MARK KIESLING: Indictments deliver one-two punch to local Dems

2011-09-23T00:00:00Z 2011-09-23T12:25:13Z MARK KIESLING: Indictments deliver one-two punch to local Dems nwitimes.com
September 23, 2011 12:00 am

With a pair of indictments handed out Thursday by the U.S attorney in Hammond, the federal government has dealt what could be a devastating one-two punch to the Democratic power structure in Lake County.

County Coroner and former county Clerk Tom Philpot was indicted on charges of mail fraud, theft and misappropriation of funds.

In an unrelated indictment, three officers of the Lake County Sheriff's Department were indicted on charges related to the illegal sale of weapons that were supposed to go to the department but instead allegedly were peddled to private parties.

Philpot at one time was considered the party's Next Big Thing: I remember being introduced to him years ago by County Commissioner Fran DuPey, who described him in glowing terms but who later was to become a bitter enemy.

One of the indicted cops, Joe Kumstar, was the deputy chief of police under former Sheriff Roy Dominguez, who at one time had serious aspirations of becoming Indiana's governor because Mitch Daniels is leaving due to term limits.

There was also talk of both Philpot and Dominguez becoming chairman of the Lake County Democratic Party, which can, if played right, bring fame -- not to mention fortune -- and serious political clout.

It did so for former East Chicago Mayor and former party boss Bob Pastrick, who parlayed his chairmanship into a seat on the central committee of the Democratic National Committee and whose son Scott became an influential Washington lobbyist.

Dominguez himself, of course, has not been indicted. But there are still three unindicted cops under investigation who should be resting pretty uneasy tonight for a couple of reasons.

One: All three cops indicted Thursday have agreed to plead guilty, generally a sign of some sort of cooperation with the government. Two: All had their names released in conjunction with the investigation, including Marco Kuyachich, Dominguez's chief of police and his hand-picked successor.

According to U.S. Attorney Dave Capp, the investigation has been under way since 2009, which should put to rest some of the speculation this is mere spite by the eventual victor in the sheriff's race, John Buncich, against his old nemesis and fellow Democrat Dominguez.

Buncich has been cooperating with the feds, to be sure. But what else is the county's top cop supposed to do? Stonewall the federal government on behalf of a political enemy?

It also says something positive about the Democratic administration both in Washington and locally, where the nominally Democratic but generally apolitical Capp did not hesitate to indict those affiliated with the ruling party when corruption was discovered.

Is it the dawn of a new day? Too early to tell. But it looks like the sun is rising.

The opinions are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at mark.kiesling@nwi.com or (219) 933-4170.

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