Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Snyder's $10,000 "loan" from John Cortina / Kustom Auto - REALLY??!!




Like that hasn't been tried before - unsuccessfully -  eh...














MONEY WAS LOAN, SPANN CO-DEFENDANT TOLD FBI
Post-Tribune (IN)
January 12, 1988
http://infoweb.newsbank.com

Rudy Byron, who goes on trial with former Lake County Commissioner Atterson Spann next week, told the FBI the money he was paid by a janitorial firm was to be considered a loan.

FBI summaries of its 1986 and 1987 conversations with Byron were filed in U.S. District Court here Friday.

Byron, who worked as a consultant for General Maintenance Co. of Highland, and PBM (Professional Building Maintenance) Inc. of Gary, is charged with extorting money from the janitorial firms and filing false tax returns for 1983 through 1985. Spann faces the same charges and an additional charge of racketeering. The two firms had contracts with county government.

Byron worked for the Lake County Commissioners as a building inspector while he was on the General Maintenance payroll.

Gary attorney Hamilton Carmouche, who represents Byron, is seeking to have Byron's statements to the FBI suppressed, alleging his client wasn't advised of his rights or that he was a target of investigation.

In its written response, the U.S. attorney's office said the government complied with federal law in its dealings with Byron.

In the summary, Byron told the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service that Larry Crowel, one of the owners of General Maintenance, told him the money he received from General Maintenance should be considered a loan.

Byron, 50, of Gary, said there were no discussions as to when the loans were to be repaid.

Crowel is expected to be one of three key government witnesses against Byron and Spann. The others are former County Commissioner and Sheriff Rudy Bartolomei, who is an unindicted co-conspirator, and Johnny Garmon, vice president of PBM.

Byron, who worked for General Maintenance from 1983 to 1985, said he made one $350 payment back to the company during his three years there.

Byron told the agents Crowel told him later that he was unaware Byron had made the loan payment. Byron said he was paid about $18,000 during the period he worked for Crowel.

The summaries indicate that Byron said he was paid by both cash and check. Byron said he never received a W-2 Form, upon which wages are listed, from Crowel.

Byron said, however, that in March 1986 he received a Form 1099, upon which supplemental income is listed, from Crowel, who told him it represented the commissions General Maintenance had paid him in 1985. Byron said Crowel couldn't explain why he hadn't received a Form 1099 for 1983 and 1984.

Spann is accused of extorting $30,000 from the two janitorial firms that had contracts with the County Commissioners. The money allegedly received by Byron is not spelled out in the indictment.

Byron said Crowel hired him away from PBM because Crowel wanted him to get the contract with Lake County government.

Byron, according to the summary, told Crowel he had a lot of experience and knew a lot of people and could be helpful in getting the contract with the county.

Byron added that he accepted cash from Crowel for political fund-raising tickets.

Byron filed amended tax returns for 1983 and 1984 after he was contacted in mid-1986 by federal agents, the summaries state.

Spann and Byron have been friends for 40 years and frequently traveled together to Las Vegas and to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, the summaries explain.










SPANN ADMITS ACCEPTING BRIBES
Post-Tribune (IN)
January 20, 1988
http://infoweb.newsbank.com

Thirty minutes before he was to go on trial here Tuesday, former Lake County Commissioner Atterson Spann pleaded guilty to racketeering in connection with accepting bribes from two janitorial firms.

Also pleading guilty at the last moment was Rudy Byron Sr., Spann's longtime associate and co-defendant. Byron pleaded guilty to three counts of filing a false tax return.

"We were notified by defense counsel Mr. (J. Michael) Katz at 12:30 p.m. that his client wanted to plead guilty to Count 1," said U.S. Attorney James G. Richmond. Katz represents Spann.

U.S. District Judge James T. Moody accepted the guilty pleas and will sentence both men on March 25.

Spann, 49, of East Chicago, faces up to 20 years in prison, a fine of up to $25,000 and forfeiture of $29,615 he admitted accepting from the janitorial firms.

Byron, 51, of Gary, faces up to nine years in prison, a fine of $505,000 and paying taxes on the income he failed to report.

Of the government's decision to drop five other counts against Spann, Richmond said, "The interest of justice would not be served by going to trial on the other counts."

Katz, who said the government didn't try to strike a plea agreement Tuesday, added, "The action today was appropriate under the circumstances."

Both Richmond and Katz said there were no negotiations about a plea agreement Tuesday.

"We don't enter into plea agreements on public corruption cases without cooperation," said Richmond.

Spann faces two more years in prison than he would have under a plea agreement proposed by the government last fall but rejected by Spann. Under that proposal, Spann would have pleaded guilty to three counts and faced up to 18 years' incarceration.

The proposed plea, however, would also have required Spann to cooperate with the government in its Operation Lights Out investigation into corruption in Lake County government.

Sources said Spann probably would have entered the federal witness protection program if he had decided to tell the government what he knows about corruption in the county.

Although he admitted his guilt, Spann said he didn't solicit the money in exchange for cleaning contracts at the Lake County Government Center.

"I accepted the money with the intent of them having the contract," Spann said in reference to General Maintenance Co. of Highland and PBM (Professional Building Maintenance) Inc. of Gary. "I didn't solicit. They gave me the money and I accepted."

Spann disagreed with Assistant U.S. Attorney David Capp's contention that Spann inflated the janitorial contracts to allow the bidders to recover the money they paid in kickbacks.

Byron pleaded guilty to failing to report $63,199 in income he received from General Maintenance and Kleen Maintenance Inc. between 1983 and 1985. Byron owned Kleen Maintenance.

The pleas preclude the need for a trial that would have included the testimony of former Lake County Sheriff and Commissioner Rudy Bartolomei.

It is Bartolomei's cooperation that launched the Lights Out investigation. Bartolomei entered the federal witness protection program shortly after being sentenced on an extortion conviction.










SPANN GETS 20 YEARS FOR TAKING BRIBES
Post-Tribune (IN) 
March 25, 1988

U.S. District Court Judge James T. Moody sentenced former Lake County Commissioner Atterson Spann to 20 years in prison Thursday - the maximum he could have received after pleading guilty to accepting bribes.

Because he pleaded guilty to racketeering, Spann is expected to serve as much as two-thirds of the sentence. Moody also fined Spann $25,000 and ordered him to forfeit $29,615 he received in kickbacks from two janitorial firms that had contracts to clean the Lake County Government Center in Crown Point.

It is the stiffest sentence in a public corruption case since former Lake County Court bailiff John Marine was given a 20-year term by Moody in 1985.

Moody also sentenced Rudy Byron, Spann's lifelong friend and accomplice, to a maximum term of nine years in prison on three counts of filing false tax returns. Byron also was fined $15,000.

Moody, who has a reputation for tough sentences in public corruption cases, ordered the two into custody immediately. They were transferred to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago, where they will be held until assignment to a prison.

Spann, 49, of East Chicago, waved to a couple of the 50 friends in attendance as he was whisked from the courtroom immediately after the hearing. Byron, 51, of Gary, hugged tearful relatives before being led away.

U.S. Attorney James G. Richmond said after the hearing that the government may not be finished with Spann.

"There are other investigations Mr. Spann may have knowledge of," Richmond said, adding that plans are indefinite on whether Spann will be called before a grand jury.

"I would like to humbly apologize to the court for my behavior," Spann said before sentencing. "There were many people who supported me over the years and I let them down. I hope my family at some point will forgive me."

Richmond had no comment on the sentence although he had called for a substantial period of incarceration.

Merrillville lawyer J. Michael Katz, Spann's attorney, said , "Today Ivan Boesky commenced serving a three-year sentence for defrauding people out of hundreds of millions of dollars. Today Atterson Spann commenced a 20-year sentence for taking $29,000."

Katz acknowledged Spann's wrongdoing but attempted to minimize it. He said Spann didn't solicit any money and blamed former Lake County sheriff and commissioner Rudy Bartolomei.

Bartolomei is in the federal witness protection program after pleading guilty to extortion. He would have been the government's key witness against Spann.

Katz said he has evidence that Bartolomei withdrew $550,000 from his accounts in Lake County financial institutions just before pleading guilty.

"Public corruption will continue until those who offer bribes realize they can't walk away scot-free," Katz said.

Richmond responded, "As long as there are public officials who take bribes and sell their offices, nothing will change."

Both Spann and Byron turned down plea agreements. Spann was offered an 18- year maximum prison term but would have had to cooperate with federal authorities in its Operation Lights Out investigation into corruption in county government.

