Thursday, December 28, 2017

12282017 - News Article - Mayor defends Portage SUV purchases



Mayor defends Portage SUV purchases
Chicago Tribune
December 28, 2017
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-ptb-portage-snyder-suv-st-1229-20171228-story.html
The Portage Board of Works approved the purchase of two new sports utility vehicles from a local auto dealership Wednesday, but the move fell flat for Common Council President Mark Oprisko and others at City Hall.

The board approved buying two 2018 Ford Explorers from Lakeshore Ford, in Burns Harbor, for $65,786, pending legal review by the city attorney. The move came after Oprisko used a travel policy passed by the city council in October to strip Mayor James Snyder and Economic Development Director Andy Maletta of their city-owned SUVs last month.

During the meeting, Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham, who has announced his intention to run for mayor in 2019, asked about the process city officials used in securing the quotes from Lakeshore.

According to Stidham, any quotes should've been received by city officials by Dec. 15. The Lakeshore quote had a handwritten receipt date of Dec. 12, but there was no date of receipt on a quote from Connor's Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, in Chesterton, which quoted two similar vehicles at $68,794.

Also, City Hall sources and Oprisko insisted Snyder has been using the Ford Explorer officially purchased Wednesday "for at least two weeks," and Oprisko complained Snyder has offered "zero communication" with the council on big ticket purchases, such as buying the vehicles.

Snyder called his critics' comments "senseless," and he insisted he has been using a number of city-owned vehicles and "loaner cars," including a newer model, while Ford Explorer owned by the parks department.

Snyder had leased a 2016 Chevy Tahoe for about $866 a month, while Maletta's leased 2016 Ford Expedition ran about $750 a month, officials said.

When asked if Wednesday's board purchase needed to be approved by the city council, Snyder said, "This board (of Works) purchases vehicles all the time."










Portage ends 'lavish' leases for mayor, economic develop director vehicles
NWI Times
Nov 16, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/porter/portage-ends-lavish-leases-for-mayor-economic-develop-director-vehicles/article_b795f9bb-096d-55d9-a0e1-2256018916ec.html



PORTAGE — Mayor James Snyder and the city's economic development director are going to be downsizing the city vehicles they drive after a decision to end leases on a 2016 Chevrolet Tahoe and 2016 Ford Expedition.

The Utility Services Board last week approved terminating both leases. Snyder, in an email to city officials Thursday morning, said the two vehicles are parked and ready to be picked up by the leasing company. When contacted Thursday, Snyder declined further comment.

The issue of the leased vehicles has been debated by city officials for some time, but last week at a USB meeting, Chairman Mark Oprisko motioned for Snyder to "send back" the two vehicles to the leasing company.

"The cost of the vehicles is so lavish," Oprisko said Thursday, adding he brought up the issue because "enough is enough" and the USB has been trying to get things in order since the City Council took it over in March from Snyder's leadership.

The USB has been paying $3,624 per month for the lease of the Tahoe, two Expeditions and two Ford Explorers. The Tahoe, which Snyder drove, cost $860 per month; the Expeditions were $750 per month and the Explorers $470 per month, according to city records. The second Expedition was driven by the former city administrator and the two Explorers are driven by USB superintendents.

Clerk-treasurer Chris Stidham confirmed the cars had been parked Thursday and said he has contacted the leasing company to pick them up.

Stidham said that doesn't mean Snyder and Economic Development Director Andy Maletta, who drove one of the Expeditions, won't be driving city-owned or -leased vehicles. After meeting with Snyder on Thursday afternoon, Stidham said replacement vehicles will be acquired. He is uncertain if they will be purchased or leased.

"No one is saying they shouldn't have vehicles, but they should be appropriate vehicles," said Stidham.

Stidham said the Expedition driven by the former city administrator, who resigned in February, had been sitting in the city hall parking lot until last month when the USB terminated the lease. The lease termination cost the USB about $5,000, he said, adding terminating the lease early and paying the cost was less expensive than continuing the lease. There were four years left on the leases.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

12242017 - News Article - New U.S. attorney has a veteran award-winning staff of trial lawyers to go after corrupt politicians and violent street gangs



New U.S. attorney has a veteran award-winning staff of trial lawyers to go after corrupt politicians and violent street gangs
NWI Times
Updated Dec 24, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/new-u-s-attorney-has-a-veteran-award-winning-staff/article_f6f0bd39-5520-5b09-b6df-8040d15b5207.html

HAMMOND — U.S. Attorney Thomas Kirsch II recently acknowledged he is coming into office this year with a skilled staff of attorneys he intends to use to prosecute violent and white-collar criminals.

It's also an award-winning staff.

Kirsch said the team of assistant U.S. attorneys for the Northern District of Indiana and agents of the FBI and ATF regularly win awards from the U.S. Department of Justice as well as other federal agencies for their work on public integrity cases, crimes against children and violations involving fish and wildlife cases, national parks and other environment-related cases.

They are most celebrated for the prosecution of local chapters of violent street gangs.

Kirsch said they received a commendation from the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Administration and won the Assistant Attorney General's Award of Distinguished Service for the prosecution of more than 40 individual members of the Latin Kings.

They also won the Assistant Attorney General’s Exceptional Service Award for work on the Imperial Gangsters case.

Much of this work was accomplished in recent years under former U.S. Attorney David Capp, who told The Times earlier this year his office teamed up with local authorities to investigate gang-related homicides to take more than 80 members of the Latin Kings and Imperial Gangsters off the streets in the last five years.

The Latin Kings and Imperial Gangsters are criminal organizations with thousands of members across the United States and overseas.

Chicago has been a traditional power base of the Latin Kings. Their Southeast Chicago regional leadership consider Gary, Hammond and East Chicago part of their turf.

The Imperial Gangsters chapters in East Chicago engaged in murder, assault and narcotics trafficking across Northwest Indiana.

Capp stepped down in March, and President Donald Trump nominated Kirsch as his replacement in July; the U.S. Senate confirmed Kirsch in October.

Kirsch had served previously as an assistant U.S. attorney here from 2001 to 2008, focusing on white-collar crime investigations as well as the successful prosecution of numerous elected and appointed public officials.

Kirsch said an investigation into public corruption involving public towing contracts, begun under Capp, remains active under his administration.

That investigation already has resulted in the conviction of former Sheriff John Buncich, Timothy Downs, the former sheriff's second-in-command, and William Szarmach, a Lake Station towing firm owner.

A U.S. District Court jury found Buncich guilty Aug. 25 of accepting bribes from William Szarmach and an undercover FBI informant seeking lucrative county police towing assignments.

A federal grand jury last month charged former Merrillville Town Councilman Thomas Goralczyk, 51, of Merrillville, with taking a bribe from a federal police informant in exchange for a vehicle towing contract. He is scheduled to plead guilty Jan. 31.

Portage Mayor James Snyder has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial on bribery, extortion and tax evasion charges related to the towing investigation.

Friday, December 22, 2017

12222017 - News Article - Federal towing investigation in Northwest Indiana yielded conviction, new indictment in 2017



Federal towing investigation in Northwest Indiana yielded conviction, new indictment in 2017
Post-Tribune
December 22, 2017
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-federal-towing-investigation-st-1224-20171222-story.html



Former U.S. Attorney David Capp at the end of 2016 warned Northwest Indiana officials that more was coming from a federal investigation into towing.

