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John Buncich arrives for sentencing

Former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, right, and attorney Bryan Truitt earlier this month approach the U.S. courthouse and federal building before sentencing.

HAMMOND — Former Sheriff John Buncich is appealing his conviction for public corruption.

Buncich, who is incarcerated at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago, is challenging the result of last year's trial where a U.S. District Court jury found the former top cop guilty of bribery.

U.S. District Court Judge James Moody on Jan. 16 ordered Buncich to immediately begin serving a 188-month prison term.

Highland attorney Kerry C. Connor filed notices this weekend in U.S. District Court that she is entering the case to file an appeal on Buncich's behalf. Valparaiso lawyer Bryan Truitt, Buncich's trial lawyer, said he will be working with Connor.

"We believe there are excellent issues on appeal. We fully expect success on appeal. We remain committed to John’s actual innocence," Truitt said.

A federal grand jury indicted Buncich, Timothy Downs, Buncich's second-in-command, with soliciting and receiving bribes, and William Szarmach, a Lake Station towing firm owner and longtime Buncich friend, with paying bribes.

Downs and Szarmach pleaded guilty to their charges. Buncich denied all wrongdoing and went to trial over 14 days in August.

Government prosecutors presented evidence that Szarmach and undercover government informant Scott Jurgensen, owner of Samson's Towing of Merrillville, paid the sheriff tens of thousands of dollars between 2014 and 2016 for the choicest towing districts, and that Buncich delivered.

The government equipped Jurgensen with audio and video equipment that recorded payments for jurors to see.

Buncich, who was elected sheriff in 1994, 1998, 2010 and 2014, and named chairman of the Lake County Democratic Party in 2014, said the money was all legitimate campaign contributions with no strings attached.

Federal prosecutors said Buncich's sale of campaign fundraising tickets to the more than 10 towing firms doing business with the county was a cover for Buncich's personal enrichment.

Truitt argued earlier that Moody shouldn't have let government prosecutors tell jurors about large amounts of money entering Buncich's personal bank account during the two-year period.

The defense argued the deposits weren't evidence of wrongdoing because they don't match the amounts or timing of payments Szarmach and Jurgensen made to Buncich.

Jurors returned a guilty verdict Aug. 24, forcing Buncich from office. One of his political opponents, Oscar Martinez Jr., was named by a Democratic party caucus to occupy Buncich's old office.


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.