Byron turned down a three-year maximum sentence that also required cooperation.

Spann advanced quickly to become one of the most powerful politicians in county government. He was selling men's clothing in an Indiana Harbor store when he went to work for East Chicago Mayor Robert A. Pastrick in the early 1970s. He was elected to the first of three terms as commissioner in 1974. He lost his bid for a fourth term in the 1986 Democratic primary.

Byron, who was Spann's campaign manager, worked for the commissioners and also owned Kleen Maintenance Co. Inc. Earlier this week Byron lost a suit against county commissioners alleging he was fired in January 1987 for political reasons.

Byron pleaded guilty to failing to report $63,199 in income he received from General Maintenance Co. of Highland and Kleen Maintenance between 1983 and 1985.

Spann took money from Johnny Garmon, vice president of Professional Building Maintenance Inc. of Gary, and from Larry Crowel, co-owner of General Maintenace, the government said. Garmon and Crowel are unindicted co- conspirators.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

In memory of Abbi Mae, let's get real about corruption in Porter County and Portage Indiana


Today would have been Abbi Mae's birthday ...





Abbi Mae and Bailey Su lost their lives because of the corruption in Porter County Indiana...






For over 20 years, Porter County Magistrate James Johnson ruled over divorce cases in the county. And NO ONE said anything about his "questionable" actions / in-actions on the bench - BUT, ME.

Johnson believed he didn't have to uphold Indiana's domestic violence laws and protective orders. And, the Indiana and Porter County Local Court rules pertaining to disclosure of marital assets didn't apply in Johnson's court room - or any other law pertaining to equitable division of property.

I personally hired a financial adviser in an attempt to uncover my ex's hidden assets, which were valued at about $1,000,000. Magistrate Johnson and the divorce attorneys REFUSED to put my financial adviser on the stand and refused him access to marital financial records.

It's just divorce court - no one is watching - officials can't be bothered. But, perhaps officials should be have been watching, because where else in the court do you have hundreds of thousands of dollars - or possibly millions of dollars in assets going through the hands of a magistrate and divorce attorneys, annually - AND, no one is watching. There is no accountability for this money / assets.

How divorce court worked under Magistrate Johnson: The divorce decree was granted quickly - without the property settlement. The settlement of marital assets, took YEARS.  During that time, Magistrate Johnson and the divorce attorneys had 100% control of your marital assets - while you are paying tens of thousands of dollars in court and attorney fees to desperately obtain your property settlement.

When I reported this 'scam' to the Indiana Judiciary Commission in 2010, they discovered that Johnson had failed to issue final property settlements in approximately 100 divorce cases = millions of dollars in the hands / control  of the Magistrate and the attorneys.






On October 07, 2010 - in the midst of the State's investigation of Magistrate Johnson - Portage Indiana police officers, along with my ex-husband, unlawfully entered my home. Abbi and Bailey were removed from my home and turned over to my ex.

During the unlawful police entry, a law enforcement officer overheard on his police scanner,  Portage police officers at my home discussing on their police radios, the large amount of money my ex had: More money than they had ever seen in their lives ... Couldn't believe my ex had that much money...

A Portage police officer's wife later confirmed the conversation, and stated that my ex had more than enough money on him that day to pay me my property settlement of $111,000 [which he didn't], Which is interesting, because First Financial Trust owner / Portage Mayor James Snyder had claimed that my ex hadn't had the funds to refinance the marital home - just days prior to the unlawful police entry.





In April 2011, I began making waves at the Portage city hall: demanding Abbi and Bailey be returned to me, and demanding answers and justice for the unlawful police entry into my home. Instead of Abbi and Bailey being returned to me, they were hauled off to the Humane Society of Hobart, where they were illegally and cruelly euthanized.





This is the face of corruption in Porter County Indiana





Friday, February 10, 2017

Federally indicted Mayor James Snyder - Takes arrogance to a new level



Federally indicted Mayor Snyder is hoping federal charges against him are dropped???



"Snyder tied the council's actions to his indictment last November on federal corruption charges, something the council has vehemently denied.

"I think you can imagine this isn't easy," Snyder told the audience. "I'm looking forward, and my family is looking forward — but hopefully things are dropped before we get to that point — to our day in court."




Portage mayor loses $30K panel chairmanship in city council vote
Chicago Tribune
February 10, 2017
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-portage-snyder-ordinance-st-0211-20170210-story.html


The Portage City Council late Thursday capped off a tumultuous week by passing an ordinance that strips Mayor James Snyder of his $30,000 salary as the Utility Services Board's chairman just hours after an Indianapolis law firm advised the council that doing so could be a violation of state law.

Council President Mark Oprisko, D-at large, who also is the vice chair of the Utility Services Board, also said the council may invoke the "nuclear option" — passing an ordinance eliminating the current Utility Services Board — and added that "we're not going to waste taxpayer dollars" on a potential lawsuit between the board and the city.

The salary amendment ordinance passed on a 6-0 vote, with Councilman John Cannon, R-4th, absent.

The advice from Faegre Baker and Daniels did not go over well with the council or Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham, who countered the law firm point by point, defending the council's decision to also strip Snyder of his position on the board.

The Utility Services Board, under Snyder's direction, voted to hire Faegre Baker and Daniels to represent the board against the council's moves to change the board's leadership. The law firm sent a two-page, double-sided letter to council members Thursday afternoon describing the controversial ordinances as violations of state law.

Council members claimed that hiring the law firm could cost the Utility Services Board more than $500 an hour, but Snyder said he had not yet signed the contract and did not know how much Faegre Baker and Daniels' work will cost the businesses and residents that use sewer service.

In a written statement he issued coinciding with the meeting, Snyder wrote that "the Council action sets the stage for further legal battles which could be very costly and burdensome for the city," but he also left the door open for a compromise and an opportunity to "reach a more workable agreement."

After the meeting, Snyder said he likely will veto the ordinance firing him and the other stripping him of the chair's salary "if they are invalid."

"If (the ordinances) are valid, then I have some decisions to make," he said.

Snyder has the option to veto the ordinances.

Earlier this week, the council passed a string of ordinances that appeared aimed at Snyder and his administration.

One ordinance prohibits Portage mayors from naming themselves to the Utility Services Board and moves the board's finances and budget responsibilities to the Portage clerk-treasurer.

By state law, mayors appoint the majority of utility services board members, with local councils, or legislative bodies, appointing a minority of board members. In Portage's case, a local ordinance calls for the mayor to appoint two Democrats and two Republicans.

Following tradition, Snyder appointed himself and three others to the board, and the board elected Snyder its chairman. The chairman earns a $30,000 salary, also by ordinance.

In September, a Utility Services Board employee sent two checks totaling $93,000 to two law firms, Dogan and Dogan of Portage and Winston and Strawn of Chicago, for representing Snyder in a federal investigation, but both firms returned the checks, insisting they represented Snyder as an individual and not the board.

The move riled Oprisko and other city officials, who claimed Snyder never consulted them on the payments.

City officials also have complained bitterly of Snyder's use of Utility Services Board funds.

While not illegal, many of those moves were inappropriate, Stidham insisted Thursday night, calling Snyder's actions "a pattern of disrespect for the taxpayers of Portage."

"It has nothing to do with legal or illegal, but it's just wrong," Stidham said.

Snyder tied the council's actions to his indictment last November on federal corruption charges, something the council has vehemently denied.

"I think you can imagine this isn't easy," Snyder told the audience. "I'm looking forward, and my family is looking forward — but hopefully things are dropped before we get to that point — to our day in court."

Edna Maturkanich claims she KNOWS federally indicted Mayor Snyder is innocent...





Dear Edna,

The FBI do not randomly investigate for months on end, innocent people - nor, are innocent people federally indicted. And, when Snyder goes to trial, the jurors will be given the option of finding Snyder either "NOT Guilty" or "Guilty".

You claim that you "KNOW" Snyder - well Edna, I "KNOW" Snyder too [unfortunately].

I know Snyder as an individual who believes he is above the law and will withhold evidence, in order to protect the wrong-doers for his political interests - while taking pride in the devastation he has caused the victim.

So Edna, before you go screeching to everyone how innocent Snyder is, ask Snyder about what happened to the person who reported Magistrate Johnson for his failure to protect domestic violence victims / adhere to Indiana state laws. Ask your buddy Snyder what he did when he received information about the retaliation - unlawful police entry and deaths of my furbabies.  

