Lake County Indiana Sheriff Convicted After 14-Day Trial
HAMMOND-Acting United States Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, Clifford D. Johnson, announced that John Buncich, age 71, of Crown Point, Indiana was convicted of all 6 counts of the superseding indictment, after a 14-day jury trial before District Court Senior Judge James T. Moody.
John Buncich, Timothy Downs and William Szarmach were indicted in November 2016 on multiple federal charges. Buncich, the current Lake County Sheriff, served as sheriff from 1994-2002, and was re-elected in 2010 and again in 2014. Timothy Downs, formerly the Chief in the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, was the second person in command at that Department; Downs was appointed to that position by Buncich. William Szarmach owns and operates CSA Towing in Lake Station, Indiana.
Pursuant to a Lake County ordinance, the sheriff has exclusive authority to determine who would do vehicle towing as required by the sheriff’s department. From February 2014 continuing into October 2016, Buncich devised a scheme to deprive the citizens of Lake County of their right to the honest services of the sheriff’s office. The scheme was designed to enrich Buncich personally and his campaign committee, known as Buncich Boosters. The trial evidence established that a number of checks and cash payments, often collected by Downs, from Szarmach and Scott Jurgensen were exchanged for Buncich awarding them county towing business and towing in the City of Gary for ordinance violations. Mr. Jurgenson, a former Merrillville Police Officer, is the owner of Sampson Relocation and Towing. Mr. Jurgenson provided significant assistance to the United States during the course of this investigation.
The jury convicted Buncich of 5 counts of Honest Services Wire Fraud in connection with this scheme. The jury also convicted Buncich of a charged violation of the federal bribery statute in connection with corruptly soliciting, demanding, and receiving over $25,000 in cash and $7,000 in checks in exchange for favorable actions by Buncich regarding the towing contracts.
Both Szarmach and Downs, who both testified at trial, await sentencing on their guilty pleas to the following charges in the indictment: Timothy Downs entered a plea of guilty to one count of Honest Services Wire Fraud and; William Szarmach entered a plea of guilty to three counts of Honest Services Wire Fraud, Bribery and Failure to File a Tax Return.
Acting United States Attorney Clifford Johnson states that “The United States Attorney’s Office will continue to vigorously prosecute public officials who use their public office as means for personal enrichment. All citizens deserve public officials who work for the public interest and not their own interest.”
“Public officials who abuse their positions for personal financial gain at the expense of the taxpayers will not be tolerated. The FBI and our federal, state, and local partners will continue to aggressively pursue those across Indiana who corrupt their office for self-serving motives,” said W. Jay Abbott, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis Division. “Also instrumental in these investigations are the honest and patriotic citizens who come forward and assist in uncovering the truth as was the case in Lake County.”
Gabriel Grchan, IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge stated, “Taxpayers expect their elected officials to protect and improve their communities. Rather than serve his community Buncich abused his position and devised a pay-to-play towing scheme that benefited him and few others financially. Today’s verdict reminds us that public corruption will not be tolerated and no one is above the law.”
This case was the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division. This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Philip C. Benson and Maria N. Lerner.
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