Thursday, February 23, 2017

02232017 - News Article - Buncich stepping back as party boss



Buncich stepping back as party boss
NWI Times
Feb 23, 2017
CROWN POINT — Lake Sheriff John Buncich's won't seek a new term as the county Democratic party leader.

Lake County Democratic precinct committeemen will meet March 4 at SS Helen and Constantine Church in Merrillville to elect Lake County Commissioner Mike Repay, D-Hammond, or Schererville attorney James Wieser as their next county chairman.

Buncich declined to run before the deadline passed Wednesday morning.

Buncich took over the party's reins in 2014 after Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott stepped down.

Buncich's future leadership role was called into question when a federal grand jury indicted him Nov. 18 on allegations he solicited and received campaign contributions and bribes from towing firms seeking his approval to do business with county police. Buncich is pleading not guilty and awaiting trial.

Lake County Commissioner Mike Repay, D-Hammond, 41, has served as one of county government's chief executives for four years and ran unsuccessfully for chairman two years ago.

James Wieser, 69, a Schererville attorney, has been a party adviser for decades and serves as counsel for the county election board. Wieser served on the Highland Town Council and Lake County Council more than three decades ago.

Michelle Fajman, the county's elections director, and Gary City Councilwoman Lavetta Sparks Wade will compete for the party position of vice chairwoman. Candidates for party treasurer are County Treasurer Peggy Katona and Tammi Davis.

Candidate for party secretary are: Hobart City Councilman John Brezik, Lake County Councilwoman Christine Cid, Mike Ball and Catherine Hadow and Lake County Auditor John Petalas.

02232017 - News Article - Portage council dissolves utility board; limits mayoral appointment



Portage council dissolves utility board; limits mayoral appointment
NWI Times
February 23, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/portage-council-dissolves-utility-board-limits-mayoral-appointment/article_31e7a47d-4e62-5023-b1fb-c9f37423ef11.html


PORTAGE — In a quick meeting the City Council dissolved the Utility Services Board, restored the mayor's salary and limited the mayor's ability to appoint department heads.

The only discussion was on an ordinance which was approved 5-1 that would prevent Mayor James Snyder from taking an employee out of the Police or Fire departments and appointing them to an administrative position.

Councilman John Cannon voted no and Councilman Collin Czilli abstained because his parents are city employees

Joe Calhoun, who resigned last week as director of administration and emergency services, was officially an employee of the Fire Department while he served as the mayor's second in command. Joe Mokol, director of road safety and street superintendent, is officially an employee of the Police Department. Both received salaries and benefits from those departments while serving in the administration.

City Council President Mark Oprisko said Calhoun's resignation prompted the City Council to propose the ordinance.

Council members Sue Lynch, Liz Modesto and Scott Williams all said they supported the decision with Lynch and Modesto saying they had questioned the legality of Calhoun's and Mokol's appointments from the beginning.

Snyder defended his choices to appoint both Calhoun and Mokol to the administrative positions, saying he thought both had done good jobs. He also accused the council of misdirecting their issues with him on department heads.

"The fire directed at me is now being directed at the department heads," said Snyder who would not comment after the meeting on whether or not he intended to veto the ordinance. He also requested the council to grandfather Mokol into his position. The council did not amend the ordinance.

If the new ordinance stands, Mokol, who also would not comment, will have to make a choice, either to remain as street department superintendent and resign from the Police Department or resign from the administrative position and return to the Police Department.

In addition, the council unanimously dissolved the Utility Services Board, replacing the board with themselves, at least temporarily. The ordinance allows for a review of the decision in six months.

USB member Marci Kunstek said she was "a little disappointed" at the council's action and had been honored to serve on the board. She added that she hopes the change will allow the city to move forward.

Member Mark Hasza agreed with the decision, saying the disagreement between the board and the council was doing nothing but increasing city legal fees.

The decision means that Snyder will not have any control over the Utility Services Board and its finances. He will maintain the authority to hire and fire employees.