And Edna, if you really want to know more about your friend Snyder, you are more than welcome to come spend a day with me. You can meet some of the wonderful police officers that watch over me 24/7 because of what Snyder allowed to happen to me.  For shits and grins, we'll take a ride to Lansing Michigan and you can see first hand what goes into providing crime victim address confidentiality.  

The accountability and cost to Portage Indiana - $0 - thanks to your buddy Snyder.









Mayor's meeting absence brings critics, defenders
Chicago Tribune
February 09, 2017
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-portage-mayor-absent-st-0212-20170209-story.html


Residents voiced a mixed bag of reactions for the City Council and for embattled Mayor James Snyder, who skipped the Tuesday council meeting.

Snyder later said he was visiting a friend in a hospital during the meeting, but immediately after the meeting, one of his staffers passed out written statements on city letterhead to local media.

The residents' comments seemed to show a city increasingly rattled by the contentious relationship between the mayor, the council and Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham.

"I feel there's an injustice here tonight," complained resident Edna Maturkanich, a regular at council meetings. "It's like you're roasting the mayor, and he isn't even here. It's like you guys were having a field day tonight. I know James Snyder, and I know he's innocent."

The council suspended rules requiring a second reading of an ordinance and voted to strip Snyder of his position on the Portage Utility Services Board and the chairman's job he holds. A second ordinance eliminating the position's salaries was expected to be heard again Thursday night, after Councilman John Cannon, R- 4th, voted against suspending the rules.

Other residents criticized the mayor for not showing up and for recent controversial actions, including a trip to Washington, D.C. where the mayor took two police administrators for a conference and the inauguration of President Donald Trump, mostly on the taxpayers' dime.

Last November, Snyder was indicted on federal public corruption charges.

Snyder, who left last month's council meeting about five minutes after opening the meeting, did not notify Council President Mark Oprisko, D-at large, or any other officials of his absence, Oprisko said.

"He's the chairman of this board," Oprisko said. "He should've had enough respect to call me or someone else on this board to get out of their seat and take over the meeting."

Immediately after the meeting, a Snyder staffer passed out a signed, written statement from the mayor dated Feb. 7. Snyder accused the council of "behaving in a way of presumption of guilt, which is the opposite of what America, Indiana and any decent citizen believes."

In the statement, Snyder also wrote his administration has "saved the City millions of dollars in waste, fixed more roads, buildings and infrastructure than any administration and have rejuvenated the pride in Portage."

Stidham said the council's actions had little to do with the indictment "and everything to do with" the mayor's efforts to pay his legal fees with utility services board funds last year.

Snyder's prepared statement also bothered Stidham.

"The council meeting happens at same time forever and ever and ever," Stidham said. "(Snyder) came for five minutes last month and left, and this month he didn't even bother to show up. Yet, the rest of the city's eight elected officials made it a priority. He should've been here doing his job"

Cannon, the only Republican on the council, who describes himself as a longtime friend of the Republican mayor, called said he and his colleagues have "aged 20 years in five days."

"This has been a tough night for me, but some things have to be done, because the public trust us to do a job," Cannon said.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

02092017 - Federally indicted Portage Mayor James Snyder - Utility Board Drama



Note how Snyder does not address his use of the Utility Services Board to issues checks / payments for his family's trip to Washington DC... OR, the $93,000 check he had issued for his attorney fees related to the federal investigation...






Davich: Portage mayor should know image is everything in court of public opinion
Chicago Tribune
Jerry Davich
February 10, 2017
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/opinion/ct-ptb-davich-james-snyder-resignation-st-0213-20170210-story.html

Should Portage Mayor James Snyder step down from office while awaiting his public corruption trial in April?

Before you jump to a knee-jerk answer — I'm pretty sure all of us have one by this point — ask yourself why Snyder hasn't done it yet. Would it further tarnish his public image? Would it suggest guilt to city residents? Would it complicate his legal defense? Is it strictly about keeping his income, health insurance and other financial perks intact?

I don't think so.

Sure, those are all factors in his decision, but I believe Snyder is convinced he's innocent of all federal charges against him. Convinced. Nothing less.

"I am absolutely convinced that he believes that," said Portage City Councilman Collin Czilli (D-5th), who has called for Snyder's resignation along with several other city officials the past few weeks.

On Nov. 18, Snyder was formally charged with one count of tax evasion and two counts of bribery involving a local towing firm. Snyder pleaded not guilty, and he's been repeating that mantra since that day. I don't see him stepping down, even for the next two months, despite public outcry to do so.

Unlike those of us who either hope the mayor is innocent of these charges or that he will be found, or plead, guilty, Snyder acts assured he has done nothing wrong. Nothing. He has stated this publicly, and to me, and to other city officials.

Is this the common, even predicted, response from yet another Northwest Indiana public official indicted by the feds? Or is this the sad delusion of a man who may be serving prison time later this year? His supporters insist it's possible that Snyder has indeed been wrongly accused, and he will soon be exonerated of all charges.

And yes, presumed innocence until proven guilty is legally correct in our country, though many observers in this area have already presumed his guilt. It's easy to do in Northwest Indiana, where federal agents historically charge and convict public officials with an impressive success rate.

Snyder knows this, yet he insists he is not guilty of any wrongdoing.

Former Lake Station Mayor Keith Soderquist, who could easily serve as the poster child for modern-day public corruption, took a different tact after he and his wife Deborah were caught by the feds.

"They both knew they were guilty," said Kim Frizzell, the city's administrative assistant and a longtime city employee. "He essentially cased the joint during his time as a city councilman, learned how to manipulate people and using his terms as a training ground for public corruption later in his career. He had an agenda from early on."

The former eight-year city councilman pleaded guilty to improperly and illegally using money from his reelection campaign and the city's food pantry. The stolen funds were used for gambling at a casino boat, federal prosecutors said.

After deliberating only a few hours after an eight-day trial, a jury found Soderquist and his wife guilty. They were both sentenced to prison late last year.

Will the same fate be served to Snyder, who also is battling against public perception?

"My reputation is shot until I win, and I understand that," Snyder told me.

On Thursday, I heard from city residents who had just found out that Snyder drives a city-leased vehicle costing $866 a month. He also used this vehicle last month to drive his family to Washington D.C. to attend inauguration events for President Donald Trump. And he upgraded his hotel room on the taxpayers' dime.

"The fact that in 2016 we raised utility rates by 32 percent makes it look even worse," Czilli said.

Regardless whether you believe he should have attended this event with his family, or not, it simply looks bad for his public image. Then again, public image is not supposed to sway the verdict of his trial, scheduled for April 10. Just the facts, ma'am.

Czilli shared with me the Portage Utility Service Board paperwork filed for 2017 regarding Snyder's city-leased vehicle, a 2016 Chevy Tahoe. Snyder is one of several city officials with city-leased vehicles at their disposal, ranging in monthly cost from $613 to $779 for the five-year lease term.

"We also paid for Sirius XM and OnStar data in (Snyder's) vehicle," Czilli said.

To add context, it should be noted that the City Council voted unanimously for this fleet of vehicles after the general election in 2015. (Other municipalities in this area pay for similar city-leased fleets.) And it's likely that most Portage residents would never know about this contract if not for Snyder's indictment.

A federal indictment magnifies every move, every decision, every public comment. Everything he does is now under a microscope. Snyder knows this.

It's hard to believe after all these decades, all these indictments and all these convictions that a public official would dare commit a crime of any kind, even stealing a handful of paperclips.

Then again, it's not that hard to believe when you consider the human dynamics at work, the same universal dynamics that existed more than a century ago, corrupting so many others after they were elected into public office. Those damning attributes haven't gone away. Greed, ego, arrogance, the lust for power and a feeling of invincibility.

Does Snyder feel invincible against the charges against him? Should he show this attitude in public? Is this merely a reflection of how he genuinely feels in private? I don't know. Unlike his critics and political opponents, I'm not hoping for a guilty verdict in April. We've had too many public officials found guilty of corruption in this area.

But one thing is certain regarding public opinion about Snyder, and it was echoed publicly by U.S. District Court Judge James Moody at Soderquist's sentencing hearing.

"What the hell were you thinking?" he asked incredulously.










Portage council axes utility chairman's salary
NWI Times
February 10, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/portage-council-axes-utility-chairman-s-salary/article_547399f8-c95c-53d3-bf9a-9c8e42aac01f.html

PORTAGE — City Clerk-Treasurer Christopher Stidham is challenging the legal basis of Mayor James Snyder's battle in regard to action taken by the City Council this week.

