Friday, June 30, 2017

06302017 - News Article - Lake County sheriff's attorney: Publicity requires stronger jury screening



Lake County sheriff's attorney: Publicity requires stronger jury screening
Post-Tribune
June 30, 2017
chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-buncich-motions-publicity-st-0701-20170701-story.html

Attorneys for Lake County Sheriff John Buncich have asked a federal judge to use a more stringent jury screening process, citing extensive publicity about his public corruption case and remarks by Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr.

Attorney Bryan Truitt, one of Buncich's defense attorneys, filed a series of pretrial motions Thursday, including two that specifically asked the court for a stronger vetting process for potential jurors. In court filings, Truitt said an extra level of screening is needed because of the media publicity of the case and that comments made by McDermott could taint the jury pool.

"The publicity has been both good and bad for both sides in that the defendant is the sheriff with over 60 percent of the vote and was the head of the Lake County Democratic Party, yet has been the victim (of) an endless negative campaign by the Northwest Indiana Times and Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott," Truitt's motion read.

McDermott, who has a show on WJOB-1230 in Hammond every Friday, has addressed Buncich's legal troubles on the air.

"I have First Amendment rights and I will exercise them" McDermott said, during an interview with the Post-Tribune.

McDermott said Buncich chose to remain sheriff after the charges were filed but could have stepped aside. As citizens, people have a right to criticize public officials, the mayor said.

"As long as he's there, I think it's fair game for criticism," McDermott said.

The Hammond mayor said he personally feels bad for Buncich's situation and wouldn't wish it on anybody. But, McDermott said, Buncich chose to remain in public office.

"I speak my mind. Everybody knows that," McDermott said.

A representative from The Times declined comment.

Buncich, former Chief of Police Timothy Downs and William Szarmach, of C.S.A. 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.

Downs pleaded guilty in December and resigned his position at the Lake County Sheriff's Department, according to court documents.

Buncich and Szarmach pleaded not guilty to the charges after the indictments were filed in November and again in April when additional counts of wire fraud were filed with the court.

The sheriff has insisted on his innocence, distributing and publishing a statement in April refuting allegations made by federal prosecutors.

The motions asked for both a detailed questionnaire and the ability for attorneys to question individual jurors during the selection process.

Truitt said, in a motion, the sheriff received 67 percent of the popular vote in 2014, according to court documents, and was the head of the county Democratic committee until March 2017.

"The defendant has many political allies, as well as political enemies," Truitt's motion read. "That as to his enemies, the mayor of Hammond, who for what unknown and inexplicable reasons, enjoys certain support, has taken it upon himself to use his weekly radio show to try to convict the defendant without a trial based in innuendo and absence of fact."

Truitt, in the motion, listed factors that could potentially taint the jury pool, including prior prosecution of Lake County politicians; the sheriff's good works; and widespread media coverage.

"Local media has shown no hesitation to be partisan and express opinions as to the defendant's guilt, rather than simply reporting the facts," Truitt's motion read. 

Truitt said both the defense and federal prosecutors support more detailed jury screening as they both thought jurors could more easily be eliminated for cause, according to court documents.

"In addition, it held a better opportunity for avoiding a potential juror from elaborating their feelings and poisoning the remainder of the jury pool," the motion read.

Truitt, during a status conference on June 20, asked Judge James Moody to use an extensive jury questionnaire to screen potential candidates, but Moody did not seem inclined to go along with the request.

"We're just going to use the same jury questionnaire we always use," Moody said, during that hearing.

The motion argued that a stronger questionnaire would benefit the defense, prosecution and court by sitting an impartial jury.

A second motion related to the jury selection process would give both the defense and prosecution an opportunity to question prospective jurors, according to court documents, and that using the same screening process would be "insufficient to give competence of an impartial jury for either side of the case."

"The court's current proposed procedure would not allow for appropriate follow-up questions given whatever the prospective juror's answers," Truitt's motion read.

Aside from requests to ensure the court can sit an impartial jury, Truitt also filed requests seeking more information from federal prosecutors to prepare for the August trial.

The first request related to cooperating witnesses involved in the case, according to court documents.

"The defense has good reason to believe that one, if not both, cooperating witnesses were compelled to cooperate based on the impending threat of prosecution, which in turn encouraged their compliance and cooperation," Truitt's motion read.

Truitt said no information on any investigation or prosecution has been turned over to defense attorneys.

"In the discovery provided to the defense, nondescript information has been disclosed that cooperating witnesses have been provided upwards of $120,000 to perform as confidential witnesses and provided other monies for campaign contributions by the government," Truitt's motion read. "However, the exact payees are not listed, nor are the cooperating witnesses' tax returns included, or other inducements for their cooperation."

Truitt said, in the motion, information on those witnesses is material the government must provide the defense.

The U.S. Attorney's Office does not comment on pending cases.

The final request asked the court to compel the government to notify defense attorneys if it plans to introduce evidence of bad character, according to court documents.

