On Friday, November 18, two public corruption indictments were returned; one naming Lake County Sheriff John Buncich and the other naming Portage Mayor James Snyder.
Buncich, his chief deputy Timothy Downs, and William Szarmach were named in a multi-count indictment alleging a deprivation of honest services and receipt of illegal money in connection with towing contracts in Lake County.
John Buncich is the Lake County Sheriff, who earlier served as sheriff from 1994-2002 and was re-elected in 2010 and again in 2014. Pursuant to a Lake County ordinance, the sheriff has exclusive authority to determine what entity would do any towing as required by the sheriff’s department. Downs is the Chief in the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, the second person in command, having been appointed to that position by Buncich. Szarmach owns and operates CSA Towing, located at 2599 DeKalb Street, Lake Station,Indiana.
The indictment alleges that from February 2010 continuing into October 2016, Buncich, Downs and Szarmach devised a scheme to deprive the citizens of Lake County of their right to the honest service of the sheriff’s office. The scheme was designed to enrich Buncich personally and his campaign committee, known as Buncich Boosters. The indictment details a number of checks and cash payments, often collected by Downs, from Szarmach and an Individual A in exchange for Buncich awarding county towing business and towing in the City of Gary for ordinance violations. Individual A is the owner of a tow truck company who voluntarily came forward and cooperated with the United States during the course of this investigation.
Buncich is also charged individually with a violation of the federal bribery statute. Specifically, Buncich is alleged to have corruptly solicited, demanded and received over $25,000 in cash and $7000 in checks in exchange for favorable actions by Buncich regarding the towing contracts.
The second indictment names Portage Mayor James Snyder and John Cortina. Snyder was first elected as mayor in 2011 and was re-elected to a second four-year term in 2015. Cortina owns and operates a towing business, Kustom Auto Body, 5409 US Highway 6 in Portage.
Snyder and Cortina are both charged with violation of the federal bribery statute. Snyder is alleged to have corruptly solicited and received two checks totaling $12000 from Cortina and Individual A (same as above), in exchange for a towing contract in the City of Portage. Cortina was charged with corruptly offering those checks to Snyder.
The final charge against Snyder alleges obstruction of the internal revenue laws. This count sets forth an alleged scheme, undertaking by Snyder between January 2010 and April 2013, to obstruct and impede the IRS’s collection of personal taxes he owed and payroll taxes owed by his mortgage business, First Financial Trust Mortgage, LLC. Snyder alleged to have diverted funds away from FFTM to a sole proprietorship he created, and submitted three forms to the IRS which failed to disclose, among other things, the existence of the sole proprietorship and its bank account – all during a time when the IRS was attempting to collect the aforementioned tax debt.