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John Buncich arrives for sentencing

Former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, right, and attorney Bryan Truitt approach the U.S. courthouse and federal building on Tuesday before Buncich's sentencing.

A federal appeals court will hear arguments next month on whether to overturn the fraud and bribery convictions of former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals announced Monday it is scheduling a 9:30 a.m. hearing March 26 at its courtroom, 219 S. Dearborn St. in Chicago on Buncich's appeal and giving his attorney and the government 15 minutes each to make their argument.

A U.S. District Court jury in Hammond convicted Buncich Aug. 24, 2017, of six felony counts of wire fraud and bribery. He is serving a 188-month prison term at a federal medical center for the Bureau of Prisons in Springfield, Missouri.

A government lawyer conceded in earlier written arguments the appeals court judges should vacate Buncich's conviction on three of the wire fraud counts, but argues the court should uphold the remaining convictions.

Kerry C. Connor, Buncich's attorney, has petitioned the appeals court to reverse all counts. She argues Buncich accepted legitimate campaign contributions from towing firms. She said the government's case improperly relied on evidence that raised suspicions but no proof of wrongdoing.

She argued earlier in a court petition, "...That the jury did convict the defendant of three counts for which even the government concedes there is no evidence, demonstrates a level of severe prejudicial infirmity."

Buncich, 73, was convicted after a 14-day trial where jurors saw video and audio recordings of meetings with a towing firm operator who had become an undercover FBI informant and a second towing firm operator who was charged with Buncich, pleaded guilty and became a government witness. They saw Buncich accept cash and discuss the towing firms assignments, which Buncich controlled.

The government concedes Buncich should be re-sentenced due to insufficient evidence presented at trial on three wire fraud counts.

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Lake County Reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.