At least 15-year sentence sought for ex-Indiana sheriff

January 9, 2018

HAMMOND, Ind. (AP) — Federal prosecutors have requested a sentence of at least 15 years in prison for a former Indiana sheriff convicted of accepting tens of thousands of dollars in bribes from towing businesses.

Former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, 72, was convicted of bribery and wire fraud in August.

In a Sunday court filing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Benson asked asked U.S. District Court Judge James Moody to sentence Bunich to between 15 and 20 years behind bars and to have Buncich be taken into custody immediately after his Jan. 16 sentencing hearing.

Benson wrote that Buncich’s conduct was “a calculated abuse of power over a prolonged period of time for personal enrichment.”

In the memorandum, Benson also introduced new allegations, including that Buncich attempted to access a protected intelligence database to dig up information on the witnesses poised to testify against him.

Defense attorney Bryan Truitt didn’t immediately reply to a phone message seeking comment left Tuesday.

In November 2016, Buncich, former Lake County Police Chief Timothy Downs and William Szarmach, the owner of a Lake Station towing company, were named in an indictment alleging a towing scheme in which the sheriff accepted bribes in cash and donations to his campaign fund.

The government alleged that Szarmach and Scott Jurgensen, the owner of a Merrillville towing company, gave Buncich more than $35,000 from 2014 to 2016 to secure towing work with the sheriff’s department.

Downs, the sheriff’s former second-in-command, pleaded guilty and admitted to collecting money on Buncich’s behalf. Szarmach also pleaded guilty. Both testified as government witnesses against Buncich.

Benson said that Buncich allegedly asked a department official to look up information on Downs, Szarmach and Jurgensen in the department’s protected database. The official refused and shut down the database to avoid its illegal use.

Buncich’s attorneys plan to appeal the conviction.