On Tuesday, it was announced that the former sheriff of Lake County, Indiana had been sentenced to prison. 72-year-old John Buncich of Crown Point was sentenced to 188 months in prison and 2 years of supervised release. The defendant was convicted on six counts following a 14-day jury trial in August of 2017. Documents in the case show that Buncich, Timothy Downs and William Szarmach were indicted on multiple federal charges in November of 2016. Buncich, who was serving as the Lake County Sheriff at the time, served as sheriff from 1994 to 2002. He was re-elected in 2010 and again in 2014.
Timothy Downs was the former Chief in the Lake County Sheriff’s Department. He was the second in command. Downs was appointed to that position by Buncich. Szarmach owns and operates a towing company, CSA Towing, in Lake Station. In accordance with a Lake County ordinance, the sheriff has the authority to determine who is responsible for vehicle towing when required by the sheriff’s department. From February 2014 to at least October 2016, the defendant created a scheme to deprive the citizens of Lake County of their right to the honest services of the sheriff’s office.
The scheme was designed with the intention of enriching Buncich and his campaign committee, Buncich Boosters. Trial evidence shows that a number of checks and cash payments were made from Szarmach and Scott Jurgensen to Buncich in exchange for county towing business. The payments were often collected by Downs. Mr. Jurgenson is a former Merrillville Police Office and owner of Sampson Relocation and Towing. During the course of the investigation, Jurgenson provided significant assistance to the United States.
Ultimately, Bunich was convicted on five counts of Honest Services Wire Fraud and one charge of violation of the federal bribery statute. Szarmach and Downs are currently awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to their charges. Again, 72-year-old John Buncich has been sentenced to 188 months imprisonment. Additional details can be found here.