06302017 - News Article - Robust jury screening sought in Lake sheriff corruption case





Robust jury screening sought in Lake sheriff corruption case
NWI Times
Jun 30, 2017 
HAMMOND — Attorneys for Lake County Sheriff John Buncich are seeking a more detailed jury screening ahead of his public corruption trial, citing the case's "significant publicity."

One of Buncich's defense lawyers, Bryan M. Truitt, also cited “an endless negative campaign by the (The Times of Northwest Indiana) and the Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott," in his motion requesting extra screening ensuring an impartial jury. 

The motion filed Thursday noted that a preliminary, detailed questionnaire would allow both prosecutors and the defense to screen jurors for cause, and "avoid ... a potential juror from elaborating their feelings and poisoning the remainder of the jury pool," court documents show. 

A separate pretrial motion also requested the ability on both sides to question individual jurors during jury selection, noting Buncich "has many political allies, as well as political enemies."

Buncich is pleading not guilty to a five-count indictment alleging he deprived the public of honest government services by soliciting and receiving thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from towing firms wanting work from county police.

In April, Buncich issued a public statement proclaiming his innocence to federal felony bribery and wire fraud charges in an alleged towing contract kickback scheme.

His attorney in a separate pretrial motion filed this week also requested notice if government prosecutors intend to “introduce any evidence of bad character,” moving forward.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

06292017 - News Article - Portage mayor's trial pushed back to January



Portage mayor's trial pushed back to January
NWI Times
June 29, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/porter/portage-mayor-s-trial-pushed-back-to-january/article_fa5874dd-49d2-529f-abcb-6ecf26146a2c.html


HAMMOND — The federal corruption and bribery trial of Portage Mayor James Snyder has been pushed back to January 2018.

In a ruling filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court Northern District, Magistrate Judge John E. Martin granted a continuance requested by both Snyder, his co-defendant John Cortina and federal prosecutors earlier this month.

The original request, however, had asked to postpone the trial until October.

The ruling sets the trial for Jan 29, 2018 before District Court Judge Rudy Lozano. The deadline for filing pretrial motions has been extended to Sept. 15, 2017. A final pretrial conference is scheduled for Jan. 12.

The latest continuance, which will push the trial date back a year from its original scheduled date, was sought because of the large amount of discovery, including "hours of undercover recordings and hundreds of pages of documents" under review by the defense and the expectation of additional material forthcoming from the government.

In granting the request, Martin wrote it was necessary for "the parties to review the voluminous discovery and because of the complexity of the trial."

Snyder, a Republican who is in his second term, was indicted Nov. 16. Charges allege he solicited money from Cortina in order to put Cortina on the city's towing list.

06292017 - Off grid peace


I ain't apologizing: email box crammed full - voicemail on cell phone on overload - unanswered text messages. 

Off-grid camping = priceless. Cuz, that's what we Michigan girls do - cuz, we can. 



Wednesday, June 28, 2017

06292017 - Federally indicted Portage Mayor James Snyder - Federal trial rescheduled to January 2018



Federally indicted Portage Mayor James Snyder's trial has been postponed for a third time - the new trial date is scheduled for January 2018.

Earlier in June, Snyder - who is out on bond - physically assaulted / chest bumped city councilman Clem during an altercation at a city meeting.






Portage mayor's trial pushed back to January
NWI Times
June 29, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/porter/portage-mayor-s-trial-pushed-back-to-january/article_fa5874dd-49d2-529f-abcb-6ecf26146a2c.html


HAMMOND — The federal corruption and bribery trial of Portage Mayor James Snyder has been pushed back to January 2018.

In a ruling filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court Northern District, Magistrate Judge John E. Martin granted a continuance requested by both Snyder, his co-defendant John Cortina and federal prosecutors earlier this month.

The original request, however, had asked to postpone the trial until October.

The ruling sets the trial for Jan 29, 2018 before District Court Judge Rudy Lozano. The deadline for filing pretrial motions has been extended to Sept. 15, 2017. A final pretrial conference is scheduled for Jan. 12.

The latest continuance, which will push the trial date back a year from its original scheduled date, was sought because of the large amount of discovery, including "hours of undercover recordings and hundreds of pages of documents" under review by the defense and the expectation of additional material forthcoming from the government.

In granting the request, Martin wrote it was necessary for "the parties to review the voluminous discovery and because of the complexity of the trial."

Snyder, a Republican who is in his second term, was indicted Nov. 16. Charges allege he solicited money from Cortina in order to put Cortina on the city's towing list.










Portage mayor's trial moved to January
Post Tribune
June 28, 2017
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-portage-mayor-trial-delay-st-0626-20170628-story.html

A federal judge delayed the trial for Portage Mayor James Snyder and a city tow operator, who were both indicted on corruption charges last year.

The U.S. Attorney's Office and defense attorneys for Snyder and John Cortina, of Kustom Auto Body in Portage, petitioned the court to move the trial back to October, citing the volume of material still needed to be reviewed to prepare for the court proceedings, according to court documents.

