Tow truck owner pleads guilty in fraud and bribery case, intends to testify against Lake County Sheriff
Jul 31, 2017
HAMMOND — A Lake Station tow truck owner pleaded guilty Monday afternoon to federal wire fraud and bribery charges.
William Szarmach, of Hobart, 60, who owned and operated CSA Towing on the 2500 block of DeKalb Street in Lake Station, admitted to U.S. District Court Judge James Moody he made thousands of dollars in payments between 2009 and his arrest late last year to Lake County Sheriff John Buncich in exchange for contracts for county towing work.
Szarmach also admitted he failed to report more than $75,000 in taxable income during 2015.
Buncich awaits trial Aug. 7 on charges he shook down towing firms for campaign contributions.
Szarmach stated in his plea agreement he is prepared to tell a jury next month he purchased Buncich's political fundraising tickets by check and cash to retain and increase his business of towing vehicles for county police.
Buncich's lawyer, Bryan Truitt, said in pretrial court documents earlier the improper activity the government is alleging was confined to Buncich's second-in-command Timothy Downs, Szarmach and another government witness, Scott Jurgensen, owner of Samson’s Towing, of Merrillville.
Both the sheriff and his attorney have publicly maintained the sheriff did nothing wrong.
Szarmach, who has been in the towing business for more than eight years, states in his plea agreement, "... it was my belief that in order to remain on the Lake County tow list, or to increase my towing area, I would have to buy tickets to many, if not all, of Sheriff John Buncich's fundraising events and pay additional cash payments."
Szarmach's towing company was one of a dozen the sheriff approved to tow vehicles from public streets and highways for county police. Buncich had the sole authority to authorize towing firms before the Lake County Board of Commissioners took over the towing contract approvals this year.
Szarmach said these purchases were made sometimes directly to the sheriff and at other times through individuals employed by the county sheriff, including Downs, then chief of county police operations.
The period of the indictment alleges the money solicitations and payments began with Buncich's 2010 campaign.
The U.S. attorney's office has agreed to recommend Szarmach receive the minimum under the federal sentencing guidelines, in return for his cooperation. Szarmach also agrees to pay $89,448 for taxes he owes between 2008 and 2015.