That council action included the passage of an ordinance on Tuesday removing Snyder as chairman of the Utility Service Board.

Stidham spoke at length Thursday about his findings prior to the council passing a second companion ordinance deleting the $30,000 annual salary for the Utility Service Board chairman position currently received by Snyder. The ordinance also removes the salary for any future chairman.

Stidham, who graduated from Valparaiso University's law school in May, said he had reviewed the letter from Faegre Baker Daniels, the law firm appointed by Snyder after the Utility Service Board voted 5-1 on Wednesday to hire legal counsel to defend itself.

"Not surprisingly, the letter is based on misstated facts which resulted in gross distortions of the law. ... I offer this legal opinion not as attorney for the City Council but as clerk-treasurer only. I would strongly recommend following up with your council attorney for additional legal opinions," Stidham said.

The city's legal counsel didn't attend Thursday's meeting.

Snyder, who chaired the meeting on Thursday, offered little public comment during a meeting at which several council members asked for him to step down as mayor, including City Councilman Patrick Clem, D-2nd.

"I was raised to respect people, to be honest. I don't see that here. I'm going to ask you to resign," Clem said.

Snyder, who was indicted in federal court in November on three counts including bribery and tax evasion, faces an April 10 hearing.

After the meeting, Snyder said he has no intentions of stepping down as mayor.

Snyder offered the following statement in regard to action taken by the council:

"Members of the council passed, in haste, ordinances Tuesday night and tonight that clearly violate state law, despite being provided with legal advice to better inform their decision. The council action sets the stage for further legal battles which could be very costly and burdensome for the city. In the coming days, I will gather advice and contemplate possible options before taking action. As I give this careful consideration, I welcome the opportunity to have productive conversation with council members to determine if we can reach a more workable agreement."

Stidham, citing state laws, said the council does have the right to remove Snyder as chairman of the Utility Service Board.










Portage mayor loses $30K panel chairmanship in city council vote
Chicago Tribune
February 10, 2017
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-portage-snyder-ordinance-st-0211-20170210-story.html

The Portage City Council late Thursday capped off a tumultuous week by passing an ordinance that strips Mayor James Snyder of his $30,000 salary as the Utility Services Board's chairman just hours after an Indianapolis law firm advised the council that doing so could be a violation of state law.

Council President Mark Oprisko, D-at large, who also is the vice chair of the Utility Services Board, also said the council may invoke the "nuclear option" — passing an ordinance eliminating the current Utility Services Board — and added that "we're not going to waste taxpayer dollars" on a potential lawsuit between the board and the city.

The salary amendment ordinance passed on a 6-0 vote, with Councilman John Cannon, R-4th, absent.

The advice from Faegre Baker and Daniels did not go over well with the council or Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham, who countered the law firm point by point, defending the council's decision to also strip Snyder of his position on the board.

The Utility Services Board, under Snyder's direction, voted to hire Faegre Baker and Daniels to represent the board against the council's moves to change the board's leadership. The law firm sent a two-page, double-sided letter to council members Thursday afternoon describing the controversial ordinances as violations of state law.

Council members claimed that hiring the law firm could cost the Utility Services Board more than $500 an hour, but Snyder said he had not yet signed the contract and did not know how much Faegre Baker and Daniels' work will cost the businesses and residents that use sewer service.

In a written statement he issued coinciding with the meeting, Snyder wrote that "the Council action sets the stage for further legal battles which could be very costly and burdensome for the city," but he also left the door open for a compromise and an opportunity to "reach a more workable agreement."

After the meeting, Snyder said he likely will veto the ordinance firing him and the other stripping him of the chair's salary "if they are invalid."

"If (the ordinances) are valid, then I have some decisions to make," he said.

Snyder has the option to veto the ordinances.

Earlier this week, the council passed a string of ordinances that appeared aimed at Snyder and his administration.

One ordinance prohibits Portage mayors from naming themselves to the Utility Services Board and moves the board's finances and budget responsibilities to the Portage clerk-treasurer.

By state law, mayors appoint the majority of utility services board members, with local councils, or legislative bodies, appointing a minority of board members. In Portage's case, a local ordinance calls for the mayor to appoint two Democrats and two Republicans.

Following tradition, Snyder appointed himself and three others to the board, and the board elected Snyder its chairman. The chairman earns a $30,000 salary, also by ordinance.

In September, a Utility Services Board employee sent two checks totaling $93,000 to two law firms, Dogan and Dogan of Portage and Winston and Strawn of Chicago, for representing Snyder in a federal investigation, but both firms returned the checks, insisting they represented Snyder as an individual and not the board.

The move riled Oprisko and other city officials, who claimed Snyder never consulted them on the payments.

City officials also have complained bitterly of Snyder's use of Utility Services Board funds.

While not illegal, many of those moves were inappropriate, Stidham insisted Thursday night, calling Snyder's actions "a pattern of disrespect for the taxpayers of Portage."

"It has nothing to do with legal or illegal, but it's just wrong," Stidham said.

Snyder tied the council's actions to his indictment last November on federal corruption charges, something the council has vehemently denied.

"I think you can imagine this isn't easy," Snyder told the audience. "I'm looking forward, and my family is looking forward — but hopefully things are dropped before we get to that point — to our day in court."






Legal help hired to sort out Portage ordinance to remove mayor from board
Chicago Tribune
February 09, 2017
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-portage-utilities-snyder-st-0210-20170209-story.html


A day after the Portage City Council voted to remove Mayor James Snyder from the chairman's position on the Utility Services Board, the board on Wednesday hired Chicago-based law firm Faegre, Baker and Daniels to look into the matter.

Snyder later said he did not know how much the legal work will cost the board.

The action stems from Tuesday's City Council action, which not only removes Snyder from the Utilities Board, but also eliminates the $30,000 salary that comes with it. The move came after Snyder and City Council President Mark Oprisko debated a variety of topics, from Snyder's use of a board-leased SUV to comments made to local media.

The council was expected to vote Thursday night on a proposed ordinance to delete the $30,000 salary.

"I feel the ordinances are completely invalid," said Snyder, who handed out city letterhead with parts of a state statute prohibiting legislative bodies like city councils from eliminating or reducing elected officials' salaries in the same year those bodies pass such ordinances.

"It's very clear you can't punish a mayor by taking away his salary."

Last September, Snyder tried to get the board to use utility funds to pay $93,000 in legal fees to law firms representing Snyder in a federal investigation. The firms returned the checks, and the board has not returned to the issue since Snyder's indictment last November on public corruption charges.

The board is made of four mayoral appointments, including the mayor himself, and three council appointments, including Oprisko, who is the board's vice chair. Oprisko was the sole board member to vote against hiring the law firm.

Another council appointee, Mark Hasza, also approved hiring the law firm.

"I figured (Snyder) would do something like that because he needs the (chairman salary) to pay his bills," Oprisko said of Snyder's idea to hire an outside law firm. "I'll talk to the (city) council. We'll do what it takes to get (Snyder) off this board."

The on-record exchange between Oprisko and Snyder began when the mayor defended his use of a board-leased 2016 Chevrolet Tahoe, at a rate of $867 a month for five years. The agreement with Enterprise Fleet Management ultimately will save the board money in the long run, Snyder said.

Snyder dismissed criticism of his use of the vehicle as "commentary without fact and touted the importance of city leaders driving attractive, practical vehicles.

Oprisko described the lease as an "exorbitant" cost, and the exchange took off from there.

The men bounced across Snyder's indictment, the board's issue of $93,000 in checks for the federal investigation, the mayor's absence from Tuesday's city council meeting and Snyder's controversial trip to a mayor's conference and President Donald Trump's inauguration last month in Washington, D.C.

The board did complete some official business. City Engineer John Hannon, of Great Lakes Engineering, was awarded a raise of $15 an hour, raising his rate to $125 per hour for utility services work.

The new contract also gave raises to a project engineer, a senior designer and more staff.






Mayor's meeting absence brings critics, defenders
Chicago Tribune
February 09, 2017
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-portage-mayor-absent-st-0212-20170209-story.html


Residents voiced a mixed bag of reactions for the City Council and for embattled Mayor James Snyder, who skipped the Tuesday council meeting.

Snyder later said he was visiting a friend in a hospital during the meeting, but immediately after the meeting, one of his staffers passed out written statements on city letterhead to local media.

The residents' comments seemed to show a city increasingly rattled by the contentious relationship between the mayor, the council and Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham.