Magistrate Judge John Martin wrote, in his order, that failing to grant the continuance would not allow the attorneys time to prepare for trial.

Martin scheduled the trial to start in January 2018.

"The discovery already tendered includes hours of undercover recordings and hundreds of pages of documents, all of which is still under review by defense counsel," the motion to continue read. "Additionally, more materials will be forthcoming from the government."

Snyder and Cortina were charged in November with allegedly violating a federal bribery statue. Federal prosecutors said Snyder 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 Service laws.

Snyder and Cortina both pleaded not guilty to the charges last year, according to court documents.

The trial for Snyder and Cortina has been continued twice already, once in January and again in March, according to court documents.

06282017 - News Article - Portage mayor's trial moved to January



Portage mayor's trial moved to January
Post Tribune
June 28, 2017
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-portage-mayor-trial-delay-st-0626-20170628-story.html

A federal judge delayed the trial for Portage Mayor James Snyder and a city tow operator, who were both indicted on corruption charges last year.

The U.S. Attorney's Office and defense attorneys for Snyder and John Cortina, of Kustom Auto Body in Portage, petitioned the court to move the trial back to October, citing the volume of material still needed to be reviewed to prepare for the court proceedings, according to court documents.

Magistrate Judge John Martin wrote, in his order, that failing to grant the continuance would not allow the attorneys time to prepare for trial.

Martin scheduled the trial to start in January 2018.

"The discovery already tendered includes hours of undercover recordings and hundreds of pages of documents, all of which is still under review by defense counsel," the motion to continue read. "Additionally, more materials will be forthcoming from the government."

Snyder and Cortina were charged in November with allegedly violating a federal bribery statue. Federal prosecutors said Snyder 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 Service laws.

Snyder and Cortina both pleaded not guilty to the charges last year, according to court documents.



The trial for Snyder and Cortina has been continued twice already, once in January and again in March, according to court documents.

Friday, June 23, 2017

06232017 - Ghost pay rolling accusations fly at Portage Indiana City Council meeting


"Part of the raucous discussion, which included Modesto telling Cannon, "Would you shut up," at one point, also dealt with whether some council members were attempting to target a parks department employee who had received a promotion. Oprisko said untrue rumors were spread about the employee, including accusations of ghost pay rolling." [Portage City Council continues to argue over employee pay. NWI Times. 06232017]





Portage City Council continues to argue over employee pay
NWI Times
June 23, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/portage-city-council-continues-to-argue-over-employee-pay/article_037de65e-7b3b-5cbc-aaaf-73f761f24c9c.html

PORTAGE — A special City Council meeting called to resolve the disputed salary ordinance turned into chaos Friday.

Council members exchanged accusations of withholding information, failing to act in good faith, targeting and/or favoring certain employees and lying.

In the end, nothing was accomplished.

At the center of the debate is the salary ordinance for nonunion employees. A salary ordinance was approved unanimously Dec. 6, 2016. However, it wasn't implemented when City Council President Mark Oprisko, D-at-large, suggested any salary increase wait until union contracts were completed.

When the firefighters contract was completed in April, officials began to again discuss raises for nonunion employees. The ordinance was on the council's May agenda, but removed when questions arose. It was again placed on the June 6 agenda, but again tabled.

The inaction at the June 6 meeting led to a confrontation between Mayor James Snyder and Councilman Pat Clem, D-2nd, with accusations of name calling and shoving in the hallway after the meeting.

The special meeting was called for Friday and the quarreling continued with Clem accusing Snyder of "unethical tactics," lying and "manipulation of employees."

Council member Liz Modesto, D-1st, said the budget committee, consisting of herself, Clem and Scott Williams, D-3rd, would not support the salary ordinance as presented by Snyder because they did not agree with setting wage ranges.


"We preach all the time about transparency; we should start living it," Modesto said. The committee was advocating exact salaries for each position.

She said allowing salary ranges for each position allowed Snyder to give larger increases to those who supported him.

Instead, she said, the committee was proposing across-the-board raises of $2,000. The proposal would also eliminate the positions of parks assistant superintendent and director of administration.

Snyder reminded Modesto that the council had previously approved the wage range idea and that concept was used in an attempt not to single out employees.

Snyder, a Republican, and Councilmen John Cannon, R-4th, and Oprisko questioned when the budget committee met and discussed these ideas. They accused the committee of not holding public meetings and being unwilling to meet with other council members. Cannon requested minutes of all the budget committee meetings, including texts and telephone records between committee members.

Part of the raucous discussion, which included Modesto telling Cannon, "Would you shut up," at one point, also dealt with whether some council members were attempting to target a parks department employee who had received a promotion. Oprisko said untrue rumors were spread about the employee, including accusations of ghost pay rolling.

In the end, a motion to suspend the rules and approve Snyder's proposed salary ordinance on its first reading failed with Modesto, Clem, Williams and Sue Lynch, D-at large, voting against it. It likely will come back before the council for a second reading at the council's July 5 meeting.

