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Buncich gets more than 15 years after losing case

Crusader Staff Report

Former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich on Wednesday, Jan. 17 was sentenced to more than 15 years in prison after he was convicted on bribery and wire fraud charges.

While prosecutors are praising the sentence, Buncich’s attorney remains in shock and questions whether the sentence was too much. Buncich himself was shaken.

“Without a doubt, this is the darkest day of my life, “Buncich  said during a statement made to the court before he was sentenced. “I feel remorse for those I may have hurt or let down. My life in public service appears to be over. In my opinion, I am not the person that has been portrayed.”

Judge James T. Moody said he saw “very little or no remorse” from Buncich. The former sheriff was led out of the Hammond federal courtroom in handcuffs after Moody ordered Buncich to be immediately taken into custody. Buncich remained stoic as he was taken out of the courtroom by federal marshals.

Judge Moody told Buncich because of his arrogance and greed, the former sheriff had forsaken the lofty values of clean politics that he often preached.

“Shame on you,” Moody said. “You should be held fully responsible for your crooked conduct.”

Buncich was among several defendants who were charged in November 2016 with running a towing scheme in Lake County. Prosecutors said Buncich accepted bribes in the form of thousands of dollars in cash and donations to his campaign fund, Buncich Boosters. Two other defendants, Chief Timothy Downs and William Szarmach, of C.S.A Towing  testified against Buncich as part of a plea deal with prosecutors. Overall, Buncich will serve 15 years and eight months in prison.

Buncich was convicted last August of bribery and wire fraud charges after a two-week trial, where prosecutors said he took money from tow truck operators. They said Buncich used that money to determine which tow companies received business from Lake County. U.S. Attorney Thomas Kirsch II said the 15-year sentence will help deter future corrupt conduct by public officials.

Buncich’s attorney, Bryan Truitt, said he was disappointed with the verdict and Buncich maintains his innocence. Truitt said there’s no evidence on tapes that show that Buncich asked for anything. Truitt said Buncich “did what everybody else does.”

Truitt said he will file an appeal before the end of the week.

“I’m in shock. I think this is an extraordinary harsh sentence in light of what he actually did,” Truitt said. “I’m not sure I fully grasp what just happened because it was a shock to me.”

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