with them to make those transactions.

"The more they bought, the better they were treated," Downs said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Benson said authorities could prove Downs' role in a series of transactions with tow truck operators, and "Individual A" provided them with a series of meetings between himself, Downs and, on occasion, Szarmach.

Benson said, on one occasion, Downs met with "Individual A" to collect money -- $2,000 in checks and $500 in cash.

As a part of the plea agreement, taken under consideration by Lozano, Downs would cooperate with federal authorities and provide any information relative to the commission of any crime.

"Is that what you want to do?" Lozano asked.

"Absolutely, your honor," Downs said.

Downs could face up to 20 years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine for the crime, Lozano said. The judge acknowledged that the U.S. attorney could seek a lower sentence based on Downs' compliance with the terms of the agreement, though that would ultimately be Lozano's decision.

"Even though I knew it was in violation of the law to accept direct cash payments or campaign contributions in exchange for favorable towing contract consideration, I did so to continue receiving my salary as chief of police for the Lake County Sheriff's Department," Downs said in court documents.









UPDATE: Sheriff's top commander to plead in bribery case
NWI Times
Bill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328  
Updated - December 16, 2016 - 1:00PM

HAMMOND — The sheriff's Chief of Police is resigning and pleading guilty in the Lake County Sheriff Department towing bribery scandal.

Timothy Downs, 65, is admitting in a nine-page statement filed in U.S. District Court that he defrauded the public of honest government services by doing political fund-raising for Sheriff John Buncich on public time, in his publicly provided police car.

Downs states he knew doing so was prohibited by county government directives, but did so under orders by Buncich.

Down admits he has previously been helping investigators and will cooperate in any future prosecutions in return for the government's promise to recommend he receive the minimum possible prison time under federal sentencing guidelines.

U.S. Attorney David Capp disclosed last month Scott Jurgensen, owner of Merrillville-based Samson’s Towing, also has been cooperating with his office as a witness to payments made to Buncich.

Valparaiso defense attorney Bryan M. Truitt, who represents Buncich, said Friday, his client disagrees with the allegations contained in the plea agreement.

"Sheriff Buncich is very proud of his honest public service and his good works and is completely innocent," Truitt said.

Downs is scheduled appear as early as this afternoon in U.S. District Court to ask a judge to accept the plea bargain.

It comes only two weeks after the government arrested Buncich, 70, Downs and William "Willie" Szarmach, who operates CSA Towing, of Lake Station.

All three pleaded at the time to an indictment alleging they took part in the exchange of $34,500 in illicit cash payments between February 2014, and last month to enrich the sheriff and his Buncich Booster's campaign committee.

All three are free on bond awaiting trial, now scheduled to begin next month.

Downs, who served as Buncich's second-in-command since 2011, said he "became aware that the sheriff was using his control over the Sheriff's Department's tow list to extract political contributions and cash bribe payments in exchange for favorable treatment for certain Lake County towing firms."

He states the sheriff had exclusive control to determine which towing firms would remove vehicles from public roads and streets. He said between 10 and 12 towing companies were on the sheriff's list of approved towing firms.

Downs' statement continues, "As time progressed under the sheriff, it became apparent that in order to get on the Lake County tow list, stay on the list or obtain additional towing areas, a tow company owner had to contribute to the sheriff's fund-raisers.

"Although I did not want to sell the fund-raising tickets, or collect the proceeds for these tickets, the sheriff directly ordered me to engage in these activities, even though they were in direct contravention of county policy directives prohibiting such activity.

"I sold the tickets during regular business hours using my government-provided sheriff's vehicle. After getting this money, I would deliver the checks or cash to the sheriff and provide the information to him regarding who bought tickets and how many tickets were purchased by each company," it states.

The agreement mentions two contributions made in April and October of 2014 and a third in June of 2015. "I gave these checks and cash payments to the sheriff knowing that the payments were obtained with the expectation of favorable treatment regarding towing for Lake County.

"Often times, the owners of these companies did not even want the fund-raising tickets or take physical possession of them, but simply wanted to make sure that the sheriff knew that they had contributed to his fund-raiser."

Downs said he later learned that many of the cash payments weren't recorded on the sheriff's campaign finance report as required by law.









Sheriff's No. 2 takes plea deal, agrees to testify
NWI Times
Updated - December 16, 2016 -11:00AM
HAMMOND — The Lake County sheriff's second-in-command, Timothy Downs, was cooperating with federal officials before they indicted him, Sheriff John Buncich and a towing operating last month on corruption charges.