Also defeated was a motion by Modesto to amend Snyder's proposal and remove salary ranges and give equal raises across the board, with a few exceptions. Oprisko, Lynch, Cannon and Collin Czilli, D-5th, voted against the amendment.

06232017 - News Article - Portage City Council continues to argue over employee pay



Portage City Council continues to argue over employee pay
NWI Times
June 23, 2017

PORTAGE — A special City Council meeting called to resolve the disputed salary ordinance turned into chaos Friday.

Council members exchanged accusations of withholding information, failing to act in good faith, targeting and/or favoring certain employees and lying.

In the end, nothing was accomplished.

At the center of the debate is the salary ordinance for nonunion employees. A salary ordinance was approved unanimously Dec. 6, 2016. However, it wasn't implemented when City Council President Mark Oprisko, D-at-large, suggested any salary increase wait until union contracts were completed.

When the firefighters contract was completed in April, officials began to again discuss raises for nonunion employees. The ordinance was on the council's May agenda, but removed when questions arose. It was again placed on the June 6 agenda, but again tabled.

The inaction at the June 6 meeting led to a confrontation between Mayor James Snyder and Councilman Pat Clem, D-2nd, with accusations of name calling and shoving in the hallway after the meeting.

The special meeting was called for Friday and the quarreling continued with Clem accusing Snyder of "unethical tactics," lying and "manipulation of employees."

Council member Liz Modesto, D-1st, said the budget committee, consisting of herself, Clem and Scott Williams, D-3rd, would not support the salary ordinance as presented by Snyder because they did not agree with setting wage ranges.


"We preach all the time about transparency; we should start living it," Modesto said. The committee was advocating exact salaries for each position.

She said allowing salary ranges for each position allowed Snyder to give larger increases to those who supported him.

Instead, she said, the committee was proposing across-the-board raises of $2,000. The proposal would also eliminate the positions of parks assistant superintendent and director of administration.

Snyder reminded Modesto that the council had previously approved the wage range idea and that concept was used in an attempt not to single out employees.

Snyder, a Republican, and Councilmen John Cannon, R-4th, and Oprisko questioned when the budget committee met and discussed these ideas. They accused the committee of not holding public meetings and being unwilling to meet with other council members. Cannon requested minutes of all the budget committee meetings, including texts and telephone records between committee members.

Part of the raucous discussion, which included Modesto telling Cannon, "Would you shut up," at one point, also dealt with whether some council members were attempting to target a parks department employee who had received a promotion. Oprisko said untrue rumors were spread about the employee, including accusations of ghost pay rolling.

In the end, a motion to suspend the rules and approve Snyder's proposed salary ordinance on its first reading failed with Modesto, Clem, Williams and Sue Lynch, D-at large, voting against it. It likely will come back before the council for a second reading at the council's July 5 meeting.

Also defeated was a motion by Modesto to amend Snyder's proposal and remove salary ranges and give equal raises across the board, with a few exceptions. Oprisko, Lynch, Cannon and Collin Czilli, D-5th, voted against the amendment.


06232017 - News Article - Portage mayor, council remain at odds over salary ordinance



Portage mayor, council remain at odds over salary ordinance
Chicago Tribune
June 23, 2017
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-portage-salaries-st-0625-20170624-story.html

City officials will again try to determine if city workers not represented by unions will get raises, how much those raises will be and if the council can support Mayor James Snyder's proposed reorganization of his parks department following a contentious City Council special meeting Friday.

The council, in a 4-3 vote, rejected a salary amendment from Snyder that would have given him wide leeway on paying workers and would have reorganized the parks department.

On a 4-3 vote, the council also rejected a list of amendments offered by Councilwoman Elizabeth Modesto, D-1st, that would have given non-represented workers across the board a $2,000 raise.

Much of the dispute during Friday's meeting was based alleged promises made in private meetings between the mayor, council members and among the three budget committee members and whether that committee held appropriate meetings to discuss the budget.

"There's been other people in those meetings," Snyder said after the meeting. "We're working on (the amendment), and we'll get it done."

In December, the council voted unanimously to keep salaries for unrepresented city workers at their 2016 levels until the council could approve an amendment from Snyder that would allow him to give raises.

Council President Mark Oprisko, D-At large, said then he wanted the council to wait until the city wrapped up contract negotiations with the fire, police, streets and sanitation departments and utilities services workers to have a better idea of how to handle raises for non-union workers, a position he maintained Friday.

Since then, the council's three-member budget committee, chaired by Modesto and including members Pat Clem, D-2nd, and Scott Williams, D-3rd, have largely been at odds with Snyder and several council members on how to handle salary increase request from the mayor.

For several years, Snyder has been given salary ranges to offer employees. This year, some of those ranges were as wide as $15,000 for some department heads and lesser ranges for lower level employees.

