Lake County sheriff takes stand during public corruption trial

Evelyn Holmes Image
Thursday, August 17, 2017
Lake County sheriff takes stand during public corruption trial
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A Lake County Indiana?s Sheriff took the stand in his trial on corruption charges. Sheriff John Buncich is accused of changing towing contracts in exchange for bribes.

LAKE COUNTY, Ind. (WLS) -- The public corruption trial of Lake County Sheriff John Buncich continued for a ninth day on Wednesday in federal court in Hammond, Ind. Buncich is accused of exchanging towing contracts for bribes.

Buncich spent most of the day on the witness stand denying any wrongdoing. The 71-year-old testified that he didn't take any money from tow truck operators to put them or keep them on the county's towing work list.

When asked by defense attorney Larry Rogers if he at any time required tow companies to pay him money to stay on the sheriff's tow list, he replied no. When asked if he at any time required tow companies to buy fundraiser tickets to stay on the list, he answered no again.

Federal prosecutors argue that Buncich used his office's control over the sheriff's towing program to get kickbacks and bribes from tow operators, usually in the form of campaign contributions or fundraising tickets.

Thursday afternoon, lawyers for the sheriff played an undercover recording of a conversation that former Chief Timothy Downs had with Buncich to illustrate that he and Deputy Chief Dun Murchek really ran the tow operations, not the sheriff. Downs took a deal and is scheduled to be sentenced next month.

This all follows testimony by tow truck operators Scott Jurgensen and William Szarmach, who claimed to have badgered both Buncich and Downs for more towing work and got it after paying bribes.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip C. Benson also argued the sheriff made changes in the towing distribution system in response to payments by Jurgensen and Szarmach.

Szarmach has pleaded guilty to bribing the sheriff with cash.

Buncich will take the stand again Friday. After that, the prosecution will begin its cross examination.