Philpot, 3 officers indicted on separate charges

2011-09-22T14:15:00Z 2012-07-02T16:14:52Z Philpot, 3 officers indicted on separate chargesBy Sarah Tompkins sarah.tompkins@nwi.com, (219) 836-3780 nwitimes.com

The U.S. attorney's office announced several indictments Thursday afternoon, charging the Lake County coroner and three Lake County sheriff's officers with public corruption-related crimes.

U.S. Attorney David Capp first told a crowded room of media officials that a federal grand jury returned a five-count indictment against Lake County Coroner Thomas Philpot, alleging mail fraud and theft of federal funds from the state's child support program. Philpot allegedly took about $24,700 in unauthorized incentive payments between 2004 and 2009 while serving as the county clerk.

Philpot could not be reached for comment Thursday night, but officials said arrangements were being made for his surrender next week.

Later in the news conference, Capp explained an alleged scheme that led to a separate six-count indictment against and the resignations of Lake County Sgt. Joseph Kumstar and Officers Ronald Slusser and Edward Kabella. He said the men used their positions at the Sheriff's Department to buy machine guns and laser sights that are restricted for use by the military and law enforcement -- and sold the parts online for thousands of dollars in personal profits.

"This needs to stop, and it needs to stop now," Capp said about public corruption in the region, which has been plagued by money-making schemes that have sent several politicians to prison over the years.

All three officers have accepted responsibility for the crimes and entered into plea agreements with the government, Capp said.

Kumstar, a 17-year veteran of the force and a former deputy police chief, in 2008 wrote a letter to German gun manufacturer H&K asking for 50 machine guns for the "exclusive law enforcement use of the Lake County Sheriff's Department," Capp said. Kumstar listed Slusser's name and home phone number as the point of contact, Capp said, and they sold the barrel portion of the guns for more than $1,500 online, he said.

About 74 automatic machine guns and 92 laser sights were bought using county letterhead and purchase orders, although the men bought the products using personal funds, Capp said.

An anonymous tipster contacted the U.S. Department of Defense about the improprieties in 2009, and the guns and parts started showing up across the country -- including during an organized crime raid in Montreal and at the home of a Mississippi man who shot himself after a stand-off with police, authorities said.

"When you sell these things on the Internet, you have no idea who is going to end up with them," he said.

Kabella, a 42-year-old patrol officer with a federal firearms license, also was charged with underestimating his 2009 income by about $58,500.

"All I can say at this time is what's reflected in the plea agreement, and that is that Officer Kabella was a minimal participant in this offense," said Kabella's attorney, Paul Stracci. "He has accepted full responsibility for his conduct and has been cooperative throughout this process. Subsequently, the government is recommending a substantial reduction in his offense level."

In federal court, offense levels are used to calculate the sentencing ranges of offenders.

Kumstar's attorney, Matthew Fech, said his client also had accepted responsibility and cooperated with the government. Kumstar, 40, is accused of underestimating his 2009 income by about $30,000.

"Sometimes good people make bad decisions, and that's what happened with Joe," Fech said. "He made some poor decisions, and he will accept responsibility for those decisions."

Slusser's attorney, Michael Back, died last weekend. Attorney Visvaldis Kupsis, who has picked up the case, could not be reached for comment. Slusser has served on the SWAT team and as a firearms instructor, and the 47-year-old also was charged with underestimating his 2006 income by about $298,500.

The investigation has involved the Internal Revenue Service, FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Department of Defense and the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees all laser devices, ranging from medical equipment to devices used for weapons.

Kabella, Kumstar and Slusser each were charged with one count of conspiring to provide false information to a federal firearms licensee, one count of conspiring to defraud an agency of the United States and one count of making false statements under oath on a tax return. Slusser also is charged with one count of laundering or structuring of monetary instruments.

Capp said the investigation is ongoing, and Lake County Sheriff John Buncich and his staff have been helpful with the investigation.

Buncich said a new system for controlling inventory at the Sheriff's Department went into place in February.

"We couldn't account for the actual weapon or the purchase orders," he said of the sales in question. "Nothing jibed there, and right away red flags went up. Now we tag all new equipment twice."

Editor's note: This story was updated from an earlier version.

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