"You know who you are and we know, currently, who some of you are," Capp said. "And we are coming after you."

The efforts of the FBI's multi-year towing investigation came to bear in 2017 with now former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich's Aug. 26 conviction and a new indictment against former Merrillville Councilman Thomas Goralcyzk, who pleaded guilty the same day the case was unsealed.

Buncich, in his second consecutive term as sheriff, resigned immediately. Buncich, 71, also held the office for two terms in the 1990s.

The U.S. Attorney's Office could not confirm or deny if the investigation was ongoing.

The FBI's investigation into potential pay-to-play towing began in 2012, according to testimony in federal court during Buncich's trial. FBI agents spoke with Scott Jurgensen, owner of Samson's Towing in Merrillville, and asked why he didn't get more towing work.

"You don't pay, you're not going to tow," Jurgensen said, during his testimony.

The investigation first looked at town officials in Merrillville and Schererville, according to testimony, but did not lead to any charges at that time.

The first charges came in late 2016 and were levelled at Buncich and Portage Mayor James Snyder.

Buncich, former Chief Timothy Downs and William Szarmach, of C.S.A. Towing, were named in a multicount indictment in November 2016 alleging a towing scheme where the sheriff accepted bribes in the form of thousands of dollars in cash and donations to his campaign fund, Buncich Boosters, according to court records.

Downs pleaded guilty in December and resigned his position at the Lake County Sheriff's Department, according to court documents. Szarmach pleaded guilty in July — a week before the trial started.

Federal prosecutors, during closing arguments, told jurors that Buncich abused his elected position to solicit bribes from tow operators, but defense attorneys say it was the FBI that paid an informant to make a crime happen.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Benson said, during closing arguments, Buncich is heard on the recordings wanting to get the $85,000 back that he invested in his campaign and the evidence shows he sought to recover that money from tow operators.

"You now know that he was absolutely serious about getting that money back because you saw how he got it," Benson said.

Defense attorney Larry Rogers said, during closing arguments, the sheriff had a stellar reputation among law enforcement and the community until the government began its investigation.

"The government has systematically set out to paint the sheriff as a bad person," Rogers said.

Snyder and John Cortina, of Kustom Auto Body in Portage, were charged in November 2016 with allegedly violating a federal bribery statue. Federal prosecutors said the mayor allegedly solicited money from Cortina and "Individual A" and gave them a towing contract for Portage.

Snyder received an additional bribery indictment for allegedly accepting $13,000 in connection with a Board of Works Contract, and allegedly obstructing internal revenue laws.


Snyder pleaded not guilty to the charges, according to court documents, and is tentatively scheduled for a January trial. Attorneys for Snyder and Cortina have asked the court to move the trial to June, according to court documents, but a judge has not ruled on the request.


Snyder will have a new attorney on his team. Thomas Kirsch, who was nominated to be the new U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, stepped aside from the Snyder case when he was confirmed by the Senate in October.


In the wake of the Buncich conviction, the U.S. Attorney's Office indicted Goralczyk in November saying he accepted two vehicles and other items from "Individual A" to help secure a Merrillville towing contract.

The charges allege that Goralczyk "did knowingly and corruptly solicit demand, accept and agree to accept" a 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee; a 2008 Ford Focus; four new camper tires; and free storage for a motorcycle from "Individual A" in return for a towing contract from Merrillville, according to court documents.

Goralczyk allegedly presented false bills of sale to the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles for the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which he obtained for $400 though the value was in excess of $2,500, and for the Ford Focus, which he accepted for free though it was valued in excess of $5,000, according the U.S. Attorney's Office.

"I obtained both of these vehicles for my own personal gain, in exchange for my promise to engage in official conduct by using my influence and power as a Merrillville town councilman to obtain a Town of Merrillville towing contract for the FBI 'cooperating individual's' towing company," Goralczyk said, in the plea agreement.

Sentencings for Buncich and Goralczyk are scheduled for January, according to court documents.

Monday, December 4, 2017

12042017 - News Article - Ex-Indiana sheriff's bribery sentencing moved to January



Ex-Indiana sheriff's bribery sentencing moved to January
NWI Times
Updated Dec 4, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/state-and-regional/indiana/ex-indiana-sheriff-s-bribery-sentencing-moved-to-january/article_eeedaff0-47e3-5a53-bfc0-4edfae812735.html
HAMMOND, Ind. (AP) — The sentencing of a former northwest Indiana sheriff convicted of federal bribery and wire fraud charges has been moved to mid-January.

Former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich's sentencing had been set for Wednesday on the charges stemming from an illegal car-towing scheme. But The Post-Tribune reports that a federal judge last week moved his sentencing to Jan. 16.

A federal jury convicted Buncich in August of bribery, wire fraud and honest services wire fraud. Buncich, a Democrat, was immediately removed from the elected sheriff's post in Indiana's second most-populous county. He had been elected in 2015 to his fourth term as sheriff.

Federal prosecutors told jurors that Buncich abused his elected position to solicit bribes from towing operators. He has denied all wrongdoing.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

12032017 - News Article - Former Sheriff John Buncich's sentencing is reset to Jan. 16



Former Sheriff John Buncich's sentencing is reset to Jan. 16
NWI Times
December 03, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/former-sheriff-john-buncich-s-sentencing-is-reset-to-jan/article_83a7f229-9177-58c4-a2ee-f93acd3d83d7.html

HAMMOND — A federal judge has reset the sentencing of former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich to take place Jan. 16.

U.S. District Judge James T. Moody ordered postponement of the sentence, which initially had been set to take place Wednesday, at the request of the former sheriff's defense team for more preparation time.

Bryan Truitt, one of Buncich's defense attorneys, complained last week that government prosecutors have hinted at new information they intend to use to lengthen any prison term the 71-year-old law enforcement veteran could receive for his bribery and fraud convictions.

He stated last week in a court memo he has yet to see any documents to support the government's new allegations, which haven't yet been made public.

A U.S. District Court jury found Buncich guilty Aug. 25 on six counts of wire fraud, honest services wire fraud and bribery.

The U.S. attorney's office presented evidence at Buncich's federal trial in August that Buncich solicited and accepted bribes from Scott Jurgensen, a former Merrillville police officer, towing firm owner and undercover informant for the FBI, and William "Willie" Szarmach, a Lake Station towing firm owner who was charged with Buncich, and then took a plea deal to testify against the former sheriff.

Jurgensen and Szarmach said they bribed the former sheriff to receive more lucrative towing assignments from county police. Timothy Downs, the sheriff's former second-in-command, said he sold Buncich's political fundraising tickets on public time to them and other county towing vendors, who Buncich had the power to hire and terminate.

Buncich took the witness stand over three days to deny wrongdoing, saying he never promised nor delivered favors for political donations.


Saturday, December 2, 2017

12022017 - News Article - Ex-Lake County, Ind., Sheriff John Buncich to be sentenced in January on bribery, wire fraud conviction



Ex-Lake County, Ind., Sheriff John Buncich to be sentenced in January on bribery, wire fraud conviction
Post-Tribune
December 02, 2017
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-new-john-buncich-sentencing-date-st-1202-20171201-story.html

A federal judge on Friday set a new sentencing date for former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, pushing the hearing to January.