The council also voted unanimously to "adjust" Snyder's salary. He previously received a $53,000 salary from the city and $30,000 salary from the USB. He will continue to receive the full $83,000, but only from the city's funds.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

02212017 - News Article - Oversight committee digs into sheriff's finances



Oversight committee digs into sheriff's finances
Post-Tribune
February 21, 2017
Lake County officials on Tuesday pressed the Sheriff's Department to explain its accounting practices in an effort to curb continual budget overages.

The Lake County Sheriff and Jail Budget Oversight Committee probed for explanations into any past due payments, ordering and billing practices, and forecast for potential shortfalls in 2017.

"I think there's a lot we need to delve into," said Lake County Councilman Jamal Washington, D-Merrillville. "This is not a witch hunt."

The Lake County Council last week created a new oversight committee, with subpoena power, to delve into the Sheriff Department's finances. The council decided to create the committee after the department asked to pay almost $170,000 in 2016 bills out of the 2017 budget, which was a part of a trend of budget overages the county has seen during the last few years.

"Every time you do that you set your current year budget up for a shortfall," Washington said. "We cannot keep doing the same."

Melanie Dillon, the department's finance director, said throughout the 2016 budget year, she transferred money to cover overages in some of the line items after being told to find the money within the budget.

With the food bills, Dillon said those are always paid a month late and she tried to do as much as possible to cover that budget line.

"I knew I was going to have a shortfall," Dillon said.

The department is like a multi-million dollar business, Washington said, but can't manage its expenses.

"My biggest gripe since day one has been our inability to manage our bills," Washington said.

Sheriff John Buncich said his department cannot fully anticipate what its expense will look like because of emergency costs that come up throughout the year.

"There's so many unforeseen things that come up," Buncich said.

In December, Buncich said he got a call early in the morning that the boiler at the jail went out and that needed to get fixed immediately.

The jail has 650 security cameras, mandated by the Department of Justice, and if one goes out, it must get fixed, Buncich said.

The population at the jail was 815 inmates Tuesday morning, Buncich said, and he anticipated buses from Gary, Hammond and East Chicago that would only increase that number. Buncich said he's getting more inmates with several heroin and alcohol addiction issues that further tax the jail's resources.

"There are just so many things that come up in the middle of the night we cannot predict," Buncich said.

Auditor John Petalas said knowing the fluctuation in the jail population, the department almost has to budget for a higher number of inmates.

"If you don't, you're going to have this problem every year," Petalas said.

County Commissioner Mike Repay, D-Hammond, questioned why the department didn't use a purchase order for its expenditures.

Dillon said, for example, an October purchase order to one vendor was for food delivered in September.

Repay said he didn't understand why someone doesn't place the orders with a purchase order.

"That's what we need," Repay said.

Lake County Councilman Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point, said he looked through the reports and found a number of budget lines that already appeared to be heading for a shortfall.

Dillon said the costs associated with overtime, garage and motors and other items come out of several budget lines. With overtime, Dillon said it's paid out of two overtime lines.

"With those two combined, I personally don't see where there could be a shortfall," Dillon said.

County Councilman David Hamm, D-Hammond, asked why the budget still shows purchase orders and invoices from 2014 and 2015.

"That concerns me," Hamm said.

Dillon said she just received a bill last week from services in 2014.

Buncich said the excuse he hears most often from vendors who are late submitting bills is that it's the government and they're going to get their money.

02212017 - News Article - Portage Council eyes replacing city's utility board



Portage Council eyes replacing city's utility board
Post-Tribune
February 21, 2017
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-portage-ordinance-st-0222-20170221-story.html
The Portage Common Council may be getting into the sewer business, at least temporarily.

Council President Mark Oprisko, D-at large, said the council will hear an ordinance at a special meeting Thursday calling for the council to replace the Portage Utility Services Board.

Oprisko also said the council will consider dropping its charge to keep Mayor James Snyder from collecting $30,000 as the utility board's chair.

