Federally indicted Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, facing additional federal charges:
New Charge for Sheriff Buncich
New count may indicate cooperation by Co-Defendant William “Willie” Szarmach
April 21, 2017
The United States Attorney has added an additional count of bribery to the indictment of Lake County Sheriff and former Democratic Party Chair John Buncich. According to court documents, the 6 count indictment was amended today to include a seventh count of Federal Program Bribery. The indictment alleges three bribes paid to Sheriff Buncich by co-defendant William Szarmach of CSA Towing as follows:
6/18/15 $2500 cash
4/22/16 $3500 cash
8/9/16 $1000 check and $2500 cash
According to the indictment, Szarmach and “individual A”, later identified as Scott Jurgensen, paid thousands in cash and checks to the Sheriff in order to receive additional towing. The most damning allegation involves the city of Gary where the Sheriff allegedly ordered officers to make additional traffic in order to increase revenue for tow truck operators. The additional charges may indicate that co-defendant Szarmach is cooperating with federal officials. Lake County Police Chief Tim Downs has already entered a plea of guilty and is believed to be cooperating with federal authorities.
The additional charge comes a little over a week after Sheriff Buncich issued a statement proclaiming his innocence to the media. In that letter Sheriff Buncich stated “I assure you that I am absolutely innocent. I assure you that the workings of the Lake County Sheriff in all its capacities will remain ongoing in perfect working order. I look forward to my trial and the vindication that will come from it.”
Sheriff Buncich was replaced as Lake County Democratic Chair during the party’s March election. Buncich cast the tie-breaking vote to select Attorney Jim Wieser as party chair over Lake County Commissioner Mike Repay after a vote miraculously ended in a 305-305 deadlock.
All criminal defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law. A criminal charge is not evidence of guilt.
Feds add new fraud charges to sheriff's indictment
Apr 21, 2017
HAMMOND — A federal grand jury has updated a bribery indictment against Lake County Sheriff John Buncich.
The U.S. attorney's office filed a superseding indictment Friday afternoon that repeats all of the original wire fraud and bribery counts first made Nov. 17 against the sheriff, his top aide and a Lake Station towing firm's owner.
The new 14-page indictment adds two new wire fraud counts alleging Buncich made incriminating money wire transfers April 8, 2014, and Oct. 21 2014, in addition to three others in 2014 and 2015 already alleged by federal authorities.
Buncich has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial, now scheduled to begin Aug. 7 in U.S. District Court in Hammond.
The government alleges Buncich used his position as sheriff to solicit and receive bribes in the form of campaign contributions between 2014 and last fall from a number of towing firms wanting county police business.
Timothy Downs, who served as second-in-command to Buncich, also was indicted in November and already has pleaded guilty to collecting towing firm kickbacks and has agreed to testify he did it under Buncich's orders.
William “Willie” Szarmach, operator of CSA Towing of Lake Station, is pleading not guilty to allegations he paid bribes to Buncich and Downs.
This comes days after Buncich released a detailed denial of the charges against him, in which he stated, "Trust that I would never sell my office, not for any amount."
Buncich's lawyer, Bryan M. Truitt, said Friday his client stands by his earlier statement, noting the superseding indictment filed Friday came "as a complete surprise."
"He remains absolutely adamant that he’s done nothing wrong, that he’s completely innocent ... and we look forward to proving that at trial," Truitt said.
Truitt added Buncich would "never sell his integrity" for "just a few thousand dollars."
"And if he was really to enrich himself, there’s a lot more contracts and vendors, the jail’s (food and visitation) services ... that are far more lucrative. If he was going to shake down someone, that’s who he would shake down," Truitt said.
The FBI raided the sheriff's home and office Nov. 10 and seized large numbers of documents. The government has disclosed it has hundreds of photographs and recordings made during months of federal surveillance of the sheriff.
Feds level 2 new fraud charges against Lake County sheriff
April 21, 2017
Feederal authorities on Friday leveled two new fraud charges against Lake County Sheriff John Buncich.
The U.S. Attorney's office filed a new indictment against the sheriff, who was first indicted on a series of charges in November, adding new allegations of wire fraud, according to court documents. The new indictment listed wire transfers Buncich allegedly made on April 8, 2014, and Oct. 21, 2014, as the cause behind the new charges.
Buncich, former Chief of Police Timothy Downs and William Szarmach, of CSA Towing in Lake Station, 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 recently 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 released a statement April 14 calling the charges "absurd" and vowing to fight the original 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.