HAMMOND | The three Lake County sheriff's officers who were indicted Thursday on federal corruption charges entered not guilty pleas Friday and walked out of the federal courthouse after signing a $20,000 appearance bond.
Dressed in suits and ties, Edward L. Kabella, 42, Joseph R. Kumstar, 40, and Ronald D. Slusser, 47, were processed and fingerprinted in the morning. The Crown Point men are accused of using federal firearms licenses and Lake County Sheriff's Department documents to buy guns and laser sights intended for law enforcement use only - and then selling them online for thousands of dollars. They also underestimated their incomes by about $390,000 combined on their tax returns.
The three pleaded not guilty to all six counts of the indictments as a formality. Earlier this week they entered into plea agreements with the government, and change of plea hearings are scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday for Slusser, 1:30 p.m. for Kumstar and 2 p.m. for Kabella in Senior Judge James Moody's courtroom.
At Friday's hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Benson said the men face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and $250,000 in fines for conspiring to provide false information to federally licensed firearms dealers about the intended use of the more than 70 automatic machine guns they purchased in the scheme.
The veteran officers face the same maximum sentence for conspiring to defraud the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates lasers like the 94 gun sights the officers are accused of buying for resale. And for the charge of making false statement on their tax returns, they could face up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine, Benson said.
Slusser also faces a charge of laundering/structuring of monetary instruments for allegedly depositing money orders at a variety of banks, so as not to trigger the $10,000-limit at which cash transactions must be reported to the government. He could receive a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.
Magistrate Judge Paul Cherry told the trio they would have to pay the $20,000 appearance bond should they not appear for their court dates. He ordered them to surrender their passports and not be in possession of any weapons. Normally, he said, defendants are put on some type of formal supervision, but that would not be a requirement in this case.
Following the 9:30 a.m. hearing, Kumstar's attorney, Matthew Fech, said, "We're just moving forward."
Paul Stracci, who is representing Kabella, said they had nothing to add to what was stated in the plea agreement.
Slusser's attorney, Visvaldis Kupsis, declined to comment Friday but said they would make a statement later.
According to court records, all three cooperated significantly prior to the indictment, which allowed for the simultaneous filings of the charges and plea agreements. As part of the deal, the officers committed to continuing their cooperation in the ongoing investigation, paying restitution to the IRS and forfeiting guns and other items related to the crimes.
In exchange, the government agreed to ask for reductions in their offense levels, which are used for calculating sentencing guideline ranges.