On Thursday, Judge James Moody agreed to push back the sentencing, which was first set for Dec. 6, saying he'd reset the hearing for either later in December or January, according to court documents. Moody set the hearing at 9 a.m. Jan. 16.

Buncich, former Chief Timothy Downs and William Szarmach, of C.S.A. Towing, were named in a multicount indictment in November 2016 alleging a towing scheme where the sheriff accepted bribes in the form of thousands of dollars in cash and donations to his campaign fund, Buncich Boosters, according to court records.

A jury convicted Buncich of bribery, wire fraud and honest services wire fraud in August after 14 days of testimony.

Federal prosecutors, during closing arguments, told jurors Buncich abused his elected position to solicit bribes from tow operators, but defense attorneys say it was the FBI that paid an informant to make a crime happen.

Downs pleaded guilty in December 2016 and resigned his position at the Lake County Sheriff's Department, according to court documents. Szarmach pleaded guilty in July — a week before the trial started.

Both testified against Buncich during the trial.

Sentencings for Downs and Szarmach have not been set.

Bryan Truitt, one of Buncich's defense attorneys, on Wednesday filed a motion to push back the sentencing date citing that more time was needed to prepare since it appeared prosecuting attorneys raised new allegations in the pre-sentencing report and will present new witnesses.

"The government makes numerous new allegations against the defendant concerning possible arguments against a downward variance for the defendants," Truitt wrote in his motion. "The government alleges these were learned by it shortly before trial yet the defense has received no documentation ... involving the same."

Given the new information prosecutors plan to present, Truitt said the defense needed additional time to prepare its response and interview witnesses to rebut the claims, according to court documents.
Truitt said the deadline schedule for filings prior to a Dec. 6 sentencing would not allow for adequate review.



The U.S. Attorney's office does not comment on matters pending before the court.

Friday, December 1, 2017

12012017 - Federally Convicted Lake County Sheriff John Buncich - Sentencing Delayed to January 16, 2018





EDITORIAL: Buncich apologists open to public scrutiny
NWI Times
The Times Editorial Board
12052017
http://www.nwitimes.com/opinion/editorial/editorial-buncich-apologists-open-to-public-scrutiny/article_1d105141-1ee0-59b4-b5a7-8d2db44b23db.html
Government officials and other community leaders have every right to show public support for convicted felons, through spoken or written word.

Columnists and editorial boards, in turn, have every right to criticize those officials and leaders for acting as apologists to people who have committed crimes against the public.

And in the end, the public has the right to know the identities of the apologists when their letters become a part of the court or other public record.

These are rudimentary concepts of the First Amendment, which includes the freedom of speech most of us begin learning about in grade school.

It also seems to be a difficult concept for some Region attorneys to comprehend.

In recent weeks, Times columnist and Editorial Page Editor Marc Chase has promised to publish the names of any public officials or community leaders who write letters to a U.S. District Court judge seeking leniency for former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, who is now a convicted felon.

A federal jury convicted Buncich earlier this year of accepting bribes in exchange for steering towing work issued by the sheriff's office. Now he awaits sentencing, and his attorneys are seeking, and according to them receiving, letters of support for Buncich that they say eventually will be entered into the federal court record.

Knowing the deep-seated reputation for political corruption in Northwest Indiana, Chase has promised to publish the names of Buncich supporters, when they become available, as the public has a right to know.

It’s not a new practice. Chase also previously wrote a column taking several elected leaders to task for writing letters of support for former Lake County Surveyor George Van Til after Van Til was convicted of essentially stealing from taxpayers.

 Buncich's attorney Bryan Truitt has publicly criticized Chase's promise as an attack on his client's fair court proceedings.

Truitt has been joined by Merrillville attorney Geoffrey Giorgi and Lake County Bar Association President Adam Sedia in that criticism.

Region attorneys represented by the Lake County Bar Association should be especially leery of their president taking such stands against the First Amendment and the public's right to know.

"It is the height of hypocrisy for a news outlet to discourage individual citizens from exercising their rights to make their voices heard for fear of being publicly shamed...," Sedia said in a public statement about the matter.

But Sedia couldn't be more wrong.

Neither Chase nor The Times have any power to prevent anyone from exercising their right to support Buncich.

In our democracy, however, columnists and editorial boards have the right — and some would argue a duty — to call out any behavior that contributes to or defends public corruption.

In the end, elected officials must know that their actions — including defending political friends who are convicted felons — will be scrutinized.

No amount of legal grandstanding will stop that.










MARC CHASE: Disgraced councilman provides case study in corruption warning signs
NWI Times
Updated Dec 4, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/opinion/columnists/marc-chase/marc-chase-disgraced-councilman-provides-case-study-in-corruption-warning/article_3d1be100-3fb1-56bc-add1-0938e7a7856a.html

We all must wonder — when sitting public officials defend those who've done wrong — how much the apologists themselves are hiding.

Longtime Region residents should be familiar with the culture of corruption permeating many levels of local government and politics.

But how carefully are any of us looking at the warning signs — the smoke signals sent by sitting public officials when they offer support, comfort or justification for the acts of colleagues who've been caught in clearly unethical behavior or convicted of crimes against the taxpayer?

The recent federal indictment and guilty plea to felony bribery by former Merrillville town Councilman Tom Goralczyk shows us why it's increasingly important to be leery of any local leaders who act as apologists for those who perpetuate public corruption.

In late summer 2014, a little more than three years before he would plead guilty to the felony bribery charges, Goralczyk strode into a closed meeting of Region county and municipal officials carrying a blue designer Michael Kors purse.

It was a closed executive session of the Lake County Solid Waste Management District Board, so I wasn't permitted in. But several in attendance at the meeting confirmed what happened there.

At the time, Goralczyk represented Merrillville on the 27-member board, which is supposed to hasten local recycling by distributing government funded grants to Lake County communities.

Goralczyk brought the designer woman's handbag, complete with matching accessories, into the meeting to defend its purchase as an appropriate gift for a solid waste district employee.

No, Goralczyk didn't buy the purse himself. Times investigations had revealed then-solid waste district Director Jeff Langbehn made the lavish $750-plus purchase as a gift for a female subordinate in his office. Taxpayers footed the bill as it was made on Langbehn's government credit card.

Nearly all others on the 27-member solid waste district board expressed appropriate disgust when it was revealed Langbehn made the unauthorized purchase, which he initially tried to call a briefcase. In fact, the purchase would lead to Langbehn's firing.

But not before Goralczyk defended Langbehn in a meeting of other board members.

Langbehn wasn't charged with any crime in the purse matter, but it clearly was an unacceptable personal use of taxpayer dollars.

Thankfully, for taxpayers' sake, the rest of the board didn't buy Goralczyk's overtures. Following Langbehn's ouster, a subsequent Times probe of waste district finances revealed hundreds of thousands taxpayer dollars spent on lavish dresses, watches, Chicago theater tickets, expensive meals, a surfboard and luxury hotel stays, among other largesse.

Ultimately, when he stood before Lake County solid waste board members and was a virtual lone voice of support for Langbehn's purse purchase, Goralczyk was unwittingly doing us all a favor.