The mayor also reorganized his staff, consolidating workers from five different employee levels to three.

One of the biggest bones of contention came in what to do with one employee, for whom the mayor wants to recreate an assistant parks superintendent position. The budget committee members, instead, called for keeping that employee in her marketing spot, which pays less, and keeping open two other coordinator positions.

"In the past, I've been able to just navigate and make changes as needed with support from the mayor," said Parks Superintendent Jenny Orsburn. "I was surprised this has become an issue since it's been known about since last summer."

Modesto said she'll convene a meeting of the budget committee to revisit the raises before the council's meeting in early July.

"It is what is," Modesto said after the meeting. "What can you do? We proposed something we felt was fair across the board for all employees, because some of (the council members) were trying to take the focus off the salary ordinance itself. They tried to attack the budget committee."

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

06202017 - News Article - Attorney: Indicted tow operator plea deal a 'strong possibility'





Attorney: Indicted tow operator plea deal a 'strong possibility'
Post-Tribune
June 20, 2017
The public corruption trial of the Lake County sheriff and a tow operator is in line to start in August, according to attorneys, but there could be one fewer defendant, one attorney said Tuesday.

Federal Judge James Moody called attorneys for Sheriff John Buncich, William Szarmach, of C.S.A. Towing in Lake Station, and the U.S. Attorney's Office to court for a status conference on the corruption trial, which is set to begin Aug. 7. Szarmach's attorney, Daniel Purdom, said it's possible his client and prosecutors could reach a plea agreement, leaving only Buncich to stand trial.

"It's a strong possibility," Purdom said. "We're working with the government. I don't believe we will be here for trial."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Benson said attorneys for Szarmach and the government could file a plea within the next 14 days.

Buncich, former Chief of Police Timothy 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.

Downs pleaded guilty in December and resigned his position at the Lake County Sheriff's Department, according to court documents.

Buncich and Szarmach pleaded not guilty to the charges after the indictments were filed in November and again in April when additional counts of wire fraud were filed with the court.

Benson said he thinks it will take close to a week for prosecutors to make their case and present evidence to jurors.

"There's a substantial amount of recordings, your honor," Benson said.

Truitt said he'd estimate it would take close to a week to present the defense.

Attorneys asked Moody to consider starting with a jury pool of 75 to 100 people given that it's a significant case.

Bryan Truitt, one of Buncich's defense attorneys, said because of the publicity around the case, he thought the court should use a more detailed jury questionnaire.

"We're just going to use the same jury questionnaire we always use," Moody said.

Moody asked if either the defense or prosecution planned to file any motions to move the trial date.

"That would be a fruitless motion on your part," Moody said.

Benson said he did not plan to file a motion to continue.

"There shouldn't be any reason we're not ready to go on that day," Benson said.

Truitt also said he didn't intend to file to move to continue the trial.

06202017 - News Article - Another plea deal expected in sheriff's bribery case



Another plea deal expected in sheriff's bribery case
NWI Times
Jun 20, 2017
CROWN POINT — A Lake Station tow truck owner may plead guilty in the federal bribery case against Lake County Sheriff John Buncich.

A U.S. District Court record of a pre-trial hearing Tuesday states an attorney for William Szarmach told a federal judge he anticipates the likelihood of a plea agreement.

The court record doesn't provide any details of what a potential deal between Szarmach and the U.S. Attorney would look like. Defense attorney Daniel M. Purdom, of Lisle, Illinois, who represents Szarmach, declined to comment on the matter.

Six months earlier, Timothy Downs, the sheriff's former second-in-command, pleaded guilty to collecting Buncich's bribes on public time under an agreement to cooperate with federal prosecutors in return for a lenient sentence.

Szarmach currently is pleading not guilty to bribery and wire fraud counts alleging he paid the sheriff thousands of dollars for more lucrative towing business. He currently faces a lengthy prison term.

The U.S. Attorney's office alleges Szarmach owns and operates CSA Towing, on the 2500 block of Lake Station's DeKalb Street, which was one of several firms the sheriff approved to tow vehicles from public streets and highways for county police.

A federal grand jury indicted Buncich, Szarmach and Downs on Nov. 18, 2016.

Senior U.S. District Court Judge James T. Moody held a hearing Tuesday for Buncich's and Szarmach's attorneys in preparation for a jury trial now scheduled to begin Aug. 7.

The court record indicates Buncich's attorneys stated they will go forward with the trial and present five to seven days of evidence in the sheriff's defense.

Buncich is pleading not guilty to allegations he solicited and received campaign contributions from towing firms seeking county business.

The court record indicates federal prosecutors estimate they will present five to seven days of evidence against the sheriff.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

06182017 - News Article - Special Deputy Sheriff Restrictions



Special Deputy Sheriff Restrictions
NWI Times
Jun 18, 2017 
nwitimes.com/special-deputy-sheriff-restrictions/pdf_a1b304cf-aaaa-5e5c-b687-b9598a506dee.html







06182017 - News Article - Sheriff still deploys courtesy deputies





Sheriff still deploys courtesy deputies
NWI Times
Jun 18, 2017 
CROWN POINT — Some politicians usually have little more to offer their petitioners than a hearty handshake.

