HAMMOND — A federal judge is postponing next week's sentencing of former Sheriff John Buncich, giving his legal team a chance to better prepare for new allegations of his wrongdoing.
U.S. District Judge James T. Moody issued an order Thursday afternoon granting an urgent request for more time by Valparaiso attorney Bryan Truitt.
Truitt complained Wednesday he was being blindsided by government prosecutors who have hinted at new information they intend to use to lengthen any prison term the 71-year-old law enforcement veteran could receive for his bribery and fraud convictions.
Truitt hasn't described what the new allegations are, but stated he first learned of them Nov. 14 in a government document that hasn't been made public. He states the government has yet to document the allegations or say which witnesses prosecutors will call at sentencing.
A U.S. District Court jury found Buncich guilty Aug. 24 on six counts of wire fraud, honest services wire fraud and bribery.
Moody didn't pick a new sentencing date Thursday, but said it would fall some time between late December and the third week in January. He said he would look with disfavor on any future requests for delay.
Truitt responded Thursday afternoon, "John Buncich is happy that he will get to present his entire body of life’s work and the specific details of his actions for the judge’s consideration. And he respects that the government gets to do the same, and each gets to respond."
When Buncich does face sentencing he will not do so alone.
Truitt said Thursday he will present the court with dozens of letters written in support of Buncich, whose law enforcement and political career stretches back 46 years.
Controversy has swirled around the letters and their writers.
Truitt said he was still receiving new testimonials for Buncich "despite the intimidation of the NWI Times," a reference to an Aug. 26 column by The Times' Marc Chase, who promised to publish the names and positions of public officials or other community leaders "who carry water for Buncich by petitioning the court for leniency."
Truitt and Merrillville attorneys Geoffrey Giorgi and Adam Sedia have criticized Chase's stand on social media and in a recent publication of TheIndianaLawyer.com.
Sedia, president of the Lake County Bar Association, has issued a public statement that, "It is the height of hypocrisy for a news outlet to discourage individual citizens from exercising their rights to make their voices heard for fear of being publicly shamed ...
"The proper role of the media in judicial proceedings is to report and opine on them, not to attempt to influence their outcome," Sedia said.
Chase told TheIndianaLawyer.com such letters only reinforce the culture of acceptance of public corruption in Northwest Indiana.
At Buncich's federal trial in August, the government presented evidence Buncich solicited and accepted bribes from Scott Jurgensen, a former Merrillville police officer, towing firm owner and undercover informant for the FBI, and William "Willie" Szarmach, a Lake Station towing firm owner who was charged with Buncich, and then took a plea deal to testify against the former sheriff.
Jurgensen and Szarmach said they bribed the sheriff to receive more lucrative towing assignments from county police. Timothy Downs, the sheriff's former second-in-command, said he sold Buncich's political fundraising tickets on public time to them and other county towing vendors, who Buncich had the power to hire and terminate.
The sheriff took the witness stand over three days to deny wrongdoing, saying he never promised nor delivered favors for political donations.