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HAMMOND — Portage Mayor James Snyder's actions were more out of naivety than criminal intent, according to his defense team in the latest filing in the public corruption case.

Snyder's attorney Jackie M. Bennett Jr., of Indianapolis, filed a 22-page response to prosecutors' 83-page proffer filing last month that offered excerpts of undercover tapes between Snyder's co-defendant John Cortina and a confidential source.

"Mr. Snyder is innocent and naïve to a fault," Bennett writes, saying while Cortina and the informant spoke about a $12,000 bribe to have the informant's towing company placed on the city's tow list, Snyder always saw the exchange of money as a loan from Cortina.

"So even if Mr. Cortina, at CHS1’s (confidential human source) urging, privately play acted the role of a 79-year-old gangster, yukking it up about 'juice money,' the government’s own proffer proves Mr. Snyder had no idea what they were talking about," writes Bennett.

In two counts of the four-count federal indictment handed down in November 2016, Snyder is accused of accepting the bribe from Cortina and Cortina is accused of paying the bribe. Snyder was also indicted in two additional counts not involving Cortina, including another bribery count and tax evasion involving his personal business.

Bennett also writes that Snyder's brother, Jon Snyder, Porter County assessor, acted as a government informant, in an attempt to discredit James Snyder on his statements that the $12,000 from Cortina was a loan.

"The brother (CHS2) then went to Mr. Cortina, hoping for evidence that might contradict Mr. Snyder’s expressed belief, evidence that he and Mr. Cortina planned to call it a loan simply to cover their tracks. As CHS2 prodded, 'I wonder why then uh, I wonder why, I wonder what my brother’s doing trying to call it a loan. Like I’m wondering like does that make it legal? I don’t know. I’m not sure what his uh strategy is there.' That would have been a real smoking gun, if Mr. Cortina responded by saying that they planned to call it a loan to cover their tracks, but he said nothing of the sort. Instead he responded with an unintelligible non-sequitur," according to the filing.

Jon Snyder was later convicted in federal court on a misdemeanor tax count and is also expected to testify Wednesday during a hearing on a motion to suppress evidence by Snyder's team, among other matters.

Bennett also contends federal prosecutors left out excerpts of tapes which would have favored his client and included information which had no relevance to the case, but made Snyder look bad. He also contends Snyder had no knowledge of the conversations between Cortina and the informant and was oblivious to the conspiracy between Cortina and the informant.

"Absent from the proffer is any evidence that Mr. Snyder engaged in wrongful conduct. There is no evidence he induced, participated in, or knew of the conversations. Also absent is significant exculpatory evidence, which provides context and affirmatively proves Mr. Snyder is innocent and was not involved in any conspiracy," writes Bennett.

Bennett also writes the government sent the informant to Snyder to see if he would take bribes, but he did not. Instead, writes Bennett, Snyder was more concerned about the company helping "proverbial 'little old ladies' out of the ditches free of charge." He also contends it was 18 months later, after Cortina and the informant schemed to get Snyder to take the money, that the informant's company was added to the list.

Bennett also contends Cortina made donations to Snyder's political campaigns and his mayor's roundtable for years without any concern of illegality. He also said Cortina had previously been on the city's tow list with another towing firm and was removed without any change in status of donations.

The filing also denies Cortina provided cash to Snyder, paid for vacations, Christmas presents, fireworks, Chicago Blackhawks tickets and food, calling them "false hearsay allegations."


Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.