Attorney in corruption case: 'Sheriff Buncich did nothing wrong'
April 27, 2017
Lake County Sheriff John Buncich continued to affirm his innocence Wednesday against federal allegations of corruption.
Buncich and co-defendant William Szarmach, of CSA Towing, both pleaded not guilty to charges of wire fraud filed against them by the U.S. Attorney's office last week during brief arraignments in federal court.
"We hold our heads up high and reaffirm Sheriff Buncich did nothing wrong," said Bryan Truitt, the sheriff's defense attorney, after the brief hearing.
When the case goes to trial in August, people will get a true picture of events, Truitt said.
The new indictment listed wire transfers Buncich allegedly made on April 8, 2014, and Oct. 21, 2014, as the cause behind the new charges, months after federal authorities filed a series of charges against the sheriff, Szarmach and former Lake County Chief of Police Timothy Downs in November.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Benson said the November indictment remains unchanged, except for the two additional counts of wire fraud. Benson said two counts of wire fraud have a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
Buncich, Downs and Szarmach were named in a multicount indictment in November 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.
A federal judge pushed back the date of the sheriff's trial because of the large volume of material defense attorneys must review to prepare for trial.
Buncich recently released a statement, calling the charges "absurd" and vowing to fight the federal allegations.
"For those who know me and my 45 years in law enforcement, you know that I would never compromise my integrity or professionalism and cannot be guilty of these charges; trust that I would never sell my office — not for any amount. I assure you that I am absolutely innocent," Buncich wrote.
The sheriff, whose department was in charge of deciding which companies were called for towing services, and the chief allegedly steered business toward towing operators in exchange for cash and checks, according to the 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 during their initial appearances in November.
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 Buncich to solicit bribes from tow truck operators for favorable treatment.