He was showing us the unethical colors that, as it turns out, would define his period of supposed public service.

Fast-forward from the purse matter to just a couple of weeks ago when Goralczyk was indicted on, and immediately pleaded guilty to, charges of taking bribes from a federal police informant in exchange for a vehicle towing contract.

A silver lining to the matter is Goralczyk, 51, was no longer a sitting public official at the time he pleaded guilty. Voters ushered him out of office in 2015.

But the bribery counts to which he admitted occurred in the heart of his tenure as a supposed public servant. Federal authorities say Goralczyk accepted a 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee for a cut-rate $400 purchase price from the informant, even though he knew the vehicle's value exceeded $2,500.

He also accepted a 2008 Ford Focus, valued at more than $5,000, for free, and was provided four camper tires and free storage for a personal motorcycle — all in exchange for steering towing contracts, court records show.

Then Goralczyk left evidence of trying to cover his tracks, presenting false bills of sale to the state for the vehicles, prosecutors say.

This all happened between February 2013 and August 2014, in the heart of Goralczyk's eight-year tenure on the Merrilllville Town Council.

In the end, new Hammond-based U.S. Attorney Thomas Kirsch II got it right when he characterized Goralczyk's actions as "self-dealing and graft."

Goralczyk gave us advance warning with his support of self-enrichment by defending Langbehn's purse purchase — and helping prop up, even through inaction or complacency — the wasteful and unethical spending of hundreds of thousands of more dollars in solid waste district funds.

It's a reminder to keep a keen eye on our public officials before they're potentially led off to federal prison.

It's why I've promised to publish the names and identities of all sitting Region public officials who file letters of support and leniency in the court record in the upcoming sentencing of disgraced former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, now a convicted felon.

Buncich's attorney has said dozens of letters, yet to be filed with the court, have been written on the disgraced sheriff’s behalf — presumably seeking a lenient sentence. This is all for a former top law enforcement officer convicted in a similar towing contract bribery scheme.

Taxpayers have a right to know the names of public officials who continue carrying water for other public officials convicted of public corruption or who engage in unethical behavior at taxpayers' expense.

Such letters of support can provide us all with a guide when it comes time to push buttons in the polling booths.










Ex-Indiana sheriff's bribery sentencing moved to January
NWI Times
Updated Dec 4, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/state-and-regional/indiana/ex-indiana-sheriff-s-bribery-sentencing-moved-to-january/article_eeedaff0-47e3-5a53-bfc0-4edfae812735.html
HAMMOND, Ind. (AP) — The sentencing of a former northwest Indiana sheriff convicted of federal bribery and wire fraud charges has been moved to mid-January.

Former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich's sentencing had been set for Wednesday on the charges stemming from an illegal car-towing scheme. But The Post-Tribune reports that a federal judge last week moved his sentencing to Jan. 16.

A federal jury convicted Buncich in August of bribery, wire fraud and honest services wire fraud. Buncich, a Democrat, was immediately removed from the elected sheriff's post in Indiana's second most-populous county. He had been elected in 2015 to his fourth term as sheriff.

Federal prosecutors told jurors that Buncich abused his elected position to solicit bribes from towing operators. He has denied all wrongdoing.










Former Sheriff John Buncich's sentencing is reset to Jan. 16
NWI Times
12032017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/former-sheriff-john-buncich-s-sentencing-is-reset-to-jan/article_83a7f229-9177-58c4-a2ee-f93acd3d83d7.html

HAMMOND — A federal judge has reset the sentencing of former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich to take place Jan. 16.
U.S. District Judge James T. Moody ordered postponement of the sentence, which initially had been set to take place Wednesday, at the request of the former sheriff's defense team for more preparation time.
Bryan Truitt, one of Buncich's defense attorneys, complained last week that government prosecutors have hinted at new information they intend to use to lengthen any prison term the 71-year-old law enforcement veteran could receive for his bribery and fraud convictions.
He stated last week in a court memo he has yet to see any documents to support the government's new allegations, which haven't yet been made public.
A U.S. District Court jury found Buncich guilty Aug. 25 on six counts of wire fraud, honest services wire fraud and bribery.
The U.S. attorney's office presented evidence at Buncich's federal trial in August that Buncich solicited and accepted bribes from Scott Jurgensen, a former Merrillville police officer, towing firm owner and undercover informant for the FBI, and William "Willie" Szarmach, a Lake Station towing firm owner who was charged with Buncich, and then took a plea deal to testify against the former sheriff.
Jurgensen and Szarmach said they bribed the former sheriff to receive more lucrative towing assignments from county police. Timothy Downs, the sheriff's former second-in-command, said he sold Buncich's political fundraising tickets on public time to them and other county towing vendors, who Buncich had the power to hire and terminate.
Buncich took the witness stand over three days to deny wrongdoing, saying he never promised nor delivered favors for political donations.









Ex-Lake County, Ind., Sheriff John Buncich to be sentenced in January on bribery, wire fraud conviction
Post-Tribune
December 02, 2017
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-new-john-buncich-sentencing-date-st-1202-20171201-story.html

A federal judge on Friday set a new sentencing date for former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, pushing the hearing to January.

On Thursday, Judge James Moody agreed to push back the sentencing, which was first set for Dec. 6, saying he'd reset the hearing for either later in December or January, according to court documents. Moody set the hearing at 9 a.m. Jan. 16.

Buncich, former Chief Timothy Downs and William Szarmach, of C.S.A. Towing, were named in a multicount indictment in November 2016 alleging a towing scheme where the sheriff accepted bribes in the form of thousands of dollars in cash and donations to his campaign fund, Buncich Boosters, according to court records.

A jury convicted Buncich of bribery, wire fraud and honest services wire fraud in August after 14 days of testimony.

Federal prosecutors, during closing arguments, told jurors Buncich abused his elected position to solicit bribes from tow operators, but defense attorneys say it was the FBI that paid an informant to make a crime happen.

Downs pleaded guilty in December 2016 and resigned his position at the Lake County Sheriff's Department, according to court documents. Szarmach pleaded guilty in July — a week before the trial started.

Both testified against Buncich during the trial.

Sentencings for Downs and Szarmach have not been set.

Bryan Truitt, one of Buncich's defense attorneys, on Wednesday filed a motion to push back the sentencing date citing that more time was needed to prepare since it appeared prosecuting attorneys raised new allegations in the pre-sentencing report and will present new witnesses.

"The government makes numerous new allegations against the defendant concerning possible arguments against a downward variance for the defendants," Truitt wrote in his motion. "The government alleges these were learned by it shortly before trial yet the defense has received no documentation ... involving the same."

Given the new information prosecutors plan to present, Truitt said the defense needed additional time to prepare its response and interview witnesses to rebut the claims, according to court documents.
Truitt said the deadline schedule for filings prior to a Dec. 6 sentencing would not allow for adequate review.

The U.S. Attorney's office does not comment on matters pending before the court.










Federal judge grants former Sheriff John Buncich's lawyers more time to prepare for his sentencing
NWI Times
Updated Dec 1, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/federal-judge-grants-former-sheriff-john-buncich-s-lawyers-more/article_9afd1a64-f750-5332-808f-1b45177124e1.html

HAMMOND — A federal judge is postponing next week's sentencing of former Sheriff John Buncich, giving his legal team a chance to better prepare for new allegations of his wrongdoing.
U.S. District Judge James T. Moody issued an order Thursday afternoon granting an urgent request for more time by Valparaiso attorney Bryan Truitt.