A plea agreement says Downs resigned Thursday from the Sheriff's Department after attorneys filed the document in U.S. District Court.

In the plea agreement, Downs says Buncich ordered him to sell campaign fundraising tickets to towing companies and collect cash or checks from some of the owners.

Downs knew such activities were illegal, but did it to continue receiving his salary from the department, court records say.

As part of his plea deal, Downs agreed to testify during any grand jury or judicial proceedings.










Sheriff's No. 2 takes plea deal, agrees to testify
NWI Times
Updated - December 16, 2016 - 9:30AM
http://www.nwitimes.com/sheriff-s-no-takes-plea-deal-agrees-to-testify/article_549c18ae-12e8-5658-94c8-5f2ee414538c.html



HAMMOND — The Lake County sheriff's second-in-command, Timothy Downs, was cooperating with federal officials before they indicted him, Sheriff John Buncich and a towing operating last month on corruption charges.

A plea agreement says Downs resigned Thursday from the Sheriff's Department after attorneys filed the document in U.S. District Court.

In the plea agreement, Downs says Buncich ordered him to sell campaign fundraising tickets to towing companies and collect cash or checks from some of the owners.

Downs knew such activities were illegal, but did it to continue receiving his salary from the department, court records say.

As part of his plea deal, Downs agreed to testify during any grand jury or judicial proceedings.

Check back at nwi.com for updates on this developing story.










Lake County chief to plead guilty to bribery charge
Chicago Post Tribune
Craig Lyons
December 16, 2016 - 8:24AM
A northwest Indiana police chief pleaded guilty Thursday to accepting bribes in a towing scheme and resigned his position with the county.

Lake County Chief of Police Timothy Downs struck a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's office, which a federal judge has not yet accepted, admitting he allegedly cooperated with Sheriff John Buncich to solicit brides from tow truck operators for favorable treatment.

In addition, Downs, in the agreement, said he submitted his resignation from the Lake County Sheriff's Department.

Downs said he sold fundraising tickets to tow truck operators, according to court documents, and took both cash payments and checks from the businesses.

"Even though I knew it was in violation of the law to accept direct cash payments or campaign contributions in exchange for favorable towing contract consideration, I did so to continue receiving my salary as chief of police for the Lake County Sheriff's Department," Downs said in court documents.

On Nov. 18, U.S. Attorney David Capp announced charges against Buncich, Downs and William Szarmach, of CSA Towing.

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

Buncich, whose department was in charge of deciding which companies were called for towing services, and Downs allegedly steered business toward towing operators in exchange for cash and checks, the U.S. attorney alleged in the 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," according to the indictment.

Buncich and Szarmach pleaded not guilty to the charges during their initial appearances.









LC Police Chief Downs to Plead Guilty
The Northwest Indiana Gazette
Ken Davidson
December 16, 2016
http://nwigazette.com/2016/12/lc-police-chief/

“The government acknowledges that I have furnished pre-indictment cooperation with the investigation of this case”-Plea Agreement signed by Lake County Police Chief Timothy Downs

December 15, 2016-Lake County Police Chief Timothy Downs has agreed to plead guilty to one count of honest services wire fraud in connection with the Sheriff’s towing scandal. Downs was charge along with Sheriff/Democratic Party Chair John Buncich in a multi-count indictment on November 17, 2016. The timing of the agreement is a surprise, but most surprising is a statement that Downs was working with federal officials prior to the charges in this case. “The government acknowledges that I have furnished pre-indictment cooperation with the investigation of this case.”

Downs provides details as to the towing for cash scandal the Government has alleged:
"At all times between approximately February of 2014, and continuing through August of 2015, I knew the following to be true:
Between the above dates, I served as the Chief of Police for the Lake County Sheriff’s Department. Sheriff John Buncich appointed me to the position when he took office in 2011. I continually served in that position until the filing of this plea agreement. Upon the filing of this plea agreement, I am tendering my resignation to the Lake County Sheriff’s Department.

In my capacity as Chief of Police, I became aware that the Sheriff was using his control over the Sheriff’s Department tow list to extract political contributions and cash bribe payments in exchange for favorable treatment for certain Lake County towing firms. Pursuant to a County ordinance, the Sheriff had exclusive control and authority to determine who provided towing services for Lake County when County Police officers needed to tow a vehicle. Under the Sheriff, the Lake County tow list contained between approximately 10 to 12 tow firms. Each tow firm operated in a specific region of Lake County, and was obligated by contract to pay certain fees to the County for each tow provided at the request of the Sheriff’s officers.

