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Prosecutors ask for 47-month prison term for ex-Portage mayor

Prosecutors ask for 47-month prison term for ex-Portage mayor

From the This week in local crime news: Missing Portage woman shot during robbery; three juveniles, one 15, suspected in killing series

HAMMOND — Federal prosecutors want former Portage Mayor James E. Snyder in prison for 47 months for public corruption.

Assistant U.S. attorneys submitted arguments earlier this week in a court memorandum with their recommendation for Snyder’s sentence, now scheduled to be announced Dec. 17.

They argue justice demands his imprisonment to deter other elected officials from public corruption.

But it remains unclear whether Snyder will be punished at all since his defense teams vigorously contest his guilty verdicts and are demanding that U.S. District Court Judge Joseph S. Van Bokkelen order the former mayor acquitted of all wrongdoing.

The defense claims the government’s case was so lacking in credible evidence jurors could only have based their guilty findings on improper speculation.

Snyder’s legal team also contends prosecutorial misconduct hobbled the former mayor’s effort to cast doubt on the charges against him.

Van Bokkelen has yet to rule on defense motions for acquittal and a new trial.

Snyder served as mayor of Portage from 2011 until his conviction Feb. 14 by a federal jury on felony counts of bribery solicitation and tax evasion following a 19-day trial.

Federal prosecutors said in their memo they presented damning evidence that Snyder accepted a $13,000 bribe in 2014 in return for steering a $1.125 million garbage collection contract to the Buhas Great Lakes Peterbilt firm.

They said Snyder actively sought to award those contracts to Great Lakes Peterbilt, a truck sales firm in Portage, by rigging the specifications for garbage trucks the city was buying to give Great Lakes an unfair advantage.

Prosecutors said Great Lakes gave Snyder $13,000 within weeks of Great Lakes winning the contracts.

The government also presented evidence Snyder obstructed the Internal Revenue Service’s efforts to collect unpaid taxes on his personal income as well as taxes on a private mortgage company he ran.

Snyder’s legal team haven’t responded to the government’s sentencing recommendation, but did make their case to the judge for an acquittal during a post-trial hearing earlier this month.

At that hearing, the judge expressed concern about the propriety of federal prosecutors refusing to grant immunity to potential witnesses Steve and Bob Buha, the former owners of a Portage trucking sale firm, who paid Snyder $13,000.

The Buhas' testimony could have been a pivotal moment in Snyder’s trial earlier this year, but federal prosecutors refused to call the brothers to the stand.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jill R. Koster told the judge the government believed the brothers might give the jury false or conflicting testimony about their motive in giving Snyder $13,000.

And the brothers then refused to testify as defense witnesses on Snyder’s behalf. The brothers' attorney said he advised them to remain silent.

Snyder’s defense team argues the jury should have heard the Buhas deny bribing the mayor.

Defense attorneys argue the $13,000 was legitimate pay Snyder earned as a consultant, advising the brothers on matters of how their business could save money on employee health insurance and information technology.

Snyder didn’t take the witness stand in his own defense.

Jackie M. Bennett Jr., a member of Snyder's team of defense attorneys, made a written request late Thursday asking the court to disregard the government's sentencing memo on grounds it was filed too late for the defense to respond to it under the court's deadlines.

Bennett asked the court to set new deadlines for the parties to file their final arguments on the case. He also renewed his argument to acquit Snyder on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct and that there is insufficient evidence to convict.


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