"I feel there's an injustice here tonight," complained resident Edna Maturkanich, a regular at council meetings. "It's like you're roasting the mayor, and he isn't even here. It's like you guys were having a field day tonight. I know James Snyder, and I know he's innocent."

The council suspended rules requiring a second reading of an ordinance and voted to strip Snyder of his position on the Portage Utility Services Board and the chairman's job he holds. A second ordinance eliminating the position's salaries was expected to be heard again Thursday night, after Councilman John Cannon, R- 4th, voted against suspending the rules.

Other residents criticized the mayor for not showing up and for recent controversial actions, including a trip to Washington, D.C. where the mayor took two police administrators for a conference and the inauguration of President Donald Trump, mostly on the taxpayers' dime.

Last November, Snyder was indicted on federal public corruption charges.

Snyder, who left last month's council meeting about five minutes after opening the meeting, did not notify Council President Mark Oprisko, D-at large, or any other officials of his absence, Oprisko said.

"He's the chairman of this board," Oprisko said. "He should've had enough respect to call me or someone else on this board to get out of their seat and take over the meeting."

Immediately after the meeting, a Snyder staffer passed out a signed, written statement from the mayor dated Feb. 7. Snyder accused the council of "behaving in a way of presumption of guilt, which is the opposite of what America, Indiana and any decent citizen believes."

In the statement, Snyder also wrote his administration has "saved the City millions of dollars in waste, fixed more roads, buildings and infrastructure than any administration and have rejuvenated the pride in Portage."

Stidham said the council's actions had little to do with the indictment "and everything to do with" the mayor's efforts to pay his legal fees with utility services board funds last year.

Snyder's prepared statement also bothered Stidham.

"The council meeting happens at same time forever and ever and ever," Stidham said. "(Snyder) came for five minutes last month and left, and this month he didn't even bother to show up. Yet, the rest of the city's eight elected officials made it a priority. He should've been here doing his job"

Cannon, the only Republican on the council, who describes himself as a longtime friend of the Republican mayor, called said he and his colleagues have "aged 20 years in five days."

"This has been a tough night for me, but some things have to be done, because the public trust us to do a job," Cannon said.






UPDATE: Portage council, mayor continue arguing 
NWI Times
February 08, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/update-portage-council-mayor-continue-arguing/article_455590fe-401e-525e-b26d-e91a520e6110.html


PORTAGE — The City Council will meet in special session Thursday to complete what council President Mark Oprisko termed unfinished business regarding Mayor James Snyder.

The 8 p.m. meeting will be held at Woodland Park, 2100 Willowcreek Road.

The council is scheduled to vote on a proposed ordinance that deletes the $30,000 annual salary of the Utility Service Board chairman, a position that had been held by Snyder.

The council on Tuesday removed Snyder from that position.

Snyder said he plans to fight the city, noting the utility board voted 5-1 Wednesday to hire legal counsel to defend itself.

Snyder said state law protects him from the recent action by the council.

"My point is that there is a clear separation of power in the state constitution. They (the council) will be spending tens of thousands of dollars, and all they have to do is wait until my (federal) hearing is over," Snyder said.

Snyder was indicted in federal court in November on three counts including bribery and tax evasion. His trial is set for April 10.

The proposed ordinance to remove the salary attached to the position needs a second reading since it didn't receive unanimous approval when read on Tuesday, Oprisko said.

City Councilman John Cannon, R-4th, cast the only dissenting vote.

That change requires any future expenditures of the board to go before both the clerk-treasurer's office and the City Council, Oprisko said.

Oprisko said approval of the proposed companion ordinance will kill the $30,000 salary for the mayor.

"This (ordinance) will also delete the salary for any other board chairperson," Oprisko said.

The ordinance removing the mayor as Utility Service Board chairman was a way to put more checks and balances in place and to return finances back to taxpayers, Oprisko said.

Snyder has the option of vetoing both ordinances over the next 10 days, Oprisko said.

Council members gave two reasons for their actions regarding Snyder.

First, the mayor sought reimbursement for $93,000 of his personal legal fees prior to his indictment without seeking approval from the Utility Service Board.

Second, the council is also questioning reimbursement requests from Snyder after he took a recent trip to Washington, D.C., for a mayor's conference and to attend the presidential inauguration, taking two police administrators and his family.

Snyder traveled to D.C., on Jan. 16, to attend the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting and the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

Council members, including Oprisko, have asked Snyder in recent days to step down as mayor.






Board votes to remove mayor from utility services board
Chicago Tribune
February 08, 2017
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-portage-city-council-st-0209-20170208-story.html


The Portage City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to strip Mayor James Snyder of his position as chairman of the Portage Utility Services Board and will try again to remove the position's $30,000 salary in a special meeting Thursday.

The vote, however, leaves Snyder with several options to protect his position or to demonstrate agreement with the council.

As mayor, he can sign the ordinance into law, veto it or let it pass by "pocket veto," or letting 10 days elapse without taking any action.

The first ordinance prohibiting the mayor from holding a spot on the seven-member board passed easily after the council unanimously agreed to suspend the rules requiring a second reading and approve the ordinance. Snyder did not attend the meeting.

In a procedural move, Councilman John Cannon, R-4th, the sole Republican on the panel, forced the council to hold a special meeting to reconsider the salary ordinance that deletes the utility board chairman's salary.

An Indiana law prohibits legislative bodies from stripping an another elected official's salary or reducing that salary in the same year as such a vote may be taken.

Cannon said he is against the salary ordinance change and wants more time to determine if it conflicts with state statute, but City Council President Mark Oprisko, D-at large, scheduled a special meeting Thursday night to try to get the ordinance passed.

"I think there may be some conflict with the state statute," Cannon said of the vote to delete the salary. "Some things came about in the last few days I want to look into. Now we're going to have a meeting Thursday knowing I'm going to be out of town."

Cannon, who described himself as a longtime friend of the Republican mayor's, reiterated his support for the ordinance removing the mayor from the board, calling it "a sense of duty, of doing the right thing."

Snyder came under fire last September when a utility services board employee sent $93,000 in checks to Portage-based law firm Dogan and Dogan and Winston and Strawn, a Chicago law firm, to pay for legal expenses related to a federal investigation of Snyder.

Both firms returned the payments, indicating they represented Snyder as an individual and not the utility services board.

Oprisko led the move to block any payments from the board to the law firms and threatened to order an investigation into the moves.

In November, Snyder was indicted on federal public corruption charges unrelated to anything with the utility services board.

In a written statement delivered to media immediately after Tuesday night's meeting, Snyder accused the council of "behaving in a way of presumption of guilt," which Oprisko denied.

"I'm not saying (Snyder's) guilty, because you're innocent until proven guilty," Oprisko said. "However, when you look at the (legal expenses) situation with the utility services board, with (Snyder) as the chairman taking it upon himself to send two checks worth almost $100,000, if he was in the private sector, he'd be fired."






Snyder removed as chair of Portage Utility Service Board
NWI Times
February 07, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/porter/snyder-removed-as-chair-of-portage-utility-service-board/article_99c4d9de-7a82-533a-bb51-0a7710e06d49.html

PORTAGE — The City Council on Tuesday removed Mayor James Snyder from his job as chairperson of the Utility Service Board.

The pay, which is $30,000, will go back to taxpayers, City Council President Mark Oprisko said.

In addition, the budget of the Utility Service Board was replaced with the name "finances" with any future expenditures having to go before the clerk-treasurer's office and the City Council.

Oprisko said the ordinance, which was unanimously approved by the council, was a way to put more checks and balances in place and to return finances back to taxpayers.

"Myself and the City Council will do whatever it takes. We have your backs," Oprisko said.

Snyder, who wasn't at the meeting because he was at a Chicago hospital visiting a friend, issued a statement through a staff member.

The statement was as follows: "I intend to stay high while others go low. The facts in Portage government are that we have saved the city millions of dollars in waste, fixed more roads, buildings and infrastructure than any administration and have rejuvenated the pride in Portage. Council members are focused on normal city operations that will be approved and substantiated by the State of Board of Accounts. The council is behaving in a way of presumption of guilt, which is the opposite of what American, Indiana and any decent citizen believes."

Council members, who were applauded several times for their measure, said the action was due to two events. First, the mayor sought reimbursement for $93,000 of his personal legal fees prior to his indictment without seeking approval from the Utility Service Board. Secondly, Snyder took a recent trip to Washington, D.C., for a mayor's conference and to attend the presidential inauguration, taking two police administrators and his family.

