It's grown as commonplace as the smut billboards on Interstate 80/94, and it's even more distasteful to our Region.

Only this billboard roves Northwest Indiana on four wheels, frequently advertising shame outside of local government offices.

These thoughts came to mind Thursday as I stood about 20 yards away from a large, white evidence truck colorfully emblazoned with the words "Federal Bureau of Investigation Indiana,” outside the Lake County Sheriff’s Department.

The size of the truck and lettering really do combine in a sensational billboard whenever the FBI raids Region government offices.

The truck has become a common, unfortunate sight in these parts.

This time, federal agents served search warrants Thursday at the Lake County sheriff's office, county voter registration and Lake County E-911 offices.

Sources inside the Lake County Government Center in Crown Point tell us the warrants pertain, in part, to irregularities surrounding business dealings between the sheriff and towing companies.

The investigation appears to be in its early stages, and we've seen no criminal charges or indictments relating to the case yet.

But we also know that the site of the big white FBI truck, more times than not, leads to such charges of public officials in our Region.

In recent years, we've seen it parked outside the Calumet Township Trustee's office and Lake Station City Hall.

Former Trustee Mary Elgin now faces a criminal trial on felony charges she intimidated employees into giving campaign donations. In an unrelated case, former Lake Station Mayor Keith Soderquist and his wife were convicted in Hammond federal court of stealing from a city food pantry and Soderquist's campaign fund to finance gambling excursions.

Public corruption — and in turn, the big white truck — have become so commonplace in Northwest Indiana that folks in the community regularly question, "What's new about that?" when we detail the cases in our newspaper.

Some ask the question in jest, others in all seriousness.

Seeing the truck isn't all negative. It means the FBI and our Hammond-based U.S. attorney continue to hold the feet of Region political corruption to the fires of justice.

But we must be mindful not to blindly accept the types of political culture that leads to the big white truck visiting our centers of government.

Many of us travel Interstate 80/94 every day, passing the lewd billboards advertising "gentlemen" clubs that aren't really there to attract gentlemen.

It becomes something we grow familiar with — something many of us don't even notice.

Outsiders and newcomers notice it, though. It likely hatches a combination of jokes and public image that doesn't match all the positive things happening in our Region — things like great schools, trails and family activities.

In many ways, Region public corruption represents a similar shroud obscuring our Region’s bright spots.

We all should be tired of the observations of people within and outside of our borders who believe corruption and Northwest Indiana are synonymous.

We can't be numb to it, and we can't allow it to overshadow our Region's good works.

Certainly the FBI could use its roving billboard truck for something other than advertising Region shame. Residents voting at the polls, shouting displeasure and demanding answers at public meetings, rather than accepting Region corruption as inevitable, would be a good start.

Editorial Page Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marc.chase.9 or Twitter @nwi_MarcChase. The opinions are the writer's.

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Local News Editor

Marc is a veteran investigative reporter and editor of more than 15 years, including 10 years at The Times, where he is the investigative editor. He is also the founder of the Calumet Region Civil War Preservation Project.