No arrests reported yet for six Lake officers targeted by feds

2011-05-25T19:45:00Z 2011-09-22T14:20:07Z No arrests reported yet for six Lake officers targeted by fedsBy Times Staff
May 25, 2011 7:45 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | The six Lake County sheriff's officers under federal investigation were not under arrest as of Wednesday, a source close to the investigation said.

Federal agents served search warrants Tuesday at the homes of several targets of the investigation and also retrieved documents from the Sheriff's Department related to the investigation, the source said. Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and Food and Drug Administration are involved in the investigation.

Sheriff John Buncich placed the officers on immediate administrative leave with pay when the targets were identified.

The officers are Capt. Marco Kuyachich, Lt. Michael Reilly, Sgt. Joseph Kumstar and Officers Ronald Slusser, Edward Kabella and Scott Shelhart.

Allegations include the illegal sale of weapons across state lines.

Buncich did not return calls Wednesday, and The Times was unable to contact the six officers. But Sheriff's Department attorney John Bushemi said at this time, there are no disciplinary charges pending against any of the six officers.

Placing employees on "administrative leave from duty with pay is under the authority of the Merit Board and is a nondisciplinary power of the Lake County sheriff," Bushemi said. "It is a nondisciplinary status until further notice, and a condition of administrative leave with pay is that the employees are prohibited from any other law enforcement-related employment."

Buncich, who has been reviewing operations since taking office in January, told The Times on Tuesday he contacted federal investigators after noticing "some things that didn't appear correct."

According to a 2009 state audit of the Sheriff's Department released earlier this year, the 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 received more than $8,000, Kumstar received more than $20,000 and three other officers received more than $11,000 total, according to the report.

Kumstar's overtime was "incorrectly entered into the payroll system," according to the report, which also stated he approved his own overtime hours.

In January, John Kopack, an attorney for the Sheriff's Department at the time, said the overpayment was the result of a bookkeeping error that resulted in Kumstar's pay rate being more than doubled. He said the overpayment was reimbursed by Kumstar through deductions of later paychecks.

The state audit also noted that two unidentified, upper-level employees had exceeded the allowable vacation and sick leave absences, and two people were paid for personal services from the Jail Commissary Fund that totaled more than $20,000.

It is not clear at this time whether the issues raised by the state audit are part of the IRS investigation, and the U.S. attorney's office continued to decline to comment on the federal investigations.

Bushemi said he could not comment on whether Buncich planned to file misconduct charges against or initiate an internal investigation of the officers with the Merit Board.

"The sheriff is waiting for the results of the federal law enforcement investigation," Bushemi said. "It's a federal investigative matter."

According to Merit Board rules:

The sheriff may suspend a nonprobationary officer for cause for up to 15 days without pay, after notifying the officer in writing.

The sheriff orally may reprimand such officer or formally reprimand the officer by written reprimand.

In other action, the sheriff may suspend the officer for more than 15 days without pay or terminate the officer, after delivering charges to the officer in writing and obtaining the officer's waiver of hearing before the Merit Board. The board may accept or reject the waiver.

The 90-day rule requires the sheriff to file a charge within 90 days from the date of the alleged misconduct.

No charges related to the allegations have been filed with the Merit Board, which next meets June 16.

Times staff writers Susan Brown, Christine Kraly and Sarah Tompkins contributed to this report.

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