The Lake County sheriff can rain stars down on his.

Sheriff John Buncich has conferred special deputy commissions on 230 men and women, including politically connected business people, current or former government officials and precinct committee members, according to a list of names Buncich has provided The Times.

Police in Lake County have said privately and not for the record that the existence of special deputies has been an annoyance to uniformed police officers in Northwest Indiana who are required to undergo hours of training in the use of guns, emergency and other law enforcement skills — disciplines not required of special deputies.

Buncich acknowledged to The Times now and in the past that former sheriffs in the 1980s traded deputy sheriff commissions for political contributions, and some holders abused the commissions by harassing members of the public or getting out of traffic tickets.

Buncich said he hated the process as a county police officer and sued to stop the abuses. He said as sheriff all his deputies have passed background checks and he won't give special consideration to precinct committee members or political contributors.

"That has absolutely not occurred," said John Bushemi, legal counsel for the sheriff, and himself a special deputy.

Bushemi said some believe the cards, which bear a gold star and Buncich's signature, carry some authority, but "legally it's just a piece of paper. None convey police powers, and none allow the holder to carry a gun without a permit," Bushemi said.

Buncich said the only deputy sheriff commissions he issues with police powers are to municipal police officers, county jail corrections officers, school and court security officers, bailiffs and some state and federal law enforcement personnel.

He didn't estimate how many of the law enforcement deputy sheriff commissions are in circulation. The Times found there were 1,100 issued to law enforcement in 2001. Buncich said he hasn't issued that many. 

Bushemi said state law authorizes all county sheriffs to appoint special deputies. "They are issued in all 92 counties," Bushemi said.

Porter, LaPorte counties
Porter County Sheriff David Reynolds said he has deputized county animal control staff so they can gain access to sensitive police records and some dentists who work crime scenes for his department. But he signs few special deputy commissions, knowing they are an annoyance to trained and uniformed police officers in Northwest Indiana, he said.

"I know I have the power to give them out," Reynolds said. "Last week, I did one for (Chesterton) Town Manager Bernie Doyle. He is a veteran. Mainly, it's so he can put it on his desk, but everyone else knows how I feel, and they don't even ask."

LaPorte County Sheriff John T. Boyd said he will deputize state prison employees to serve court papers, for his office, on state prison inmates, but said, "We no longer give out courtesy commissions."

Robert Deliget said he was a Lake County Sheriff's Department civilian employee and deputy sheriff in the 1970s when he served court papers under the late Sheriff Leslie Pruitt.

Today, at age 75, Deliget is still a deputy sheriff and works for Buncich as an overseer of the county jail "road crew" inmates who perform community services.

Past Lake practices
A high tide of deputizing all comers in Lake County occurred under former Sheriff Rudy Bartolomei during the mid-1980s before he was forced out of office by a U.S. attorney's office public corruption prosecution.

One of Bartolomei's special deputies, Mike Mokol Jr., got into a dispute with a pizza delivery man, flashed his deputy credentials and beat him. The victim sued, and it cost the county thousands of dollars.

Stephen R. "Bob" Stiglich, who succeeded Bartolomei as county sheriff, told The Times in 2001 that "there had been a lot of incidents like that around the county."

He said he made all of Bartolomei's special deputies turn in their credentials and overhauled the applications process to eliminate the "carte blanche" issuance of commissions.

Buncich, who served as sheriff from 1994 to 2002 and returned to office in 2010, said he now requires deputy sheriff applicants to sign an agreement that financially indemnifies Lake County for damages resulting from their negligent exercise of special deputy powers. He can revoke deputy sheriff commissions in cases of misbehavior.

Lake County Attorney John Dull said the county hasn't had to defend any lawsuits caused by deputy sheriffs since the 1980s, so the indemnity agreement is yet to be tested.

Robert Bullock, Gary's 1-6 Democratic precinct committeeman and a Buncich contributor in 2008, said he needed a special deputy commission for protection. "I had a couple of day care centers in a bad neighborhood, but when I got sick, I closed them." He said he has since misplaced his commission card.

Current Lake practices
Hobart City Councilman John Brezik, D-5th; Hammond City Councilman Anthony Higgs, D-3rd; and New Chicago Town Councilwoman Tara Pelfrey, D-4th; said their deputy sheriff commissions are related to their government work.

Pelfrey is the coordinator for the sheriff's sex offender registry. Brezik said he work's part time for the Sheriff's Department. Higgs works for the Lake County Board of Commissioners. He said he wants one in case any emergency arises in the county's Hammond courthouse, where he is an engineer.

Fred Cicco said he received a deputy sheriff commission while doing business with the sheriff's office, providing clothing worn by police and corrections officers beyond their basic uniform.

