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Portage mayor, Lake County sheriff indicted on federal charges

Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, Portage Mayor James Snyder and several others have been indicted on federal charges for allegations of public corruption, according to a press release from the US Attorney's Office.

Buncich, Chief Deputy Timothy Downs and William Szarmach were named in the multi-count indictment alleging a deprivation of honest services and receipt of illegal money in connection with towing contracts in Lake County.

Buncich is the sheriff and responsible for determining what company is responsible for any towing required by the sheriff's department.

Downs is the second person in charge at the sheriff's department.

Szarmach owns and operates CSA Towing in Lake Station, Indiana.

Between February 2014 and October 2016, Buncich received checks and cash payments, often collected by Downs, from Szarmach and an unnamed individual in exchange for the sheriff awarding county towing business and towing in the city of Gary, according to the press release.

The unnamed individual is the owner of a tow truck business who voluntarily came forward and cooperated with the investigation.

Buncich is also charged with a violation of the federal bribery statute for allegedly solicited, demanded and received over $25,000 in cash and $7,000 in checks in exchange for favorable action by Buncich regarding towing contracts, according to the US Attorney's Office.

A second indictment names Portage Mayor James Snyder and John Cortina.

Snyder has been mayor since 2011.

Cortina is the owner and operator of Kustom Auto Body, a towing business in Portage.

Snyder and Cortina are charged with a violation of the federal bribery statute.

Snyder allegedly solicited and received two checks totaling $12,000 from Cortina and the unnamed individual in the first indictment in exchange for a towing contract in the city of Portage, according to the US Attorney's Office.

Cortina is alleged to have offered those checks to Snyder.

Portage City Councilman Colin Czilli issued the following statement:

Today’s indictment issued by the United States Attorney in connection to Portage Mayor James Snyder is deeply concerning. However, like any other individual, Mayor Snyder deserves his day in court and the right to defend himself. As a City Councilman, I am of the mindset that we must allow the judicial process to continue and to not interfere in that process for political purposes.
 
As an elected official, you have a responsibility and duty to provide honest services to the residents that you serve. I firmly believe that our City is filled with those types of individuals and that our City employees are the hardest working individuals that we could ever ask for to serve our City.
 
I want to ensure the citizens of Portage and the 5th District that the business of the City will continue, unimpeded. We are currently moving forward on many projects that are crucial to our City’s future prosperity. I will do everything within my power to ensure these projects are successfully completed.
 
I will offer no further comment regarding today’s announcement, at this time.

Snyder is facing a charge of a second violation of the federal bribery statute.

Between January 2012 and January 10, 2014 he allegedly solicited and accepted a check for $13,000 in connection with Portage Board of Works contracts, a Portage Redevelopment Commission project and other consideration, according to the press release.

The final charge against Snyder alleges obstruction of the internal revenue laws.

Between January 2010 and April 2013 Snyder is alleged to have obstructed and impeded the IRS's collection of personal taxes he owed and payroll taxes owed by his mortgage business, First Financial Trust Mortgage, LLC, according to the release.

Snyder allegedly diverted funds away from the company to a sole proprietorship he created, and submitted three forms to the IRS which failed to disclose the existence of the sole proprietorship and its bank account during a time when the IRS was attempting to collect the aforementioned tax debt, according to the US Attorney's Office.

United States Attorney Capp stated, “These investigations are not over.  Our public corruption team will continue its work, particularly into the towing contracts in both Lake and Porter counties.”

Anyone with information related to these public corruption charges is encouraged to call the FBI at 219-769-3719.

Portage City Councilman Colin Czilli issued the following statement:

Today’s indictment issued by the United States Attorney in connection to Portage Mayor James Snyder is deeply concerning. However, like any other individual, Mayor Snyder deserves his day in court and the right to defend himself. As a City Councilman, I am of the mindset that we must allow the judicial process to continue and to not interfere in that process for political purposes.

As an elected official, you have a responsibility and duty to provide honest services to the residents that you serve. I firmly believe that our City is filled with those types of individuals and that our City employees are the hardest working individuals that we could ever ask for to serve our City.

I want to ensure the citizens of Portage and the 5th District that the business of the City will continue, unimpeded. We are currently moving forward on many projects that are crucial to our City’s future prosperity. I will do everything within my power to ensure these projects are successfully completed.

I will offer no further comment regarding today’s announcement, at this time.

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