Lake County Sheriff convicted of wire fraud and bribery

Patrice Gainsbourg
Agosto 25, 2017

Lake County Sheriff John Buncich was found guilty in his federal bribery trial on Thursday.

The indictment stated Buncich collected payments from Szarmach and another person in exchange for awarding towing contracts in Lake County and the city of Gary.

"The jury convicted Buncich of five counts of honest services wire fraud in connection with this scheme", the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Federal prosecutors presented evidence and testimony alleging the sheriff accepted bribes, often in the form of campaign fundraising tickets, to help tow operators get more jobs through the county.

Buncich's sentencing is scheduled for December 6th, and he'll be free on bond until then.

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Buncich has been removed from office.

At one point Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Benson asked the jury, "Did he look shocked or did he look like he did it before?" The jury began deliberating Wednesday night after hearing 13 days of testimony and closing arguments.

"What the government has done over the past two weeks is systematically dirty up the sheriff so you will believe he is guilty as charged", defense attorney Larry Rogers told jurors. Defense attorneys argued the donations were made without any intention of influencing Lake County's top cop and that it was all set up by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Buncich served as sheriff from 1994 to 2002, was elected again in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. Buncich was indicted in November 2016 alongside his second-in-command Timothy Downs and William Szarmach, owner of the Lake Station, Ind., business CSA Towing. He said Buncich "holds his head up high knowing the truth is that he didn't do anything wrong". Downs pleaded of guilty to one count of honest services wire fraud, and Szarmach pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud, bribery and failure to file a tax return, prosecutors said. Szarmach also has pleaded guilty to paying bribes.

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