Gary attorney John Hall said he received one a couple of years ago for personal protection.

Hall said, "I know the sheriff very well from a couple of years ago when the Katie Hall Foundation gave him an award for being an outstanding person in appreciation for his service." The foundation contributed to the sheriff's re-election in 2014. Katie Hall is a former U.S. congresswoman and Gary clerk. John Hall was her husband. 

Martine Vagenas said she's had one since she was a Superior Court administrator, a position she retired from seven years ago.

Speros Batistatos, president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, said he's had one since 1989. "For me it's largely sentimental. My dad was a captain in the deputy sheriff's department, and my grandfather was a deputy sheriff as well."

Wally DeRose, a retired Gary police officer, a federal investigator and a deputy sheriff commission-holder, said, "It's true, some police officers were thinking it was a politician with a badge, which is BS to me.

"I think that changed. The Sheriff's Department decided there were liability issues. We can't have people running around flashing badges. Subsequent sheriffs, including John Buncich, stepped forward and said this makes us look bad, with guys running around drunk with a badge.

"I've had one for 30 years. If I see a police officer who needs assistance, I will show my retirement badge and deputy sheriff commission badge, too, to provide more emphasis to it.

"You work under the direction of the sheriff, but if you are already engaged in law enforcement, it provides a backup to the powers you already have," DeRose said.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

06142017 - Let's ask the FBI about Portage Mayor Snyder's violent outburst against Councilman Pat Clem




Let's ask the experts about chest-bumping Mayor Snyder and bond conditions - because Portage employees and citizens deserve to be protected:





FBI:
RE: Federally indicted Portage Indiana Mayor James Snyder [US v James E Snyder - Case # 2-16CR-160 - US District Court - Northern District of Indiana - Hammond Indiana]

As Mayor Snyder is currently out on bond, were you aware of his recent violent outburst during a public meeting on June 7th? Don't know if this assault / chest bumping incident against another city employee is a violation of Snyder's bond or not...





Portage council meeting ends in 'chaotic mess'
NWI Times
June 07, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/portage-council-meeting-ends-in-chaotic-mess/article_147c7439-c87d-5db9-8e91-ce6d6f3fd0e3.html
PORTAGE — City officials said Wednesday they will move forward following a City Council meeting the previous night that ended in an abrupt adjournment and a confrontation between the mayor and a council member.
"It was a chaotic mess and unprofessional on everyone's side," City Council President Mark Oprisko, D-at large, said Wednesday. "I felt bad that it went on."
Near the end of the meeting, council members began to talk about the continuing, and sometime contentious, issue of collective bargaining and a proposed salary ordinance for nonunion employees.
Council member Sue Lynch, D-at large, said she was upset the salary ordinance had been taken off the agenda. She also said she was upset that contracts had not been reached with three employee bargaining groups, blaming the city's negotiating team.
Lynch's comments were followed by others, including comments from council member Liz Modesto, D-1st District, who said Mayor James Snyder had threatened earlier in the evening that if the council did not approve the salary ordinance, he would not approve union contracts.
Snyder had left the meeting early to attend his son's birthday party, but was contacted by staff about the discussion and returned to the meeting.
"I thought it was very deceitful and cowardly they brought it up knowing I wasn't there and that the staff wouldn't be able to answer the questions. When I heard about it, I went to the meeting," he said.
Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham said when Snyder returned, he attempted to clear the front row of audience seats to have his department chairs take the seats, but shouting continued between the council and mayor. Stidham said Snyder was attempting to take the gavel from Oprisko when the council quickly voted to adjourn the meeting.
Councilman Pat Clem,D-2nd District, said as he started walking away from the meeting hall, Snyder confronted him, calling him a "coward" and a "fat coward."
The confrontation continued as the two walked down the stairs into the lobby of the building at the same time people were leaving a concert.
Clem said Snyder continually bumped him, called him names and made accusations. Snyder said Clem "chest bumped" him and used foul language. He denied touching Clem. Snyder admitted to using the word "coward" several times.
The two were separated twice by police officers who were at the meeting.
Clem said Snyder also confronted him in the parking lot before leaving.
Snyder said he let his emotions get the better of him and, in hindsight, probably shouldn't have returned to the meeting.
"I was not being emotional for me. It is important that I defend the hard-working people that hold this community together," said Snyder, adding he reached out to Clem on Wednesday.
"Me and Pat will figure it out," he said.
"I was embarrassed that the public witnessed what occurred last night, from both sides," said council member Collin Czilli, D-5th District.
Both he and council member John Cannon, R-4th District, voted against adjourning the meeting Tuesday, saying they wanted to hear Snyder out.
"Collin and I will sit down with the mayor and try to work out an arrangement," Cannon said about moving forward.
Oprisko said he hopes the issue of contract negotiations and the salary ordinance will be resolved in the next couple of weeks and believes the council can work together.
"We will get through it. It was a bad night. We've had a lot more good nights," Snyder said.