Truitt complained Wednesday he was being blindsided by government prosecutors who have hinted at new information they intend to use to lengthen any prison term the 71-year-old law enforcement veteran could receive for his bribery and fraud convictions.

Truitt hasn't described what the new allegations are, but stated he first learned of them Nov. 14 in a government document that hasn't been made public. He states the government has yet to document the allegations or say which witnesses prosecutors will call at sentencing.

A U.S. District Court jury found Buncich guilty Aug. 25 on six counts of wire fraud, honest services wire fraud and bribery.

Moody didn't pick a new sentencing date Thursday, but said it would fall some time between late December and the third week in January. He said he would look with disfavor on any future requests for delay.

Truitt responded Thursday afternoon, "John Buncich is happy that he will get to present his entire body of life’s work and the specific details of his actions for the judge’s consideration. And he respects that the government gets to do the same, and each gets to respond."

When Buncich does face sentencing he will not do so alone.

Truitt said Thursday he will present the court with dozens of letters written in support of Buncich, whose law enforcement and political career stretches back 46 years.

Controversy has swirled around the letters and their writers.

Truitt said he was still receiving new testimonials for Buncich "despite the intimidation of the NWI Times," a reference to an Aug. 26 column by The Times' Marc Chase, who promised to publish the names and positions of public officials or other community leaders "who carry water for Buncich by petitioning the court for leniency."

Truitt and Merrillville attorneys Geoffrey Giorgi and Adam Sedia have criticized Chase's stand on social media and in a recent publication of TheIndianaLawyer.com.

Sedia, president of the Lake County Bar Association, has issued a public statement that, "It is the height of hypocrisy for a news outlet to discourage individual citizens from exercising their rights to make their voices heard for fear of being publicly shamed ...

"The proper role of the media in judicial proceedings is to report and opine on them, not to attempt to influence their outcome," Sedia said.

Chase told TheIndianaLawyer.com such letters only reinforce the culture of acceptance of public corruption in Northwest Indiana.

At Buncich's federal trial in August, the government presented evidence Buncich solicited and accepted bribes from Scott Jurgensen, a former Merrillville police officer, towing firm owner and undercover informant for the FBI, and William "Willie" Szarmach, a Lake Station towing firm owner who was charged with Buncich, and then took a plea deal to testify against the former sheriff.

Jurgensen and Szarmach said they bribed the sheriff to receive more lucrative towing assignments from county police. Timothy Downs, the sheriff's former second-in-command, said he sold Buncich's political fundraising tickets on public time to them and other county towing vendors, who Buncich had the power to hire and terminate.

The sheriff took the witness stand over three days to deny wrongdoing, saying he never promised nor delivered favors for political donations.










FBI: Region should not tolerate any amount of public corruption
NWI Times
Updated Dec 1, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/fbi-region-should-not-tolerate-any-amount-of-public-corruption/article_bfdef6fd-f5ab-5b04-b912-26b91a857ac1.html

HAMMOND — Public corruption undermines the fabric of American society and is among the FBI's highest priorities, said W. Jay Abbott, the FBI's special agent in charge for Indiana.

Abbott made the comments during a forum Thursday about the FBI's role in Northwest Indiana.

Nearly 50 local politicians have been sent to prison in the past decade, according to a slide presented by Bill Rowell, supervisory special agent for the white collar crime and public corruption unit at the FBI's Merrillville office.

As he stood before a slide showing news stories and photographs of public officials, Rowell said the Region's history shocked him when he arrived here six years ago.

"The extent of the public corruption, how long it had been going on, how in-depth it was," Rowell said. "And how it seemed like over a 40-, 50-, 60-year period, as I look back over the history of things, the same things were being done over and over and over again."

Under his watch, a public corruption task force that includes other federal agencies, state agencies and the federal prosecutor's office was established, he said.

'Nothing was accidental'
"Every single one of these people — none of them just slightly stepped over a line. None of them were in a gray area, none of them made a mistake, nothing was accidental," Rowell said.

Each convicted official "did everything they could ... to put money in their pocket," he said.

Rowell said residents should do more to hold other politicians who support their convicted colleagues accountable.

"I've noticed in some of these cases that happened before I got here, after there was a grand jury that indicted the politician, and after they went through a trial in the courthouse up in Hammond and different juries convicted them, and after they were sentenced by a judge — no question at all about what they did — there were still other politicians in the area who were bold enough to support the convicted politicians in spite of the wrong that had been done, in spite of the broken public trust," he said.

Sitting politicians may try to argue that everyone does it, that it's always been done or that it's just how it is, Rowell said.

"There's thousands of excuses. None of them fly, and the more that the citizens of Lake County — or whatever county this happens in — the more those citizens hold those politicians' feet to the fire, whether they've already been convicted or there are other sitting politicians who are supporting these guys, the more their feet are held to the fire, I think the more it's going to push things in the direction that all the citizens want this community to go."

When asked about payments to an informant who testified against former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, agents said they were worth it.

"Any amount of money could almost be justified if there is a citizen that is willing to work with us to expose that type of corruption," Abbot said. "Public corruption is the highest criminal priority that the FBI has, and there's a reason for that."

Rowell said the informant — a police-officer-turned-tow-truck driver — came forward because he couldn't believe the blatant public corruption he was seeing.

Evidence at trial is that the FBI paid Scott Jurgensen $130,000 over a five-year period, and his testimony has resulted in multiple indictments.

"What you hear at trial is the tip of the iceberg," Rowell said.

Prosecutors decide before trial which charges to press, but they typically have much more information they can present at sentencing, he said.

"It's called relevant conduct," he said.

FBI has many roles in the Region
The FBI investigates about 350 types of crimes in Indiana, Abbott said.

Chris Ormerod, supervisory special agent for the Merrillville office's new counter-terrorism unit, was on the job just two weeks when a pipe bomb exploded Sept. 6 at the East Chicago post office, injuring a pregnant postal worker.

"Most people don't know that this is domestic terrorism," Ormerod said. "It is."

The bomb likely caused others to fear what might be in their mail, he said.

Bob Ramsey, special supervisory agent for the Merrillville office's violent crimes unit, offered an overview of four racketeering and gang cases his unit has investigated in recent years.

More than 100 indictments have been handed down in four separate cases against the Latin Kings, Imperial Gangsters and Two Six Nation street gangs, Ramsey said.

When asked if breaking up gangs could cause more violence, as smaller groups vie for power, Abbott said the FBI has taken notice of the issue and is working to develop strategies to address it.

Ramsey said Gary city officials have seen some success with the Gary for Life initiative, which integrates law enforcement efforts with a range of other programs to offer assistance and address community issues.










Former Sheriff Buncich wants to push back sentencing to prepare to challenge new allegations of wrongdoing
NWI Times
Nov 29, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/former-sheriff-buncich-wants-to-push-back-sentencing-to-prepare/article_85a9b5f8-eb46-5070-8a96-19b99e2ad835.html

HAMMOND — Lawyers for former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich said Wednesday the government has new allegations of wrongdoing it plans to reveal at his Dec. 6 sentencing.