"We're not going to be the kind of people who are going to take a big stick and keep beating (Snyder) with it," Oprisko said. "But, I also think it's illegal (for Snyder) to even make the $30,000 on that board."

The council essentially will become the board for six months, leaving the door open for the utility board to become a citizens council again.

Snyder could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

In a special meeting nearly two weeks ago, the council voted to strip Snyder of the $30,000 salary after unanimously voting to remove him as a member of the utility services board two days earlier.

Snyder's position on the two ordinances affecting his role and salary on the board remained unclear Tuesday.

Oprisko said council members are open to taking over the utility board following concerns with Snyder's use of board funds. Oprisko, who is the utility board's vice chair, also said the mayor's efforts last September to get the utility board to pay $93,000 of legal expenses he incurred while under federal investigation riled council members.

Snyder was federally indicted on public corruption charges in November, a fact that hasn't been far from council members' minds in trying to take over the utility board.

Councilman Collin Czilli, D-5th, said he approves of the council, in effect, becoming the utility services board for six months or longer if necessary -- and now giving Snyder the $30,000.

"I hate that we have to (replace the utility board), but we've been put in a position where we need to have strong oversight of that board in order to feel like we know exactly what's going on with some of the actions the mayor's taken over at utilities," he said.

"And, as for the $30,000 salary, from the beginning, I think the actions we took to remove the mayor from the utility services board were never meant to be punitive, but they were meant to be corrective.

"To me, the mayor makes $83,000, with his utility services board money, and, I believe the mayor should continue to see the same pay he was receiving."

Saturday, February 18, 2017

02182017 - News Article - Lake County is calling all towing firms





Lake County is calling all towing firms
NWI Times
Feb 18, 2017
CROWN POINT — Lake County Commissioners said they are setting high standards for towing firms working in the future with the sheriff's department.

Commissioners are taking over from Sheriff John Buncich the job of selecting towing companies working with county police to remove vehicles from public roads and property.

They voted this week to invite all towing firms in the county to apply for a contract and set rules for which ones would be eligible for serious consideration.

It comes three months after the U.S. Attorney filed bribery and fraud charges alleging Buncich chose towing firms to work with county police based on how much money they paid him in campaign contributions. Buncich is pleading not guilty and awaiting trial.

The Lake County Council last month passed an ordinance taking towing contracts away from the sheriff and restoring them to commissioners to award in the future.

John Dull, the county attorney, said the new guidelines for electing firms are modeled on those the Indiana State Police use.

They state eligible towing firms "shall be reputable and in good standing with any and all regulatory agencies," open 24 hours per day and seven days a week, have been in been in business for at least five years, must have a business address in Lake County.

Eligible towing firms must make it their goal to respond to towing calls within 30 minutes, have enough marked towing trucks to be able to respond to three calls simultaneously, must have a secured storage lot and employees available to release towed or stored vehicles any day of the week.

Friday, February 17, 2017

02172017 - News Article - Portage administration director resigns over differences with mayor



Portage administration director resigns over differences with mayor 
nwitimes.com
February 17, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/portage-administration-director-resigns-over-differences-with-mayor/article_53a6e77f-6b32-50a9-9db4-30d43cfffa7d.html

PORTAGE — Director of Administration Joe Calhoun resigned this week over what he called differences in philosophies with Mayor James Snyder.

"It just came to a point where our leadership philosophies weren't meshing," Calhoun said. "It is my job to get on board or to get out of the way. I decided to get out of the way."

Calhoun added that he had recently been pulled into the investigation of Snyder by the FBI, saying he was interviewed by agents after Snyder was indicted in November. He wouldn't comment on the particulars of the interview.

Snyder appointed Calhoun to the position more than three years ago. A 17-year Portage firefighter, he was technically on special assignment from the department to take the job and could return to the department.

"It was a fantastic job. I do feel like a lot was accomplished to bring the departments together," he said, praising department heads for their efforts over the last three years to move the city forward.

"I can't say enough about their dedication. They came together and worked together. They were awesome to work with."

