Kuyachich denies being inquiry target

2011-06-02T19:00:00Z 2011-09-22T14:20:06Z Kuyachich denies being inquiry targetBy Bill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com

CROWN POINT | Former Lake County Police Chief Marco Kuyachich denies he is a target of a reported federal investigation of illicit gun sales within the Sheriff's Department, according to his attorney.

Valparaiso lawyer Ivan Bodensteiner sent a letter Wednesday to Sheriff John Buncich's lawyer demanding Buncich reinstate Kuyachich to active duty and issue a news release stating Kuyachich "is not and never has been a suspect or target in the federal investigation."

"Capt. Kuyachich has been assured by federal officials that he is not a suspect, but rather a witness," Bodensteiner stated. "Also, it is his understanding that you are aware of the fact that he is not a suspect."

Buncich responded Thursday afternoon. "This matter involves a law enforcement investigation being conducted by federal officials," he stated. "I am fully cooperating with this federal investigation. All questions related to this matter should be directed to the office of the U.S. attorney."

Kuyachich and five other Lake County officers -- Lt. Michael Reilly, Sgt. Joseph Kumstar along with officers Ronald Slusser, Edward Kabella and Scott Shelhart -- were stripped of their police powers last week and put on paid administrative leave amid federal investigations.

None of the six officers has been charged with any crime.

"There is no justification for leading the public to believe he is a suspect," Bodensteiner stated. "Absent such justification, it appears this is another instance of retaliation against Capt. Kuyachich because of his association with the former sheriff."

Kuyachich served as second in command to former Sheriff Roy Dominguez, a political rival of the current sheriff.

Bodensteiner states if Buncich is unwilling to take the "corrective actions" himself, an "impartial hearing officer" should be appointed to clear Kuyachich's name.

According to sources close to the federal investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is looking into whether Kumstar used Lake County letterhead and the federal firearms licenses of Kabella and Slusser to sell guns to collectors and licensed dealers. The Internal Revenue Service is investigating the unclaimed proceeds from those alleged gun sales, as well as unauthorized overtime payments, sources say.

According to a 2009 state audit, the Sheriff's Department paid tens of thousands of dollars in overtime to high-ranking, salaried personnel who were not entitled to such pay.

Between 2008 and 2010, Kuyachich received more than $4,600, Reilly more than $8,000, Kumstar more than $20,000, and three other officers more than $11,000 total, according to the report.

Times staff writer Sarah Tompkins contributed to this report.

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