As time progressed under the Sheriff, it became apparent that in order to get on the Lake County tow list, stay on the list, or obtain additional towing area, a tow company owner had to contribute to the Sheriff’s fundraisers. I was directed by the Sheriff to sell campaign fundraising tickets to the various towing companies working for Lake County. As part of this process, I would go to meet the various owners of these tow companies, deliver the tickets, and collect either cash or checks from some of the owners. Although I did not want to sell the fundraiser tickets, or collect the proceeds for these tickets, the Sheriff directly ordered me to engage in these activities, even though they were in direct contravention of County policy directives prohibiting such activity. Some of the tow owners paid the Sheriff directly. I sold these tickets during regular business hours using my government provided Sheriff’s vehicle. After getting this money, I would deliver the checks or cash to the Sheriff and provide information to him regarding who bought tickets and how many tickets were purchased by each company. Often times the owners of these companies did not even want the fundraiser tickets or take physical possession of them, but simply wanted to make sure that the Sheriff knew that they had contributed to his fundraiser.

Specifically, on or about April 8, 2014, October 21, 2014, and June 3, 2015, I obtained political contributions in the form of checks, and/or additional cash payments, in exchange for specific current or future favorable consideration regarding towing contracts for the Lake County Sheriff’s Department. I gave these checks and cash payments to the Sheriff knowing that the payments were obtained with the expectation of favorable treatment regarding towing for Lake County.

Even though I knew it was in violation of the law to accept direct cash payments or campaign contributions in exchange for favorable towing contract consideration, I did so to continue receiving my salary as Chief of Police for the Lake County Sheriff’s Department. I continued to receive my Lake County Sheriff’s Department salary while accepting these bribe payments, even though at times, rather than enforcing the law I was breaking the law. I later came to learn that many of the cash payments I gave to the Sheriff were not recorded on his campaign finance report as required by law.

I further acknowledge that I was accepting bribe payments in the form of campaign contributions or cash, and giving these payments to the Sheriff,during the time period listed in Counts 1-3 of the indictment, while I was being paid my Lake County Sheriff’s Department salary via electronic direct deposit.

The plea agreement must be accepted by the Court and is contingent on Downs’ continued cooperation. The charge of Honest Services Wire Fraud carries a term of up to 20 years in prison. According to the Agreement, the parties agree that the sentencing range pursuant to federal guidelines will apply. Without cooperation, the guidelines would provide a sentence in the range of 41-51 months. Based on the severity of the offense, it is likely that Downs will still see significant incarceration even with cooperation.









Lake sheriff's 2nd-in-command pleads guilty to wire fraud
The Associated Press
Posted: Dec. 16, 2016 7:00 am 
Updated: Dec. 16, 2016 9:01 pm
Herald - WHIG

HAMMOND, Ind. (AP) — The second-in-command at the Lake County Sheriff's Department pleaded guilty to wire fraud Friday in a bribery case in which the sheriff and a tow truck operator also are charged.

Chief of Police Timothy Downs admitted using his position to solicit campaign donations from tow truck operators in exchange for giving them towing contracts.

"I did wrong. I want to clear it up," Downs told U.S. District Court Judge Rudy Lozano.

Downs, 65, also resigned Friday from the sheriff's department, ending a tenure of more than 37 years, according to court documents.

Downs said he performed political fundraising while on duty and while using his publicly provided police car on the orders of Sheriff John Buncich.

Buncich attorney Bryan Truitt said his client disagrees with the allegations contained in the plea agreement.

"Sheriff Buncich is very proud of his honest public service and his good works, and is completely innocent," Truitt said.

Buncich, Downs and William Szarmach of Chase Street Auto in Lake Station were named in a multicount indictment last month alleging the sheriff accepted more than $32,000 in bribes for towing contracts. All three were charged with wire fraud, while Buncich and Szarmach also were charged with bribery. Buncich and Szarmach have pleaded not guilty.

Downs said he sold fundraiser tickets to tow truck operators and would meet with them to make those transactions.

"The more they bought, the better they were treated," Downs said.

Downs said he has been helping investigators and will cooperate in any future prosecutions in return for the government's promise to recommend he receive the minimum possible prison time under federal sentencing guidelines. Downs also could face up to 20 years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine for the crime, said Lozano, who took the plea agreement under advisement.



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