Snyder was indicted on three counts in federal court in November including bribery and tax evasion. His trial is set for April 10.

Snyder, along with his wife and four children, traveled to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 16, to attend the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting and the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

In addition to the Snyders, Police Chief Troy Williams and Assistant Chief Ted Uzelac Jr. and Uzelac's son also attended the conference and inauguration.

In a written answer to Clerk-Treasurer Christopher Stidham, Snyder denied "ordering" the administrators to attend the conference and inauguration. He said he "granted them permission" based on the content of the conference. He also denied collecting any reimbursement from the Utility Services Board.

Although many of those residents who attended the council meeting applauded the efforts of officials, at least one resident, Edna Maturkanich, questioned why officials had gone around the mayor's back.

"I feel like you are roasting the mayor and he wasn't even here. Isn't a person considered innocent until he goes before a court of law?" Maturkanich asked.






Portage ordinance proposal targets salary of panel chair, currently held by Mayor Snyder
Post-Tribune
February 03, 2017 - 6:37PM
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-portage-new-ordinance-st-0206-20170203-story.html


The Portage City Council is expected to hear an ordinance proposal Tuesday that would strip the chairman of the city's Utility Services Board of the position's $30,000 salary.

Mayor James Snyder is the current chairman.

The proposed ordinances also name the city's clerk-treasurer as the treasurer of the board. The clerk-treasurer would manage board funds and the checkbook while paying out expenses as ordered by the board, according to the proposals.

The proposals come a few months after Snyder upset many city officials by ordering board staff to send payments to two legal firms representing Snyder in a federal investigation that resulted in a public corruption indictment Nov. 18.

Snyder said the ordinances are "below humanity," and the mayor said he hopes to reach resolution before the ordinances go from the council floor to a court room floor.

"You can't lower the mayor's salary because you can starve a man out," Snyder said. "It's just very low. All of the individuals behind this, when I'm found innocent, which will be very shortly, will probably wish they didn't go this route."

He said he has legal help studying state law and the ordinances. He also dismissed claims the ordinances had nothing to do with his federal indictment last November on public corruption charges.

Snyder is a member of the board and appoints four of the seven members, with the council appointing the rest. The board typically appoints the mayor as its chairman with a $30,000 salary.

"It's one of the steps I think is necessary to bring back some credence back to the utility services board," said Council President Mark Oprisko, who is the board's vice chair.

Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham said the proposed ordinances are a direct result of Snyder's efforts last September to get the board to pay $93,000 in legal fees.

Snyder had not consulted any other board members or discussed the payments publicly up to that point. Oprisko called the attempt "an injustice."

In September, the board sent a $6,100 check to Portage-based legal firm Dogan and Dogan and almost $87,400 to Tom Kirsch, an attorney with Winston and Strawn. Both firms returned the checks, indicating they could not accept the checks from the board because they were representing Snyder as an individual.

At the time, Oprisko intervened to stop any reimbursements or payments related to the expenses.

"That was a pretty big deal," Stidham said.

The board also paid Snyder extra money as compensation for several city staff members who did work for the utility board outside of their normal duties.

The board and the City of Portage are two separate entities, but the City Council passes ordinances that affect leadership and other key elements of the board.

Stidham said he believes the ordinances, if passed, will pass legal muster as they are directed toward the board chairperson as an appointed official.

State law prohibits legislative bodies from eliminating or significantly reducing elected officers' salaries, which are set locally by salary ordinances.






Portage ordinance proposal targets panel chair's salary
Post-Tribune
February 03, 2017
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-portage-new-ordinance-st-0206-20170203-story.html

The Portage City Council is expected to hear an ordinance proposal Tuesday that would strip the chairman of the city's Utility Services Board of the position's $30,000 salary.

Mayor James Snyder is the current chairman.

The proposed ordinances also name the city's clerk-treasurer as the treasurer of the board. The clerk-treasurer would manage board funds and the checkbook while paying out expenses as ordered by the board, according to the proposals.

The proposals come a few months after Snyder upset many city officials by ordering board staff to send payments to two legal firms representing Snyder in a federal investigation that resulted in a public corruption indictment Nov. 18.

Snyder said the ordinances are "below humanity," and the mayor said he hopes to reach resolution before the ordinances go from the council floor to a court room floor.

"You can't lower the mayor's salary because you can starve a man out," Snyder said. "It's just very low. All of the individuals behind this, when I'm found innocent, which will be very shortly, will probably wish they didn't go this route."

He said he has legal help studying state law and the ordinances. He also dismissed claims the ordinances had nothing to do with his federal indictment last November on public corruption charges.

Snyder is a member of the board and appoints four of the seven members, with the council appointing the rest. The board typically appoints the mayor as its chairman with a $30,000 salary.

"It's one of the steps I think is necessary to bring back some credence back to the utility services board," said Council President Mark Oprisko, who is the board's vice chair.

Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham said the proposed ordinances are a direct result of Snyder's efforts last September to get the board to pay $93,000 in legal fees.

Snyder had not consulted any other board members or discussed the payments publicly up to that point. Oprisko called the attempt "an injustice."

In September, the board sent a $6,100 check to Portage-based legal firm Dogan and Dogan and almost $87,400 to Tom Kirsch, an attorney with Winston and Strawn. Both firms returned the checks, indicating they could not accept the checks from the board because they were representing Snyder as an individual.

At the time, Oprisko intervened to stop any reimbursements or payments related to the expenses.

"That was a pretty big deal," Stidham said.

The board also paid Snyder extra money as compensation for several city staff members who did work for the utility board outside of their normal duties.

The board and the City of Portage are two separate entities, but the City Council passes ordinances that affect leadership and other key elements of the board.

Stidham said he believes the ordinances, if passed, will pass legal muster as they are directed toward the board chairperson as an appointed official.

State law prohibits legislative bodies from eliminating or significantly reducing elected officers' salaries, which are set locally by salary ordinances.





Mayor's Washington trip, security detail rile city officials
Post-Tribune
February 03, 2017
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-portage-mayor-inauguration-st-0205-20170203-story.html


When President Donald Trump was swearing the oath of office at last month's inauguration in Washington, Portage Mayor James Snyder was in attendance, along with his family and a security detail that included the police chief and assistant chief, records and interviews show.

Snyder, a Republican who's facing federal public corruption charges, capped off a week-long trip to a national mayor's conference in Washington D.C. by attending the inauguration. So far, the mayor has billed taxpayers at least $2,692 for travel and hotel, according to records and interviews.

The charges included a rented suite at the Capitol Hilton for $539 a night for four nights to accommodate his family, instead of the standard room rate of $429 a night, a difference of $110 without taxes and fees, records show. Police Chief Troy Williams and Assistant Chief Ted Uzelac also billed the city $429 per night for four and five nights respectively, according to records and interviews.

The Portage Utility Services Board, which Snyder chairs, reimbursed Snyder $2,692 to cover four out of the five nights he and his family spent at the hotel at the $539 a night rate. Snyder paid for the fifth night on his own.

"It's no problem taking your family, and it's no problem if they stay in the same hotel room, but the city shouldn't bear the additional expense," Portage Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham, a vocal opponent of the mayor's, said. "And, (staying for the inauguration), now it's gone from city business to personal business. Now, he was keeping security out there for his personal time, and that's where it really gets out of line."

A federal grand jury in November indicted Snyder on bribery and tax evasion charges.

Portage Council President Mark Oprisko and Councilman John Cannon, R-4th, recently visited Snyder in the mayor's office, where Oprisko asked Snyder to resign, claiming the mayor's federal indictment "cast a cloud" over the city, Oprisko said.

Snyder refused.

Stidham sent the City Council a letter criticizing Snyder for charging the city for the suite during the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting, which took place Jan. 16-19 in Washington, D.C. Stidham also criticized Snyder for billing taxpayers the costs surrounding the Jan. 20 inauguration. The letter also questioned Snyder's decision to take along Williams and Uzelac as security.

Snyder's wife and four children accompanied him on what he called "a historic trip." On his Facebook page, Snyder said the "scrutiny of this trip is unwarranted and completely riddled with 'alternative facts' to paint a picture that is not accurate."

Stidham, the city's chief financial officer, combed through receipts from the January trip in his office, expressing frustration and calling on the council to pass ordinances that further clamp down on spending by city officials.