Calhoun was considered the second in command at City Hall, providing a link between departments and between departments and the mayor. He managed policies, aligned human resource policies and was involved in union negotiations with employee groups. He said those negotiations are not yet completed.

"Sometimes jobs in the public sector, especially the job Joe Calhoun had, can be more punishing than rewarding," Snyder said in an email statement. "Right now we are on the grueling end with five union negotiations, the federal intensity on myself, dozens of major projects and the council scrutiny."

"Joe is a great friend to me and Portage, his service has been relentless and he is one of the hardest working men I know. He is doing what is best for him and his family; what he has accomplished in Portage will change it for generations to come. All that I can say to Joe is 'thank you,'" Snyder said.

Calhoun said he wasn't sure of his future. He has had a conversation with Fire Chief Tom Fieffer about returning to the department. A merit lieutenant, Calhoun was serving as an assistant chief when he was appointed director of administration.

"I have resumes out throughout the country, and I am hoping something will come through," said Calhoun, adding it may be his time to retire from the department and to "move on" and leave Portage.

"Portage residents are receiving and will continue to receive the same high quality of service. All department heads are stepping it up a bit for now, and when the time is appropriate we will work on replacement," said Snyder.

02172017 - News Article - Portage mayor abuses taxpayers' trust



Portage mayor abuses taxpayers' trust
Chicago Tribune
February 17, 2017
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/opinion/ct-ptb-editorial-snyder-st-0219-20170217-story.html

An indictment doesn't equate to guilt. That determination is left to a judge or a jury.

A federal indictment on corruption charges, however, is at the very least an embarrassment and a serious distraction if you're trying to run a city. By most ethical standards, it should inspire a careful, conservative profile, especially for a city's top-elected official.

Not so with Portage Mayor James Snyder, who's a clear winner over runner-up Lake County Sheriff John Buncich in the "outlandish actions by indicted public officials" category. While the performances don't rise to Hollywood's Academy Award-level, they're all too prevalent in the region.

In Buncich's case, he just wanted was his guns back. Federal agents confiscated his firearms after his arrest last year on corruption charges tied to a towing scheme. Buncich's attorney said the sheriff needed the weapons to perform his duties. The judge disagreed.

Snyder, meanwhile, makes Buncich's request seem reasonable.

He's embarked on a course of maintaining his innocence while enjoying perks at the expense of taxpayers. Snyder, a Republican, took his family and a security detail to Washington last month for President Donald Trump's inauguration. And, while some Portage residents struggle with monthly car payments and bills, Snyder drove a leased Chevrolet Tahoe to Washington that costs the city $800 a month. It's generously equipped with Sirius radio and OnStar.

If the trip wasn't enough to rankle folks, two police officers also drove a city vehicle to Washington because Snyder felt he and his family needed protection as they attended inauguration events. The need for security seems especially curious since Snyder's notoriety doesn't extend much farther than Porter County.

That trip seemingly was the last straw for Democrats who control the city council, which had been co-existing in a bi-partisan fashion with Snyder, who's in his second term as mayor. Together, the council and Snyder had pushed through improvements, including new police and fire stations and a needed renovation at City Hall.

Council members rightly became angered when they found out last year that Snyder attempted to pay a $93,000 legal bill with money from the Utility Services Board, which he chairs. The money was going to go to two law firms representing Snyder in connection with a federal investigation that resulted in bribery and obstruction charges in November. Both law firms returned the checks, saying they represented Snyder, not the utilities board.

Recently, the council moved to strip Snyder of his $30,000 salary and position as chairman of the Utility Services Board. At Snyder's direction, the board hired an Indianapolis law firm, which advised the council that removing Snyder violated state law. Undeterred, the council dumped Snyder. Council President Mark Oprisko warned it might pass an ordinance dissolving the Utility Services Board to save taxpayers from an expensive, lengthy lawsuit pitting the city against its own utilities board.

Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham called Snyder's acts "a pattern of disrespect for the taxpayers of Portage … it's just wrong," he said.

