HAMMOND – U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana Thomas L. Kirsch II announced that John Buncich, 72, of Crown Point, was sentenced before District Court Senior Judge James T. Moody to 188 months imprisonment, 2 years of supervised release and ordered to pay $800 in restitution along with a $250,000 fine.
In August 2017, following a 14-day jury trial, Buncich was convicted of all 6 counts of a superseding indictment.
According to documents in this case, John Buncich, Timothy Downs and William Szarmach were indicted in November 2016 on multiple federal charges. Buncich, then the 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 department. 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. Jurgenson, a former Merrillville police officer, is the owner of Sampson Relocation and Towing. Jurgenson provided significant assistance to the U.S. 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 more than $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.
Kirsch states, “Today’s sentence sends a strong message that betrayal of public trust will not be tolerated. All citizens deserve public officials who act honestly and who work for the public interest and not their own interest. My Office will continue to vigorously pursue public officials who use there office as a means for illicit personal gain.”
“Today’s sentencing emphasizes that public officials who abuse their positions for personal financial gain at the expense of taxpayers will not be tolerated,” said W. Jay Abbott, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis Division. “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.”
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. We hope today’s sentence will dissuade others who hold these positions which hinge on the public’s trust from engaging in similar criminal activity.”
This case was the result of an investigation by the FBI and the IRS Criminal Investigation Division. This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Philip C. Benson and Maria N. Lerner.