Stidham, a Democrat, insists Snyder should reimburse the city for the difference in his family's suite rate and for all of the police leaders' hotel expenses, with the latter costs totaling about $5,300. He also called the extra day for the inauguration "the mayor's personal business."

Snyder, however, said he did not intend to reimburse the city for the difference between his family's suite rental rate and the standard rate or for the officers' stay. Instead, he refused to charge the city a per diem, which would've come out more than that difference, he said.

Snyder also said a state agency can review the trip and decide what's right or wrong.

"If the State Board of Accounts sees it as a thing to be dealt with, we'll deal with it," he said.

Williams said he and Uzelac were following orders in attending the conference and inauguration, and they stayed close to the mayor and his family after coming up before the trip with a detailed operations plan on what they would do in Washington.

Williams also used the conference as a way to improve police operations back home, he said.

"We decided if we're going be there in this security capacity, let's also use the opportunity to network and find out what else other communities are doing," Williams said. "I think if somebody has a question about something, it's fair to ask that. From mine and the assistant chief's position, we were going there as a security detail."

Williams claimed he and Uzelac came in handy protecting the mayor while heading to an inaugural ball. As they approached an opening between two blockades and portable fencing, protesters began to envelop them, causing Williams to get physical with two of them while Uzelac ushered the mayor and his wife to safety, Williams said.

In his letter to the City Council, Stidham, who was sworn in as clerk-treasurer in 2012, the same time Snyder ascended to the mayor's office, called on the body to pass a travel policy ordinance that prohibits city officials' "use of police officers as personal bodyguards while traveling on city business," bans hiring private security firms for those trips, and clearly outlines policies for family travel and for extending travel past city business.

"It's sad we're to this point, but let's have an ordinance that makes it crystal clear our stance on these situations," Stidham said.

Snyder said some of the criticism "may be heartfelt," but he also said some of the criticism, especially from Stidham, was politically motivated Stidham also works for the law firm Rhame and Elwood, which holds a number of contracts throughout the city and the Portage schools.

Snyder said the "spat" with Stidham will not get in the way of city work.

"Any self-serving criticism of the mayor is not good for Portage," Snyder said Friday. "It's not good for its staff. I'm going to get through all this and I'm going to be a better person when I'm through all this."






Portage officials scrutinize mayor's trip to conference, inauguration
Joyce Russell
NWI Times
Feb 1, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/portage-officials-scrutinize-mayor-s-trip-to-conference-inauguration/article_f7a2d3e4-ea9b-5227-bd2b-63bcc83bf6a0.html


PORTAGE — Portage officials are scrutinizing a trip Mayor James Snyder took recently to Washington, D.C.

Snyder, along with his wife and four children, traveled to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 16, to attend the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting and the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

In addition to the Snyders, Police Chief Troy Williams and Assistant Chief Ted Uzelac Jr. and Uzelac's son also attended the conference and inauguration.

Clerk-treasurer Chris Stidham, in a letter to City Council President Mark Oprisko, said he has "grave concerns" about the trip.

Stidham accused Snyder of "ordering" Williams and Uzelac to attend the conference to act as Snyder and his family's "security detail."

"Why the mayor, who is not a national figure nor recognizable in a crowd in D.C., thinks he is entitled to taxpayer-funded bodyguards while he travels is beyond comprehension," said Stidham, adding he believes Snyder has a "lack of respect" for taxpayers' money. He is requesting Snyder reimburse the city the cost of the police administrators travel. He is also asking the City Council to tighten up its travel ordinance.

In addition, Stidham said Snyder upgraded his hotel room from a $429-a-night standard room to a $539-a-night suite and has received reimbursement from the Utility Services Board.

In a written answer to Stidham, Snyder denied "ordering" the administrators to attend the conference and inauguration. He said he "granted them permission" based on the content of the conference. He also denied collecting any reimbursement from the Utility Services Board.

Williams said he was told by the mayor that conference organizers were suggesting mayors bring their own security detail.

"On the surface, I didn't see any issues," said Williams, adding Uzelac traveled with the mayor's family, in a separate vehicle, on Monday and he drove to Washington on Tuesday. He said they attended the conference for free because they were working as the mayor's security detail. Williams said he and Uzelac attended several informative workshops ranging from social justice to the COPS grant program and he even spoke at one meeting hosted by Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson.

Williams said they escorted the mayor and his family to both the inauguration on Friday, Jan. 20 and the inaugural ball later that night. During their entry into the gala, Williams said, they were confronted with protesters and he and Uzelac provided protection for the Snyders during the incident.

Williams called it a "working conference" in which he and Uzelac put together a security packet before the trip. He said a number of mayors had security details and others did not.

Snyder, who is awaiting trial on three felony charges in federal court, said he would contact the State Board of Accounts for their opinion on whether he can seek reimbursement for attending the inaugural activities.

City Council President Mark Oprisko said he believes it is "morally and ethically wrong" for Snyder to seek reimbursement for himself and his family to attend the inaugural festivities.

"It is sad he took two of our leaders off the street. That's just not right. If he had safety concerns, he shouldn't have taken his wife, his family, he shouldn't have gone," he said.

Oprisko said he is waiting to see the bills, but does not believe the city should pay for his or his family's attendance at any inaugural activities.

Attempts to reach Snyder on Wednesday for comment were unsuccessful.






EDITORIAL: Snyder skipped propriety in legal fees matter
NWI Times
The Times Editorial Board
Updated October 17, 2016
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/editorial-snyder-skipped-propriety-in-legal-fees-matter/article_ef3ccac0-722c-5b0d-84a0-7cc547755c26.html

It’s the type of mistake, innocent or not, that paints an undesirable portrait of local government.

Portage Mayor James Snyder and other city officials owe their ratepayers an apology for putting the cart before the public discussion horse while attempting to pay his legal bills following an FBI probe of Snyder’s practices.

At issue are checks cut from the funds of the Portage Utility Service Board, of which Snyder is chairman, to pay for Snyder’s legal fees in the long-running federal probe.

On Sept. 26, Snyder directed the board’s secretary/treasurer to cut two checks totaling more than $93,000 to two law firms that represented him during the probe.

The mayor did so even though the payments weren’t discussed, much less voted upon in a public forum, by the Portage Utility Service Board.

In fact, the board didn’t vote to approve those payments until Oct. 12 — after the law firms already had returned the money, having determined they were improperly paid by a public utility rather than their actual client, Snyder.

Snyder seeking to have the board cover his legal expenses isn’t what’s wrong in this situation.

State law allows for a government body to cover such expenses if an official involved in a possible criminal probe isn’t indicted by a grand jury or if “the acts investigated by the grand jury were within the scope of official duties of the officer or employee.”


In short, if there’s proof the federal probe uncovered no wrongdoing by Snyder, his fees should be covered by the utility board under state law.

However, the public deserved an appropriate procedure to be followed before those checks were cut.

A discussion and vote in a public meeting should have occurred first, and that didn’t happen.

Snyder, and any public official, should realize the sacred confidence they must keep with voters regarding fiscal propriety. Northwest Indiana has seen too many cases of abuse over the years, and we’re frankly sick of flippant handling of public money.

Factor into that history that Snyder’s checks were cut because of a federal probe into his activities, and it’s not hard to see why a public discussion and board vote should have occurred prior to release of these payments.

Snyder is now doing the right thing.

He’s asking for the board to consider reimbursing him for legal expenses following a future public discussion and vote.

It’s unfortunate a course correction was necessary.






Portage mayor's request for attorney fees remains up in the air
Joyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222
NWI Times
10122016
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/portage-mayor-s-request-for-attorney-fees-remains-up-in/article_540a6f7b-b3ff-5aa4-929a-9be5a8f1c005.html


PORTAGE — The Portage Utility Service Board did not decide whether to reimburse its chairman for his legal fees in regard to a long federal investigation.

The members never even discussed the matter during their monthly meeting Wednesday.

The board did approve claims that included two checks to Mayor James Snyder’s attorneys totaling over $93,000. However, that money has been returned to the utility.

Snyder, who chairs the utility board, didn’t answer many questions.

He said he intends to submit claims to get reimbursed for the legal fees, but wants board vice chairman Mark Oprisko to return and have a discussion before he submits any claims.

Oprisko, who is out of town, objected to the claims, saying earlier this week he wanted time to conduct research before approving anything. He wanted the issue tabled until he returned.

Last month Snyder submitted claims to pay the firms of Winston and Strawn of Chicago and Dogan and Dogan of Portage totaling just over $93,000. The checks were cut and distributed to the law firms before they were approved by the board. The firms said they could not accept the checks because they were from the utility and the utility is not their client. The money was returned to the utility this week.