Valparaiso attorney Bryan M. Truitt asked U.S. District Court Judge James Moody, in a memo made public Wednesday night, to delay the proceedings "a week or two" to better prepare for such a broadside.

Truitt doesn't detail the government's new allegations, which Truitt said federal prosecutors intend to use to oppose any leniency for the 71-year-old law enforcement veteran, now facing a lengthy prison term.

A U.S. District Court jury found Buncich guilty Aug. 25 of six counts of wire fraud, honest services wire fraud and bribery.

The government presented evidence over a 14-day trial that Buncich solicited and accepted bribes from two towing firm owners — Scott Jurgensen, a former Merrillville police officer, towing firm owner and undercover informant for the FBI, and William "Willie" Szarmach, a Lake Station towing firm owner who was charged with Buncich and then took a deal to testify against the former sheriff.

It included their testimony, the testimony of the sheriff's former second-in-command, Timothy Downs, and hours of FBI video and audio recordings.

Jurgensen and Szarmach said they bribed the sheriff to receive more lucrative towing assignments from county police. Downs said he sold Buncich's political fundraising tickets on public time to them and other county towing vendors, who Buncich had the power to hire and terminate.

The sheriff took the witness stand over three days to deny wrongdoing, saying he never promised nor delivered favors for political donations.

Truitt states he only learned Nov. 14 that "the government makes numerous new allegations against the defendant ... yet the defense has received no documentation or (FBI reports)," and "the government has indicated it intends to call several witnesses at sentencing to support the allegations."
Truitt said he has received dozens of letters in support of leniency for Buncich, "despite the intimidation of the NWI Times to prevent the same."

That is a reference to an Aug. 26 column by Times columnist Marc Chase promising the paper would publish the names and positions of public officials or other community leaders "who carry water for Buncich by petitioning the court for leniency."

Neither the U.S. attorney's office nor Moody has responded to Truitt. Moody earlier declined a defense request for more time to prepare for Buncich's trial.


12012017 - News Article - FBI: Region should not tolerate any amount of public corruption





FBI: Region should not tolerate any amount of public corruption
NWI Times
Updated Dec 1, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/fbi-region-should-not-tolerate-any-amount-of-public-corruption/article_bfdef6fd-f5ab-5b04-b912-26b91a857ac1.html

HAMMOND — Public corruption undermines the fabric of American society and is among the FBI's highest priorities, said W. Jay Abbott, the FBI's special agent in charge for Indiana.

Abbott made the comments during a forum Thursday about the FBI's role in Northwest Indiana.

Nearly 50 local politicians have been sent to prison in the past decade, according to a slide presented by Bill Rowell, supervisory special agent for the white collar crime and public corruption unit at the FBI's Merrillville office.

As he stood before a slide showing news stories and photographs of public officials, Rowell said the Region's history shocked him when he arrived here six years ago.

"The extent of the public corruption, how long it had been going on, how in-depth it was," Rowell said. "And how it seemed like over a 40-, 50-, 60-year period, as I look back over the history of things, the same things were being done over and over and over again."

Under his watch, a public corruption task force that includes other federal agencies, state agencies and the federal prosecutor's office was established, he said.

'Nothing was accidental'

"Every single one of these people — none of them just slightly stepped over a line. None of them were in a gray area, none of them made a mistake, nothing was accidental," Rowell said.

Each convicted official "did everything they could ... to put money in their pocket," he said.

Rowell said residents should do more to hold other politicians who support their convicted colleagues accountable.

"I've noticed in some of these cases that happened before I got here, after there was a grand jury that indicted the politician, and after they went through a trial in the courthouse up in Hammond and different juries convicted them, and after they were sentenced by a judge — no question at all about what they did — there were still other politicians in the area who were bold enough to support the convicted politicians in spite of the wrong that had been done, in spite of the broken public trust," he said.

Sitting politicians may try to argue that everyone does it, that it's always been done or that it's just how it is, Rowell said.

"There's thousands of excuses. None of them fly, and the more that the citizens of Lake County — or whatever county this happens in — the more those citizens hold those politicians' feet to the fire, whether they've already been convicted or there are other sitting politicians who are supporting these guys, the more their feet are held to the fire, I think the more it's going to push things in the direction that all the citizens want this community to go."

When asked about payments to an informant who testified against former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, agents said they were worth it.

"Any amount of money could almost be justified if there is a citizen that is willing to work with us to expose that type of corruption," Abbot said. "Public corruption is the highest criminal priority that the FBI has, and there's a reason for that."

Rowell said the informant — a police-officer-turned-tow-truck driver — came forward because he couldn't believe the blatant public corruption he was seeing.

Evidence at trial is that the FBI paid Scott Jurgensen $130,000 over a five-year period, and his testimony has resulted in multiple indictments.

"What you hear at trial is the tip of the iceberg," Rowell said.

Prosecutors decide before trial which charges to press, but they typically have much more information they can present at sentencing, he said.

"It's called relevant conduct," he said.

FBI has many roles in the Region
The FBI investigates about 350 types of crimes in Indiana, Abbott said.

Chris Ormerod, supervisory special agent for the Merrillville office's new counter-terrorism unit, was on the job just two weeks when a pipe bomb exploded Sept. 6 at the East Chicago post office, injuring a pregnant postal worker.

"Most people don't know that this is domestic terrorism," Ormerod said. "It is."

The bomb likely caused others to fear what might be in their mail, he said.

Bob Ramsey, special supervisory agent for the Merrillville office's violent crimes unit, offered an overview of four racketeering and gang cases his unit has investigated in recent years.

More than 100 indictments have been handed down in four separate cases against the Latin Kings, Imperial Gangsters and Two Six Nation street gangs, Ramsey said.

When asked if breaking up gangs could cause more violence, as smaller groups vie for power, Abbott said the FBI has taken notice of the issue and is working to develop strategies to address it.

Ramsey said Gary city officials have seen some success with the Gary for Life initiative, which integrates law enforcement efforts with a range of other programs to offer assistance and address community issues.

12012017 - News Article - Federal judge grants former Sheriff John Buncich's lawyers more time to prepare for his sentencing



Federal judge grants former Sheriff John Buncich's lawyers more time to prepare for his sentencing
NWI Times
Updated Dec 1, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/federal-judge-grants-former-sheriff-john-buncich-s-lawyers-more/article_9afd1a64-f750-5332-808f-1b45177124e1.html

HAMMOND — A federal judge is postponing next week's sentencing of former Sheriff John Buncich, giving his legal team a chance to better prepare for new allegations of his wrongdoing.
U.S. District Judge James T. Moody issued an order Thursday afternoon granting an urgent request for more time by Valparaiso attorney Bryan Truitt.

Truitt complained Wednesday he was being blindsided by government prosecutors who have hinted at new information they intend to use to lengthen any prison term the 71-year-old law enforcement veteran could receive for his bribery and fraud convictions.

Truitt hasn't described what the new allegations are, but stated he first learned of them Nov. 14 in a government document that hasn't been made public. He states the government has yet to document the allegations or say which witnesses prosecutors will call at sentencing.

