Federally indicted Lake County Sheriff Buncich's request to have his trial delayed until later in August, has been denied.
Sheriff John Buncich news articles
08072017 - Federal trial of Lake County Sheriff John Buncich - Bribery / Wire Fraud - News Articles
A look at the case against Lake County Sheriff John Buncich
Aug 4, 2017
Lake County Sheriff John Buncich's bribery trial is set to begin Monday. The jury will decide whether kickbacks reached Buncich's hand. Here's a look at all the stories we've done so far in regards to his upcoming trial.
Judge declines to postpone Lake County sheriff's trial
Jury selection is set to begin early Monday
Aug 4, 2017
HAMMOND — A federal judge is refusing to delay the trial of Lake County Sheriff John Buncich.
U.S. District Court Judge James T. Moody denied a suggestion by the sheriff's defense lawyer to pick a jury Monday, but delay the start of presenting evidence to either Aug. 14 or Aug. 21.
Buncich is pleading not guilty to six counts of wire fraud and bribery alleging he corruptly used his authority over towing contracts to enrich himself by soliciting and accepting $34,500 in cash and campaign contributions.
Court documents state the government's evidence includes video and audio surveillance.
Buncich's attorney, Bryan Truitt, argued in a motion, made public Thursday, that the government waited until earlier this week to turn over to the defense more than 1,000 pages of transcripts of dialogue from "multiple dozens of hours of tapes."
Truitt complains the last-minute filing of transcripts gives him little time to respond to the new information.
Moody issued an order Friday stating he was denying any one- or two-week continuance, or Truitt's other suggestion for short "continuances from time to time."
Moody stated, "Defendant is cautioned that requests to delay trial will be highly disfavored and, absent extraordinary circumstances, such requests will be denied."
Truitt responded late Thursday to reports that Buncich might resign or plead guilty by telling The Times his client has done nothing wrong and they will prove so at trial.
Truitt said in pretrial court documents the improper activity the government is alleging was confined to Buncich's police chief and second-in-command Timothy Downs, William "Willie" Szarmach, of Hobart and former owner of CSA Towing in Lake Station, and another government witness, Scott Jurgensen, owner of Samson’s Towing, of Merrillville.
"Sheriff John Buncich maintains he has done nothing wrong. There is little to no direct evidence or a smoking gun," Truitt said in court records.
Downs was charged along with Buncich last November and soon disclosed he was already cooperating with government prosecutors. He has pleaded guilty and will testify he did political fundraising among the tow-truck owners under Buncich's orders.
Szarmach pleaded guilty earlier this week to bribing the sheriff for contracts for towing work and said he will testify for the government as well. The U.S. attorney's office has said Jurgensen deserves credit for uncovering public corruption.
'Day is finally here' for Lake County sheriff's bribery trial
August 04, 2017
Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, who has maintained his innocence over accusations that he accepted thousands of dollars in bribes for his campaign fund in a towing scheme, is set to start his federal jury trial Monday.
Nine months after being indicted, Buncich opted to go to trial, as his two co-defendants in the case, Timothy Downs, former chief of police, and William Szarmach, of CSA Towing in Lake Station, took plea agreements with the government.
The trial, estimated to last roughly a month, will begin with jury selection Monday morning.
"We're just ready to get going. We've been working on this thing for nine months. The day is finally here," said Bryan Truitt, Buncich's attorney.
In the days leading up to trial, the defense and prosecution have been working final details of the case, some in motions sealed from public view. In one public filing this week, Truitt said there are "dozens of hours of tapes" and "over 1,000 pages of proposed transcripts."
"It's stressful preparation leading up to it, for both sides, but we are confident and we think have all of our ducks in a row," Truitt said.
Buncich will be allowed to call three character witnesses at trial, but they "may only testify to 'a limited range of issues'," according to an order Thursday from U. S. District Judge James Moody. Their testimony must refer to a "pertinent trait" and "may not testify as to (Buncich's) religious or moral beliefs" or to "(Buncich's) charitableness," the order states.
Moody already ruled on other matters, including limits on how the defense can discuss Buncich's good acts outside the realm of the indictment. The court also decided that the defense cannot admit parts of "secretly recorded conversations" that the prosecution hasn't already introduced, except with the court's permission at trial, according to an order filed Friday.
Truitt said in a filing earlier this week that "it is unusual for a case of this volume of discovery to go to trial within 9 months, as this case is scheduled," although the counsels were ready.
In his order Friday, Moody cautioned that "requests to delay trial will be highly disfavored, and absent extraordinary circumstances such requests will be denied."
Then-U.S. Attorney David Capp held a press conference in November to announce the multi-count indictment against Buncich, Downs and Szarmach. Capp also announced, in a separate case, an indictment against Portage Mayor James Snyder and Portage tow operator John Cortina, of Kustom Auto Body. Snyder and Cortina pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to go to trial in January.
The week before Capp's announcement, the FBI served search warrants at Lake County Sheriff's Department and the county's E-911 Department.
Since the indictment, the case has gone through judges and trial dates, as attorneys have gone back and forth in filings.
Buncich unsuccessfully tried to have the federal government return his firearms, arguing his gun is necessary for his duties as sheriff. The prosecution countered that agents never saw the sheriff carrying a weapon during his work duties in its investigation, according to court records.
In April, the prosecution filed a new indictment against Buncich, adding two wire fraud charges to his case for wire transfers Buncich allegedly made April 8, 2014, and Oct. 21, 2014, according to the indictment.
The same month, Buncich issued a statement calling the charges "absurd."
"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.
Truitt said Friday, "I know the sheriff is looking forward to this trial, which he believes it will exonerate him."
In July, Truitt asked to for more stringent efforts to select a jury given the publicity around the case, citing "an endless negative campaign by the Northwest Indiana Times and Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott." Moody denied the request.
Outside of court, the Lake County commissioners implemented a new vehicle towing protocol in May. Previously, the sheriff's department was in charge of deciding which companies were called for towing services, but the commissioners took control over the contracts.
The indictment accuses Buncich and Downs of steering business toward towing operaters in exchange for money to Buncich's campaign, Buncich Boosters.
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.
At the sheriff's department, Downs was replaced by Cmdr. Dennis Matthew Eaton as chief of police in May.
The indictment has hung over Buncich, who first served as sheriff from 1994 to 2002 before he was re-elected in 2010 and 2014, said Truitt.
"I think all of us want to get this thing resolved, and I know that the sheriff hates how his reputation has been impugned," he said.