State law allows Snyder to seek reimbursement of the legal fees “if the grand jury fails to indict the officer or employee and the acts investigated by the grand jury were within the scope of official duties of the officer or employee.”

Asked Wednesday if that means he has been cleared of any potential charges during the nearly three-year investigation, Snyder said he couldn’t comment.

“I can’t answer that either. We have several legal people looking at it,” Snyder said. “We are going to get through it and do the right thing.”

Snyder did say he approached the utility because the investigation started with a trip he took to Austria using the utility’s credit cards. The investigation expanded, however, with FBI agents delivering several subpoenas for various financial records, including the purchase of garbage trucks. The FBI interviewed dozens of city employees.

“As a board member, I don’t know enough about it,” said James Hazzard, adding he only learned of the situation Monday when he picked up the claims docket and saw the two claims to the two attorneys.

“I want to know the exact statute and how it reads,” Hazzard said, before making any decision.

Member Marci Kunstek said she trusts the board’s attorney “to walk us through the decision,” adding she would have no problem reimbursing Snyder’s legal fees if that was the recommendation.






Snyder submits $93K bill for legal fees to Portage
Post-Tribune
10102016
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-portage-legal-fees-st-1011-20161010-story.html


Anyone or any business that pays user fees for sewer or storm water sewer service in Portage may also be on the hook for paying legal bills related to a federal investigation of Mayor James Snyder.

The seven-member Portage Utility Services Board, whose majority is made of mayoral appointees, is expected to consider reimbursing Snyder's $87,389.75 in legal expenses from Chicago law firm Winston and Strawn and $6,118.75 in expenses from Portage-based law firm Dogan and Dogan, as part of its claims, or bills that have been paid. Snyder serves as the board's chairman.

Boards often pile up bills in their claims sections and vote them up or down as part of consent agendas. Individual items rarely come up for discussion or a separate vote.

City Council President Mark Oprisko, who is the vice chair of the utilities board, said he encourages the board to table a vote on the reimbursement until members can get more information on Snyder's request.

"It's awful hard to get two bills that total more than $90,000 without having all the facts," said Oprisko, who is out of town and will not attend Wednesday's meeting. "I want to see what the bills were, dates, hours and I want to go a step further.

"Was there anything found that the mayor did that was illegal as far as the utility end or the city end? (Snyder) keeps saying there's nothing there, but I'd sure like to see some proof of that before the board cuts a check for more than $90,000."

Snyder could not be reached for comment Monday.

The board also will consider paying $8,375 in legal expenses for Randy Reeder, assistant superintendent of the streets department, and Amanda Lakie, the mayor's secretary, though the amount of her legal expenses were not in the claims list.

Director of Administration Joe Calhoun said both employees were called before grand juries for the investigation.

According to Calhoun, federal officials began looking into a trip Snyder took to Austria after an invitation from Fronius, an Austrian-based manufacturer of solar panel technology, whose U.S. headquarters is in Portage.

The company did not pay for the trip, Calhoun said.

Snyder used his utility board-issued credit card to take the trip and later asked political supporters who contributed to a political action committee to reimburse the utility board for expenses related to the trip.

"It was kind of an economic development-type trip that many government officials often take about implementing new things and bringing new jobs to the city," Calhoun said.

Calhoun said the trip caught the attention of federal investigators.

In 2013, federal officials began an investigation related to the Austria trip, Calhoun said, but that could not be verified by federal officials Monday, a federal holiday.

Snyder hired the law firms when the investigation began, Calhoun said.

The utilities board issued a statement Monday indicating state law allows the board and other governmental entities to pay for legal expenses of board officers related to work done for the board.

Because Snyder went to Austria to represent the utilities board, the board can pay for his legal expenses related to the investigation, Calhoun said.

Calhoun also said Snyder has been paying his legal bills for the three years of the investigation, and he had reason to believe the investigation concluded without an indictment.

"(Snyder) wanted to make sure he went through the process and waited until (the investigation) had reached this level of conclusion," Calhoun said. "Obviously, at this point, (Snyder) feels there's a level of conclusion, and thats why he submitted the bills at this point."






Portage mayor asking city to pay his attorney fees
NWI Times
October 10, 2016
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/portage-mayor-asking-city-to-pay-his-attorney-fees/article_fd8a6355-de84-52c0-8c01-07a3d9514554.html


PORTAGE — Mayor James Snyder has submitted two claims to the city’s Utility Services Board to pay more than $93,000 in attorney fees in defense of a 2-year-old federal investigation.

The request for reimbursement for the legal fees also could indicate that the investigation by the FBI is over.

Snyder has been under investigation by the FBI for more than two years. Agents have subpoenaed hundreds of records from city hall, the utility services department and the city’s street department as well as interviewed dozens of city employees.

In September 2014, agents visited the street department requesting information on the purchase of automated garbage trucks in 2012.

In July of that year, the agency visited the city’s Utility Services Department and requested documents about Snyder’s travel expenses for a city economic development trip to Europe.

FBI agents also requested copies of his campaign finance records and reports, and last year they requested meeting minutes from Portage FOP Lodge 145.

The Times received the latest information Monday after filing a Freedom of Information Act request on Oct. 3, asking for copies of checks written by the Utility Services Board between Sept. 20 and Sept. 30. Included in that information were checks made payable to the Chicago law firm of Winston and Strawn for $87,389 and to Portage law firm Dogan & Dogan for $6,118.

The checks, dated Sept. 26 were made out to the law firms and sent directly to their bank for automatic deposit, according to a statement from the city.

According to the statement, the law firms cannot take the checks directly from the utility department because the department is not their client, and will return the money. When the money is returned, the department will issue payment directly to Snyder. The statement said the payments were for “legal invoices pertaining to the Federal Investigation of James Snyder that started in his role as chairman of the Utility Service Board.

Neither of the checks issued on Sept. 26 were approved by the Utility Services Board. Board attorney Katrina Spence and city Director of Administration Joe Calhoun said that was a mistake, but did not say who was responsible for sending the checks without board approval. They said the checks should not have been mailed to the law firms until the expenses had been reviewed by the Utility Services Board.

The Utility Services Board will meet Wednesday afternoon with Snyder’s claims on its agenda.

Wants second opinion
One member is not so sure he’s going to approve the claims.

Mark Oprisko, board member and City Council president, will be out of town for Wednesday’s meeting and will ask the board to table action on the claims until he returns and has a chance to do some research.

Oprisko said he wants to know how much of the investigation has to do with Snyder’s personal business.

“I want to see the bills. I want to get a second opinion. I want to try and contact the federal prosecutor and find out where the investigation is,” he said.

The board already approved payments to local attorney Kevin Milner for legal fees for Assistant Street Department Superintendent Randy Reeder and for Snyder’s administrative assistant Amanda Lakie. In January, the board approved claims of $4,125 for Lakie and $7,375 for Reeder. In September, a second claim for Reeder for $8,375 was approved.

Neither Spence nor Calhoun anticipate additional requests for reimbursements will be made to the department.

Only official duties covered
Spence said the reimbursement is legal under Indiana law. The code, 36-1-17-3(b), states that an officer or employee of a unit or municipal corporation may apply for reimbursement “if the grand jury fails to indict the officer or employee and the acts investigated by the grand jury were within the scope of official duties of the officer or employee.” In an email from Spence to Snyder on Sept. 26, Spence tells Snyder that he can present the bills to the utility department “since the Grand Jury specifically investigated your actions as the Chair of the USB ...”

Susan Gordon, of the Indiana State Board of Accounts, said while the law does allow for the reimbursement, it must be proven the fees covered only the part of the investigation pertaining to his professional duties. Gordon said it is likely to toss up a “red flag” when the department’s financial statements are audited by the state.

Gordon said paying a claim without board approval is not allowable unless specifically addressed by a city ordinance. Portage Ordinance 2-109 addresses bills that can be paid without board approval. Attorney fees are not included on the list.

Spence and Calhoun said they didn’t know if all of the legal fees cover the investigation of Snyder in his official capacity, or if it would cover any investigation into his personal business, a local mortgage company.

Spence said that is something the board will have to discuss.

The request for reimbursement may mean the end of the more than two-year investigation; the funds can only be paid “if the grand jury fails to indict,” according to the law.

“That is what we have been led to believe,” said Spence.


Snyder did not immediately return telephone, text or email messages.