Prison still awaits two former Lake cops in gun scandal

2014-03-18T00:00:00Z 2014-03-18T13:32:05Z Prison still awaits two former Lake cops in gun scandalBy Bill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
March 18, 2014 12:00 am  • 

HAMMOND | Two former Lake County police officers have long been disgraced, but not yet imprisoned for illicit firearms sales.

Joseph R. Kumstar and Ronald D. Slusser remain in limbo, convicted, but unable to begin sentences. They await the trial of a Pennsylvania gun dealer federal authorities are trying to link to their conspiracy to skirt federal restrictions against putting machine gun parts on the open market.

They must testify as government witnesses against Vahan Kelerchian, owner of Armament Services International of suburban Philadelphia, who is pleading not guilty in U.S. District Court.

The gun case rocked the Sheriff's Department in May 2011. Sheriff John Buncich, who had just taken office, first announced he was suspending six officers under suspicion.

A grand jury indicted Officers Edward O. Kabella, Kumstar and Slusser. All three pleaded guilty. Kabella is serving a 24-month sentence at Yankton Federal Prison Camp in South Dakota.

Federal authorities never accused the other three, former county police Capt. Marco Kuyachich, Lt. Michael Reilly and Officer Scott Shelhart, of any wrongdoing. Reilly and Shelhart have returned to the police force.

Kuyachich retired in February 2013 after two years of paid leave and a combined vacation/termination bonus check of more than $27,500, according to county records.

The federal government's case against Kelerchian revolves around Kumstar and Slusser using their positions as veteran county police officers between 2008 and 2010 to acquire 71 machine guns and 74 laser sights restricted for use only by military and law enforcement.

They used Lake County Sheriff's Department letterhead and unauthorized county government order forms to convince gun suppliers they were acquiring the parts for police use only.

They resold the parts and accessories online for thousands of dollars. Some items were later found during an organized crime raid in Montreal.

The government alleges Kelerchian gave the two officers thousands of dollars to buy firearms and shared in the profits.

U.S. District Court Judge James T. Moody sentenced Kumstar to 57 months and Slusser to 70 months last June and ordered them to surrender to prison officials last September.

However, the U.S. attorney's office later convinced the judge to delay so the two men will be more readily available as witnesses at Kelerchian's trial, set to begin April 28 and run as long as two weeks. The two remain free on bond until then.

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