We couldn't agree more. A mayor facing federal indictment shouldn't be trekking off to a gala inauguration or charging taxpayers for his own legal troubles. The Portage City Council is safeguarding its taxpayers from Snyder's overreach, which has created a toxic atmosphere in a city with its pride and promise on the line.

02172017 - News Article - Portage administration director resigns over differences with mayor



Portage administration director resigns over differences with mayor 
nwitimes.com
February 17, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/portage-administration-director-resigns-over-differences-with-mayor/article_53a6e77f-6b32-50a9-9db4-30d43cfffa7d.html

PORTAGE — Director of Administration Joe Calhoun resigned this week over what he called differences in philosophies with Mayor James Snyder.

"It just came to a point where our leadership philosophies weren't meshing," Calhoun said. "It is my job to get on board or to get out of the way. I decided to get out of the way."

Calhoun added that he had recently been pulled into the investigation of Snyder by the FBI, saying he was interviewed by agents after Snyder was indicted in November. He wouldn't comment on the particulars of the interview.

Snyder appointed Calhoun to the position more than three years ago. A 17-year Portage firefighter, he was technically on special assignment from the department to take the job and could return to the department.

"It was a fantastic job. I do feel like a lot was accomplished to bring the departments together," he said, praising department heads for their efforts over the last three years to move the city forward.

"I can't say enough about their dedication. They came together and worked together. They were awesome to work with."

Calhoun was considered the second in command at City Hall, providing a link between departments and between departments and the mayor. He managed policies, aligned human resource policies and was involved in union negotiations with employee groups. He said those negotiations are not yet completed.

"Sometimes jobs in the public sector, especially the job Joe Calhoun had, can be more punishing than rewarding," Snyder said in an email statement. "Right now we are on the grueling end with five union negotiations, the federal intensity on myself, dozens of major projects and the council scrutiny."

"Joe is a great friend to me and Portage, his service has been relentless and he is one of the hardest working men I know. He is doing what is best for him and his family; what he has accomplished in Portage will change it for generations to come. All that I can say to Joe is 'thank you,'" Snyder said.

Calhoun said he wasn't sure of his future. He has had a conversation with Fire Chief Tom Fieffer about returning to the department. A merit lieutenant, Calhoun was serving as an assistant chief when he was appointed director of administration.

"I have resumes out throughout the country, and I am hoping something will come through," said Calhoun, adding it may be his time to retire from the department and to "move on" and leave Portage.

"Portage residents are receiving and will continue to receive the same high quality of service. All department heads are stepping it up a bit for now, and when the time is appropriate we will work on replacement," said Snyder.

02172017 - News Article - Portage mayor 'confident' he'll give speech in 2018



Portage mayor 'confident' he'll give speech in 2018
nwitimes.com
February 17, 2017
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/portage-mayor-confident-he-ll-give-speech-in/article_83b3c3b7-c060-594f-820b-0ec7d4f20318.html








PORTAGE — Without making direct reference to his upcoming federal trial or his recent battles with the City Council, Mayor James Snyder told a group Thursday that the city will weather the present "hurricane."

Snyder addressed a packed room at Woodland Park during his annual State of the City address hosted by the Greater Portage Chamber of Commerce. Snyder was indicted last November on bribery and tax evasion charges. His trial is set for April 10. Recently he has been battling with the City Council which is attempting to remove him as chairman of the Utility Services Board.

Departing from previous years' State of the City addresses, Snyder opened and closed the presentation and allowed his department heads to provide updates on their departments.

"Over the past year, we saw the wind shift," Snyder told the group, adding the wind had been at Portage's back, but the city was now "in the middle of a hurricane."


"With our foundations, we can weather this storm and we can lead with great confidence," he said before introducing Police Chief Troy Williams to give an overview of his department during the previous year.

Following presentations by Williams, Fire Chief Tom Fieffer, Street Department Superintendent Joe Mokol, Parks Superintendent Jenny Orsburn and Economic Development Director Andy Maletta, Snyder closed the presentation by telling the audience that 2017 is the year of confidence.