A U.S. District Court jury found Buncich guilty Aug. 25 on six counts of wire fraud, honest services wire fraud and bribery.

Moody didn't pick a new sentencing date Thursday, but said it would fall some time between late December and the third week in January. He said he would look with disfavor on any future requests for delay.

Truitt responded Thursday afternoon, "John Buncich is happy that he will get to present his entire body of life’s work and the specific details of his actions for the judge’s consideration. And he respects that the government gets to do the same, and each gets to respond."

When Buncich does face sentencing he will not do so alone.

Truitt said Thursday he will present the court with dozens of letters written in support of Buncich, whose law enforcement and political career stretches back 46 years.

Controversy has swirled around the letters and their writers.

Truitt said he was still receiving new testimonials for Buncich "despite the intimidation of the NWI Times," a reference to an Aug. 26 column by The Times' Marc Chase, who promised to publish the names and positions of public officials or other community leaders "who carry water for Buncich by petitioning the court for leniency."

Truitt and Merrillville attorneys Geoffrey Giorgi and Adam Sedia have criticized Chase's stand on social media and in a recent publication of TheIndianaLawyer.com.

Sedia, president of the Lake County Bar Association, has issued a public statement that, "It is the height of hypocrisy for a news outlet to discourage individual citizens from exercising their rights to make their voices heard for fear of being publicly shamed ...

"The proper role of the media in judicial proceedings is to report and opine on them, not to attempt to influence their outcome," Sedia said.

Chase told TheIndianaLawyer.com such letters only reinforce the culture of acceptance of public corruption in Northwest Indiana.

At Buncich's federal trial in August, the government presented evidence Buncich solicited and accepted bribes from Scott Jurgensen, a former Merrillville police officer, towing firm owner and undercover informant for the FBI, and William "Willie" Szarmach, a Lake Station towing firm owner who was charged with Buncich, and then took a plea deal to testify against the former sheriff.

Jurgensen and Szarmach said they bribed the sheriff to receive more lucrative towing assignments from county police. Timothy Downs, the sheriff's former second-in-command, said he sold Buncich's political fundraising tickets on public time to them and other county towing vendors, who Buncich had the power to hire and terminate.

The sheriff took the witness stand over three days to deny wrongdoing, saying he never promised nor delivered favors for political donations.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

11292017 - News Article - Free speech, fair trials collide at ex-Lake County sheriff's sentencing



Free speech, fair trials collide at ex-Lake County sheriff's sentencing
The Indiana Lawyer
Marilyn Odendahl
November 29, 2017
https://www.theindianalawyer.com/articles/45474-free-speech-fair-trials-collide-at-ex-lake-county-sheriffs-sentencing
With Lake County seemingly awash in political corruption, a local newspaper is trying to uproot the culture of kickbacks and payouts by putting the spotlight on those who speak in favor of the latest elected official to be convicted.

The Times of Northwest Indiana columnist Marc Chase points out he has a constitutional right to call out public officials and community leaders who “carry water” for John Buncich, the former Lake County Sheriff found guilty of federal bribery charges, who’s scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 6.

However, local attorneys view the paper’s actions as inhibiting the judicial process and possibly creating reversible error, giving an appellate court grounds for overturning whatever sentence is imposed, or even the entire conviction. Moreover, it could set a precedent for media outlets and bloggers to pick winners and losers in court proceedings.

“It’s well beyond editorializing,” said Crown Point attorney Geoffrey Giorgi. “It’s judicial interference.”

Giorgi has been warning about the potential consequences since he read Chase’s column in August. He has talked with other attorneys as well as a constitutional law scholar and garnered the support of the Lake Court Bar Association, which took the unusual step of issuing a statement criticizing the paper’s intentions.

‘Apologist watch’
The controversy started when Chase, a longtime investigative reporter and now editorial page editor for the Times, started the “apologist watch.” After Buncich was found guilty of accepting checks and cash payments in exchange for awarding towing contracts to certain businesses, Chase wrote a column announcing the newspaper will publicize the officeholders and prominent citizens who write letters asking Northern Indiana District Judge James Moody for leniency when imposing a sentence.

Chase promised to report in future columns on the people who take the “misguided approach” of supporting Buncich.

He explained that the individuals and politicians who vouch for the disgraced former sheriff in court are giving an “atta boy!” to their friend and reinforcing the culture of acceptance around corruption. Chase wants the supporters to know the public is watching those propping up the person who betrayed the voters’ trust.

Giorgi, of Giorgi & Bebekoski, LLC, and the bar association maintain the column might squelch participation in the sentencing procedure. People could decide not to tell the judge things that might mitigate Buncich’s sentence for fear they will be put under the microscope by the newspaper.

As a consequence, the ex-sheriff could have his constitutional rights compromised. He will not be able to prepare a comprehensive defense and present his complete case to the judge.

The bar association’s statement read, in part, “It is the height of hypocrisy for a news outlet to discourage individual citizens from exercising their rights to make their voices heard for fear of being publicly shamed, depriving a defendant of resources that our Constitutional system provides.”

Yet, as Gerry Lanosga, assistant professor of journalism at Indiana University Bloomington, noted, the newspaper is not doing anything unlawful. The letters written in support of Buncich are public record and the First Amendment gives the newspaper columnist the right to opine on the contents.

He was also dubious of the attorneys’ concerns about the column deterring people from participating in the proceeding.

Courtrooms and trial proceedings are intimidating by themselves, he said. Add to that the circumstances in Lake County, where the ex-sheriff may now be considered toxic. The media will likely be putting television cameras and reporters in the courthouse for the sentencing, and colleagues and friends might have second thoughts about speaking up because they do not want to be publicly linked to a convicted felon.

“The cost of having an open trial proceeding is you’re going to get public scrutiny,” Lanosga said.

Chase is unapologetic.
“If a sitting office-holder refrains from offering support to a convicted felon, I fail to see how that is a bad thing,” he said, arguing his right to free speech is not impinging on anybody’s right to submit a letter to the court asking for leniency. “They have every right to write a letter. I have every right to call them into question for doing so.”

Stopping the corruption
Giorgi concedes the level of corruption in northwest Indiana is disheartening. Highlighting the most recent news of Merrillville Town Councilman Thomas Goralczyk being indicted and pleading guilty to federal bribery charges also involving towing contracts, Giorgi dejectedly noted public officials on the take seem to be business as usual.

Since September 2016, a township assessor, a former mayor and a former township trustee have either been found guilty or pled guilty to illegally taking money. Also, Portage mayor James Snyder, indicted with Buncich, has been charged with accepting a bribe of $13,000 and not paying his taxes.

Ultimately, all the unlawful acts erode the public’s trust, Chase said. The taxpayers elect a leader they believe has integrity only to have that faith trounced when a federal indictment gets handed down. Something needs to be done to stop the perpetual cycle of corruption, he said.

Adam Sedia, president of the Lake County Bar Association, does not dispute Lake County has a great deal of corruption. Certainly, the media is justified in reporting on that activity, but in regard to the newspaper attempting to reduce public misdeeds by exposing who stands up for the accused and convicted, he noted, “… the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Both Giorgi and Sedia, associate at Hoeppner Wagner & Evans, LLP, argued criminal defendants could have their right to defend themselves curtailed because the media’s focus discouraged supporters from taking part in the proceeding. Conversely, defendants who the media favors could get softer treatment because their friends and colleagues are not being put under the harsh spotlight.

