Sheriff John Buncich guilty on all counts

Former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, from left, and his attorneys Larry Rogers and Bryan Truitt hold a press conference Aug. 24 outside the U.S. District Courthouse in Hammond after the guilty verdict. Buncich didn't speak. On Tuesday, Judge James Moody sentenced him to 188 months in prison.

Bill Dolan, The Times

Wisdom may finally be prevailing in a Region political system often defined by elected leaders standing up for their wayward  — even criminal — colleagues.

But that same wisdom may not have rubbed off on attorneys trying to mitigate a high-profile client's felony prison sentence with at least two letters of support from unsavory sources.

Defense attorneys for former Lake County sheriff, and now convicted felon, John Buncich filed 30 letters of support in Hammond federal court Wednesday, all of which essentially seek leniency when Buncich is sentenced next week for bribery convictions.

In August, I promised to reveal the names and letters of any elected officeholders, public officials or other community leaders who wrote letters to the court seeking leniency for Buncich, who according to court documents could face up to 19-plus years in prison.

I did so because of a repugnant culture in Northwest Indiana in which some politicians have valued friendships with convicted felons over the taxpayer victims of the crimes.

In the August column, I argued it was time for elected officeholders to break the culture of acceptance for corruption by turning their backs on Buncich and others who would commit crimes under the guise of their public offices.

I made the very same call in a column published three years ago today when I pointed out the dozens of politically connected names — including several elected officeholders — who sought court leniency for former Lake County Surveyor George Van Til. Van Til was convicted of essentially stealing from taxpayers and was sentenced to 18 months in prison in February 2015.

It appears would-be apologists for corruption are beginning to get the message.

Out of the 30 letters of support filed Wednesday for Buncich, none appear to be elected officeholders, though the signed name on at least one letter is illegible and another is written by an unnamed "concerned citizen." PDF copies of those letters are attached to this column online an nwi.com/opinion.

Buncich defense attorney Brian Truitt also said he has been told the judge in the case may have received a few letters directly, and probation officers received four or five that he didn't obtain to file in the case.

But it could be a step in the right direction for both wisdom and morality.

However, political patronage — and good, old-fashioned bad judgment by Buncich and his attorneys — thrives in the letters that were filed.

A number of past employees of Buncich, who worked in both the Lake County Jail and sheriff's office, came to the disgraced former sheriff's defense.

Disgraced former warden

One is former Jail Warden Jeffery Kumorek, who asks U.S. District Court Judge James Moody to consider his former boss' "countless hours" in volunteer service to a Lake County anti-drug organization.

Including a character testimonial from Kumorek is shortsighted, considering Kumorek resigned his position as jail administrator in disgrace in 2012.

Buncich put then-warden Kumorek on sick leave on March 7, 2012, amid allegations that Kumorek had responded to a hit-and-run accident scene while intoxicated the day before he was put on leave.

Several jail officers had been jogging near the Lake County Government Center when a vehicle hit them and then kept on going.

Jail officer Britney Meux, 25, was killed.

Kumorek, who didn't return my calls seeking comment Wednesday, allegedly responded to the 2012 accident scene in a county police car that struck a curb as he arrived.

My former Times colleague and columnist, Mark Kiesling, reported that Kumorek allegedly fell when getting out of his squad car and verbally threatened a county chief of detectives when the chief refused to allow Kumorek to enter the scene.

Kumorek resigned later that month.

A testimonial from a warden who resigned in the wake of questionable circumstances isn't exactly a ringing endorsement.

Carol Ann Seaton

Buncich defense attorney Truitt apparently liked a letter of support from Gary resident Carol Ann Seaton enough to file it twice, under two different court exhibit numbers, on behalf of Buncich.

That apparent clerical error aside, Truitt should have thought better of including even one copy of the letter in the court file.

Regular Times readers will remember Seaton as the failed Democratic candidate for Lake County assessor in 2010.

It was noteworthy at the time because she was defeated by a Republican — the first time a GOP candidate had won a countywide office in 50 years.

Though he was a good man, victorious Republican Hank Adams defeated Seaton more because of her scandal-ridden candidacy than because of a change in political winds. Seaton couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.

At the time, Seaton was embroiled in controversy for allegedly dodging Indiana vehicle registration laws and fees by claiming she resided in Michigan while also claiming a Gary address when running for the office. She also has been implicated in the past of being delinquent on property taxes.

So it's hard to see how her letter of "humble words" imploring the judge to "see another facet of a good man" can help Buncich.

Good people

To be fair, some upstanding members of the Region community wrote some of the letters on Buncich's behalf.

Sister Maria Giuseppe, of St. Joseph's Carmelite Home for Girls, noted Buncich "was never less then a gentleman" when providing gifts and kindness to the residents of her East Chicago children's shelter.

I know Giuseppe by her reputation as being an ardent champion for some of the most vulnerable people in our Region.

But just because Buncich put a good foot forward in the eyes of some doesn't absolve him of the crimes of which he has been convicted.

A chief county lawman who accepts bribes in exchange for awarding towing work — the crux of the crime of which Buncich was convicted — brought disgrace on the county and the overall Region police profession.

We can expect Moody to consider that at Buncich's Tuesday sentencing hearing in Hammond federal court.

And we can be thankful, for once, that sitting elected officials don't appear to be among the letter-writing apologists.

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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.