"We have been through battles before and the city has prospered," he said, adding that he, his wife and city staff are "very grateful for the confidence, support and well wishes" they have received in recent months.

"I have confidence that I will be here to deliver the 2018 State of the City address," Snyder said closing the presentation.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

02162017 - News Article - Snyder: Portage in a 'hurricane'



Snyder: Portage in a 'hurricane'
Post-Tribune
February 16, 2017
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-portage-state-of-city-st-0217-20170216-story.html



Mayor James Snyder alluded to the legal and political storms wrapping around Portage during his annual State of the City address Thursday while encouraging the audience of Chamber of Commerce members to remain confident in the city.

Snyder also expressed hope he will beat a federal indictment last November on public corruption charges. Since then, Common Council members have called for his resignation and have voted to strip Snyder of his position as chairman of the utility services board and its $30,000 salary.

"We saw the winds shift like never before in Portage. We are now in a hurricane," Snyder began. "(2017) is the year that Portage is in a state of confidence. Portage will not only beat this storm, but we will be better as a result.

"This year, we have confidence our progress in Portage will continue," he told several hundred audience members. "And we have confidence I will be here to deliver the 2018 State of the City address."

Rather than deliver a speech lauding his administration's accomplishments last year, Snyder bookended presentations from his department heads on last year's events with brief comments of his own.

Economic Development Director Andy Maletta spoke of the "explosion" in new home starts, from nine starts in 2015 to 79 starts last year, and bringing new businesses -- including Monosol -- to Portage, while the police and fire chiefs spoke of improved services and new stations.

Parks Superintendent Jenny Orsburn praised her staff, which, she said, "has contributed significantly to the quality of life" of residents, and Streets Superintendent Joe Mokol lauded an increase in residents recycling and new time and money saving equipment.

Snyder listed accomplishments such as raising $60,000 for the Indiana-American water amphitheater at Founder's Square, an open air pavilion planned for the Portage Lakefront Park and the widening of Samuelson Road before calling on help from other city leaders.

"It's time for all of us to join together, both the city council and the mayor's office, to work toward this year of confidence," Snyder said.

Only two city council members, Sue Lynch, D-at large, and Scott Williams, D- 3rd, attended the address. Lynch, who last week called for Snyder's resignation, praised the work done by the city's department heads.

"What I heard today is we have some great department heads, and they're continuing to work hard together despite what is going on in the city," Lynch said. "As for (Snyder), he really didn't say much, but I think that was by intention."

02162017 - News Article - Top Portage administrator resigns position



Top Portage administrator resigns position
Post-Tribune
February 16, 2017
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-portage-calhoun-resign-st-0217-20170216-story.html

Joe Calhoun, the city's director of administration and Portage Mayor James Snyder's top deputy, confirmed Thursday he is resigning effective Saturday.

Calhoun, who has coordinated the day-to-day operations of the city and utility services since 2014, said his work philosophy and the mayor's "just weren't meshing" and cited job-related stress for his departure, but Calhoun praised the administration's department heads.

"I've loved and cherished this job over the last three years, and I do honestly hope I've made some positive impressions on the city," Calhoun said. "I can't tell you how lucky I've been to work with those department heads. They do an incredible job of moving the city forward."

Last month, the FBI interviewed Calhoun, partly as a follow-up to Snyder's November federal indictment on public corruption charges.

"There's been a lot of job-related stress with all of this other stuff going on," Calhoun said of Snyder's legal woes.

Snyder did not return calls seeking comment Thursday.

Before becoming Portage government's virtual second-in-command, Calhoun rose through the ranks over 17 years to become assistant fire chief. Calhoun, whose work as administration director is considered a "special assignment," still is on the payroll at the fire station and, earlier this week, discussed "the possibility of returning to the ranks of the fire department," Chief Tom Feifer said.