Lanosga said if he were writing the column, he would have waited until after the proceeding to point out those who wrote letters of support.

Still, he noted, the Constitution protects fair comment about public officials and columnists can try to influence policy. “I have trouble with the concept of a newspaper threatening to do its job is unlawful,” Lanosga said. “I think that’s problematic if we come to that.”

Giorgi disputed that what the Times column did is covered by the First Amendment. He characterized it as threatening people, which is not protected speech.

Had Chase not announced the “apologist watch” until after the sentencing, Giorgi and Sedia said they would have had no concerns. Likely supporters would not have been intimidated about coming forward and the defendant would not have been denied a fair hearing.

“They shouldn’t be creating the news,” Giorgi said. “I don’t want my newspaper to be in the news-making business. I want my newspaper to be a source of information of what’s happening in the community.”




***********************************************************************************************************************



MARC CHASE: Don't tolerate officials carrying water for Buncich
Marc Chase
NWI Times
August 26, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/opinion/columnists/marc-chase/marc-chase-don-t-tolerate-officials-carrying-water-for-buncich/article_21a300b7-894a-5b94-9ad3-21af88f675d0.html
The felony bribery conviction of now former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich Thursday ushers in a crucial period in which all Region residents should be paying particularly close attention.

Let's call it "apologist watch": a period when we all should keep eyes peeled for the ill-advised public officials who run to the disgraced sheriff's defense before sentencing.

For those keeping score, an apologist is one who offers an argument in support of something controversial. In Buncich's case, it likely will mean folks who profess admiration and support for his character even though he's shown himself completely undeserving.

Such behavior happens with impunity around here, but the public figures and officials who show support for those who've committed crimes against taxpayers are really doing us all a favor.

They're showing us who to shun at the polls in upcoming election cycles.

Keep watch for the folks who vehemently argue Buncich got a bum deal from the jury. They're the ones who will say the government didn't prove its case when, in fact, eyewitnesses, informants and video backed up nearly every facet of the allegations that Buncich shoved wads of money in his personal pocket and then handed out business to the tow truck companies that bribed him.

They also will be the public officeholders, and other prominent citizens, who are sure to write letters of support for Buncich to U.S. District Court Judge James Moody, seeking a more lenient sentence.

If history is any guide, Moody isn't likely to entertain misguided attempts at heart-string pulling for a corrupt top cop. He's one of the most no-nonsense judges on the bench of a historically no-nonsense federal court system.

Region residents shouldn't buy the pleas for sympathy and leniency, either.

I promise to help take stock of the names and positions of public officials or other community leaders who carry water for Buncich by petitioning the court for leniency. Any letters filed into the public record seeking leniency for Buncich will be reported in my future columns, along with the names and positions of the writers.

Buncich's friends have a right to petition the court on his behalf. We have a right to withhold support for them if they take this misguided approach.

Region political outsiders no doubt are asking themselves, "Who would be so foolish to publicly proclaim such support for a federally convicted felon? What public official would brand themselves as supporting a corrupt politician, in this case who had sworn to uphold the law?

"In fact, wouldn't it be a scarlet letter for such public officials to cast their lot in this fashion?"

We need only look at past federal cases to realize this wrongheaded behavior is likely forthcoming.

Remember former elected Lake County Surveyor George Van Til and his felony conviction for essentially stealing from taxpayers by appropriating government property and employees for his own personal benefit?

After the former surveyor pleaded guilty in 2014, Van Til's defense attorney, Scott King, filed more than 100 pages worth of letters in open court, all written in support of Van Til. The letters generally vouched for Van Til's character and sought leniency at sentencing.

Dozens of the letters were written by political friends and allies, including a number who currently held political office.

Fast-forward to 2017 and Buncich's scheduled Dec. 6 sentencing hearing, and taxpayers have an opportunity to write some letters or make some phone calls of their own.

We all must remind our public officials that behavior like that perpetrated by Buncich won't be tolerated. More importantly, we should be telling them we won't stand for them espousing an apologist attitude.

In times of great violations of public trust by one public official, the others should be concentrating their efforts on repairing that trust and doing right by citizens — not on standing up for crony friends who just brought yet another disgraceful stain on local governance. That stain is enumerated in the 70-plus public corruption convictions of Region officeholders, government employees and vendors since the late 1970s.

If we as voters fail to provide consequences for officials who carry water for their corrupt friends, we're aiding in the spread of our Region's ongoing plague of corruption.

We’re also ignoring the resonating warnings from the apologists themselves — folks who are more keen on defending a crooked former colleague than the voters who elected them.










MARC CHASE: Officeholders carry water for felon Van Til in court letters
Marc Chase
NWI Times
Jan 10, 2015
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/opinion/columnists/marc-chase/marc-chase-officeholders-carry-water-for-felon-van-til-in/article_d14abc51-68ab-53c7-99fc-a5ad3f292ea0.html
It's amazing the causes for which some folks are willing to extend their necks into the paths of potential legal or social axes.

And in our justice system, it's important to remember even when evidence against a defendant appears overwhelming, we still have a process separating us from mob justice.

But why run to the defense of an individual who's already stood in open court and declared guilt to a particular charge?

It's even more perplexing when politicians engage in this sort of apologist attitude for a fellow officeholder caught with his or her hand in the taxpayers' cookie jar.

More than a year ago, disgraced former Lake County Surveyor George Van Til pleaded guilty in Hammond federal court to felony wire fraud that occurred while he held public office.

For those unfamiliar with the terms or legal score on that one, it means he admitted to stealing from taxpayers, in this case using county government employees and resources to further his campaign, which is a legal no-no.

Van Til awaits sentencing in the case, and one might expect fellow county politicians, at least, to steer clear of a convicted felon for their own reputations' sake.

But Van Til's attorney, Scott King, filed more than 100 pages worth of letters Thursday in open court, all written in support of Van Til. The letters generally vouch for Van Til's character and seek leniency.

Dozens of the letters were written by political friends and allies, including a number who currently hold political office.

Longtime Van Til friend and Highland Clerk-Treasurer Michael Griffin, who I've often admired for his honesty and integrity, wrote one of the letters.

Griffin asks presiding Judge James Moody to "weigh the whole" and consider the "genuine good that has been rendered" from Van Til's political life before the crime was committed.

Indiana state Reps. Charlie Brown and Vernon Smith, both Gary Democrats, also wrote letters, imploring Moody for mercy and leniency.

Smith's letter also questions why disgraced former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett never faced federal charges after being accused of engaging in activity similar to Van Til's criminal charges.

I have the same questions in the Bennett case, but it shouldn't hold any sway over the sentence Moody prescribes in the Van Til case. Neither should the words of close political friends, waxing philosophical about the other "great deeds" of Van Til's life.

In the end, Van Til stood in an open courtroom and admitted guilt. So why apologize for him, acting as if being a good guy during other periods of his life absolves him from facing the full force of the law?

The question isn't whether these sitting elected officeholders had the right to file letters of support for Van Til. In our system, they certainly have that right, as do all citizens.

But the question is, should they have done so?

The soft-pedaling of responsibility continues to color Lake County politics.