Feds investigating Lake County officers

2011-05-24T22:00:00Z 2011-09-22T14:20:07Z Feds investigating Lake County officersBy Times Staff nwitimes.com
May 24, 2011 10:00 pm  • 

HAMMOND | Four federal agencies are probing an alleged gun-running scheme involving Lake County Sheriff's Department personnel.

Current Sheriff John Buncich said he stripped six officers of police powers Tuesday, the same day federal authorities raided sites in a case Buncich claims he prompted after taking office this year.

"Until I can sort this out, I placed them on administrative leave," Buncich said.

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

Buncich said all six officers were on duty Tuesday morning when agents served the warrants. Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Times four agencies -- the FBI, IRS, ATF and FDA -- are involved in the investigation, and that 30 agents handled Tuesday's raids throughout the county.

The Times cannot confirm that the six have been arrested as of Tuesday night.

Buncich declined to provide details but said he has been cooperating with federal authorities since shortly after taking office in January.

He said he contacted federal investigators after noticing "some things that didn't appear correct" in his department.

He referred questions regarding the case to the U.S. attorney's office.

U.S. attorney's spokeswoman Mary Hatton confirmed federal agents executed search warrants on three Crown Point locations, but said the Sheriff's Department is not the target of the investigation.

Buncich confirmed those three locations -- on Doubletree Drive, Madison Street and Wyndham Drive -- are residences.

The U.S. attorney's office would not comment further.

Based on public records and separate interviews, The Times found:

  • At least two of the officers are listed as gun dealers with addresses in Crown Point and Merrillville.
  • Another officer is listed as selling various guns at auctions in Lake and Porter counties.
  • One of the officers allegedly used Lake County letterhead to try to broker an illegal firearms deal.

Buncich said as part of the leave, he stripped the officers of their badges and county-issued firearms. He said the officers will face stiffer punishment should they face official charges.

A source close to the investigation said allegations include the sale of guns across state lines. The guns allegedly sold include weapons owned by the county, or confiscated during arrests, the source said.

The Times tried unsuccessfully to reach the officers Tuesday.

One man who answered a phone number listed for Slusser identified himself as David Desalle. Desalle said of Slusser, "I have no contact with him."

Records show, however, Desalle is listed as licensed, with Slusser, to sell guns under R&D Law Enforcement, a dealership listed in Merrillville.

Slusser, too, is listed as a gun dealer with Kabella under E&R Law Enforcement Sales, located at 448 S. Madison St. in Crown Point.

Neither R&D nor E&R is listed as being registered with the Indiana secretary of state's office.

According to public auction listings, Kumstar in April was set to sell multiple types of firearms, including military and World War II weapons and gear, at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Crown Point.

Kumstar also is scheduled to assist in other weapons auctions in September and October in Crown Point and Valparaiso.

A woman who answered the door of Kumstar's residence Tuesday refused to speak to a Times reporter.

According to a source familiar with the case, one of the officers also used county stationery to address a letter to a potential out-of-state gun buyer.

John Kitchen, vice president of the Lake County Fraternal Order of Police, declined to comment.

Buncich would not comment on the gun allegations, nor would his predecessor, former Sheriff Rogelio Dominguez.

Reached at home wearing a Lake County sheriff T-shirt, Dominguez told The Times, "I was made aware this afternoon by federal authorities there is an ongoing investigation involving certain police officers in the Lake County Sheriff Department.

"I have no comment because I don't want to say anything that might compromise their investigation."

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

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