06142017 - Chest-bumping Portage Mayor Snyder asks for THIRD trial continuance



Chest-bumping federally indicted Portage Mayor James Snyder is asking for yet another trial continuance. Wonder if temper tantrum throwing violent Snyder would be begging to stall his trial for a third time, if he was sitting behind bars for his latest stunt





Another continuance sought in Snyder bribery, corruption trial
NWI Times
June 13, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/another-continuance-sought-in-snyder-bribery-corruption-trial/article_b6e9bd7b-6cc6-5182-9abd-76c81df35a5e.html


HAMMOND — A third continuance is being sought in the corruption and bribery trial of Portage Mayor James Snyder.

In documents filed in U.S. District Court Tuesday, both the U.S. attorney's office and defense attorneys for Snyder and his co-defendant John Cortina, are asking the trial now be pushed back until Oct. 23. After originally scheduled to begin in January, it was initially continued until April and then July 23 before the latest request.

"The discovery in this case, which is being tendered on a rolling basis and is not yet complete, is voluminous. The discovery already tendered includes hours of undercover recordings and hundreds of pages of documents, all of which is still under review by defense counsel," reads the motion, which adds "more materials will be forthcoming from the government."

The motion adds that the attorney for the government needs additional time to produce discovery and the defendants need "substantial additional time" to review the documents.

Snyder, a Republican who is in his second term, was indicted Nov. 16. Charges allege he solicited money from Cortina in order to put Cortina on the city's towing list.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

06132017 - News Article - Another continuance sought in Snyder bribery, corruption trial



Another continuance sought in Snyder bribery, corruption trial
NWI Times
June 13, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/another-continuance-sought-in-snyder-bribery-corruption-trial/article_b6e9bd7b-6cc6-5182-9abd-76c81df35a5e.html


HAMMOND — A third continuance is being sought in the corruption and bribery trial of Portage Mayor James Snyder.

In documents filed in U.S. District Court Tuesday, both the U.S. attorney's office and defense attorneys for Snyder and his co-defendant John Cortina, are asking the trial now be pushed back until Oct. 23. After originally scheduled to begin in January, it was initially continued until April and then July 23 before the latest request.

"The discovery in this case, which is being tendered on a rolling basis and is not yet complete, is voluminous. The discovery already tendered includes hours of undercover recordings and hundreds of pages of documents, all of which is still under review by defense counsel," reads the motion, which adds "more materials will be forthcoming from the government."

The motion adds that the attorney for the government needs additional time to produce discovery and the defendants need "substantial additional time" to review the documents.

Snyder, a Republican who is in his second term, was indicted Nov. 16. Charges allege he solicited money from Cortina in order to put Cortina on the city's towing list.

06132017 - Moving home to Michigan, eh


Book proposal is done and I am counting down the days until I will be home in the Michigan UP, eh :)

Smiling, thinking about the unlawful police entry, and how it failed to take me down, cuz I survived, eh!!!

Things I am looking forward to:

1] Never having to come back to Indiana

2] Being able to ditch the entire crime victim address confidentiality thing.

Friday, June 9, 2017

06092017 - News Article - EDITORIAL: Government embarrassment looms in Portage



EDITORIAL: Government embarrassment looms in Portage
The Times Editorial Board
Jun 9, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/editorial-government-embarrassment-looms-in-portage/article_1fcbe7f1-a78f-506f-a2fb-732944a80294.html

It would seem Portage municipal government has more than a dark cloud of felony criminal indictment hanging over the mayor's office.

It also appears to have a problem with the tenets of civility.

Some Portage officials owe their constituents an apology for punctuating a contentious City Council meeting Tuesday with reports of aggressive chest-bumping and name calling.

It's the sort of behavior we wouldn't expect to be tolerated by rival students in a schoolyard, let alone amid important seats of local government.

Near the end of the meeting, council members began to talk about a continuing issue of collective bargaining and an proposed salary ordinance for nonunion city employees.

A contentious debate ultimately culminated into reports of Mayor James Snyder following Councilman Pat Clem, D-2nd, outside of City Hall, with the mayor calling Clem a "coward" or "fat coward."

Clem claims Snyder continually bumped him, called him names and made accusations.

Snyder said Clem "chest bumped" him and used foul language. Snyder also admits to calling Clem a coward several times.

It escalated to the point of police officers having to separate the pair of public officials twice.

This behavior is another unacceptable and embarrassing distraction from Portage public business.

Snyder already is under pending federal felony indictment, charged with bribery in an alleged towing contract scheme.

We've long argued Snyder should have resigned his mayor post after he was criminally indicted last fall. Though he's innocent unless proven guilty of the charges, a federal felony indictment casts too great a distracting shadow over the city's top government office.

Now Snyder is at the center of another local government embarrassment.

Snyder acknowledged he let his emotions get the better of him while standing up for Portage city employees.

In the end, he succeeded in distracting from his goal by contributing to a spectacle of bad behavior.

The people of Portage deserve better.