Feifer said he had not received any official e-mails or other confirmation on Calhoun's resignation or plans to return to the fire department.

Calhoun said he loved his work with the fire department and may return someday, but he has begun looking outside of the city for his next step, calling it "a natural progression" in his career.

"It's probably best I move forward and move outside of City of Portage government," he said.

City Council President Mark Oprisko, D-at large, said Calhoun's departure will be "a huge loss for the city."

The council will keep the position's salary line item open, but the council also should have some say in who replaces Calhoun, Oprisko said.

"I pretty much begged (Calhoun) to stay, but the stress level of working in City Hall got the best of him, and I don't blame him," Oprisko said. "I don't want just some political crony or somebody that doesn't have enough experience to come in to that spot."

Along with running most of City Hall's operations, Calhoun has been thrust into difficult positions during his tenure. Last October, following revelations Snyder tried, in his role as chairman of the Portage Utility Services Board, to get the board to pay $93,000 in legal fees related to a federal investigation, the mayor put Calhoun and the utility services board attorney before local media to answer questions about the checks.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

02152017 - 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.


02152017 - News Article - Lake Council to investigate sheriff's books



Lake Council to investigate sheriff's books
NWI Times
Feb 15, 2017 
CROWN POINT — The Lake County Council voted to police the sheriff — at least in fiscal matters.

The council refused Tuesday to immediately pay about $180,000 in food, police uniforms and services vendors provided late last year.

Instead, the council created an oversight committee to investigate the sheriff's costly overruns.

Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, pleaded with fellow council members not to delay payments.

He said it would be unfair to businesses that already have provided products and services to the county. "I would have to have the government turned over to a collection agency," Bilski said.

Councilwomen Christine Cid, D-East Chicago, and Elsie Franklin, D-Gary, said it was unfair to single out the sheriff for overdue bills when others did the same.

The council did agree Tuesday to pay 2016 bills totaling about $5,300 for the county fairgrounds director, recorder, elections board, coroner, juvenile court and the economic development department.

The sheriff didn't appear before the council Tuesday, but did write a letter last week arguing his bills were emergencies due to a surge of additional jail inmates and unforeseen equipment and auto repairs.

Council members Dan Dernulc, R-Highland; David Hamm, D-Hammond; Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point; and Jamal Washington, D-Merrillville, voted against any payment of the sheriff's late bills until the oversight committee look into them.

Dernulc said they had given the sheriff all the money he requested last year.

Washington said he sponsored the ordinance establishing a seven-member oversight committee that will have subpoena powers to "determine the cause of budget shortfalls and the lack of timely payment of invoices and related budgetary issues."

Hamm, Strong and Washington will serve on the investigative body as would two from the Lake County Board of Commissioners, one from the county auditor as well as the sheriff's bookkeeper.

The council also voted to give the Lake County Board of Commissioners permission to seek bids from private real estate firms to commercially develop about 6 acres of the Lake County Government Center's lawn at 93rd and Main (Taft) Street.

The land has remained an open field since the county government center opened at this site 43 years ago.

Commissioners attempted in 2015 to interest a developer in the site. Hawk Development of Crown Point offered to entice fast-food and service station tenants to locate on the Main Street frontage, but commissioners declined to act at that time.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

02142017 - 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





Monday, February 13, 2017

02132017 - News Article - Image is everything in court of public opinion



Image is everything in court of public opinion
Post-Tribune (IN)
February 13, 2017
http://infoweb.newsbank.com.proxy.portagelibrary.info/resources/doc/nb/news/162858CF4A7C8E18?p=AWNB
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, along with several other city officials the past few weeks, has called for Snyder's resignation.

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 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 re-election 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 of whether you believe he should have attended this event with his family, 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 paper clips.

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.
Caption: Portage Mayor James Snyder, seen in his City Hall office in 2015, has been charged with one count of tax evasion and two counts of bribery involving a local towing firm. 



Friday, February 10, 2017

02102017 - News Article - Portage mayor loses $30K panel chairmanship in city council vote



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."