Ex-Lake County, Ind., sheriff John Buncich sentenced to 15 years, 8 months in bribery scheme

HAMMOND, Ind. (WLS) -- A former Lake County, Ind. sheriff was sentenced Tuesday to 15 years and eight months in prison for his involvement in an illegal towing scheme.

John Bunchich, 72, who was convicted in August of six counts of corruption, accepted cash bribes and donations to his campaign. He was immediately taken into custody.

Before federal Judge James Moody handed down the sentence, witnesses testified in federal court in Hammond, Ind.

Prosecutors sought between 15 and 20 years in prison.

In accordance with state law, Buncich has been removed from office because he has been convicted of a felony.

During the trial, federal prosecutors argued Buncich used his office's control over the towing program to get kickbacks and bribes from tow operators, usually in the form of campaign contributions or fundraising tickets. The prosecution also presented FBI surveillance video that they said showed Buncich accepting a bribe.

Buncich denied ever requiring towing companies to pay him in order to get business from his agency. He also accused the FBI and government informants of setting him up.

"I'm in shock, I think this is an extraordinarily harsh sentence in light of what he actually did and just ignoring his personal history," said Bryan Truitt, Buncich's attorney.

Buncich blamed sloppy bookkeeping for $7,500 he received from a towing company operator not showing up in his political campaign account.

Buncich was indicted in November 2016 alongside his second-in-command Timothy Downs and William Szarmach, owner of the Lake Station, Ind., business CSA Towing. Buncich was charged with violation of the federal bribery statute and five counts of honest services wire fraud.

Szarmach plead guilty to counts of honest services wire fraud, bribery and failure to file a tax return, and Downs plead guilty to one count of honest services wire fraud.
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