DOUG ROSS: What sentence would fit Van Til's crimes?

2013-12-06T00:00:00Z DOUG ROSS: What sentence would fit Van Til's crimes?By Doug Ross, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357

Watching the reactions to former Lake County Surveyor George Van Til's guilty plea has been interesting. The comments I've read and heard say a lot about people's outlook on life, not just their political views.

Van Til admitted using county employees and resources to campaign for office. He submitted his resignation as part of his plea bargain.

In a statement Van Til sent to The Times, he noted the good he accomplished as well as admitting he did wrong.

Van Til was surveyor for 20 years, nearly half of his 42-year political career. In that time, of course he accomplished some good things.

On the day that news broke that Van Til would plead guilty, he received a letter from a state official commending the surveyor's office for its implementation of a robust GIS system. 

Some observers have a harsh view of politicians — in this case Van Til — and see only black and white.

I see Van Til in shades of gray, noticing his accomplishments as well as his crimes.

Make no mistake. What Van Til did was wrong, and he should be punished for it.

I've known Van Til for years, and I see a beaten man. Removing him from office, head hanging in shame, is real punishment for him.

Van Til could have to pay up to $20,000 in restitution. That's not much. The real question is how much time Van Til will serve behind bars. That will be determined when he is sentenced.

How long should that sentence be? It depends on your political persuasion, to some extent, but even more so on how you balance justice, mercy and practicality.

Many Republicans want vengeance — not just for what Van Til did, but for the Democratic Party's grip on Lake County. But Van Til, not the party, is on trial here. In this country, people are prosecuted for their actions, not their politics.

From a practical standpoint, Van Til would be an expensive prisoner to house. His health isn't good, and the government pays for health care for prisoners.

The people who want Van Til sentenced to a lengthy prison term might not be thinking of the financial ramifications.

However, letting Van Til off with just the restitution, the forced resignation and a suspended sentence would not be enough. Other elected officials need to see this crime has serious consequences. Van Til needs to serve time.

The question should be how much, not whether.

Keeping in mind this is a federal crime, look at what the Indiana General Assembly accomplished with sentencing reform. The state's criminal code was overhauled to make sure each punishment fits the crime.

What Van Til did was basically theft. He stole county resources, by appropriating them for his use. He should be punished accordingly.

But he also stole a portion of what little trust remains of Lake County government. To me, that's his worst crime, and the entire county will be punished for that.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Follow him at and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

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