HAMMOND — A former high-ranking Lake County police official who has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI wants a judge to release him on probation.
Daniel Murchek, once the third-ranking officer in the Lake County Sheriff's Department, argues in a new court filing his crime of falsifying campaign donations should be balanced against decades of hard work as a police officer and union official.
Murchek admitted in May to U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge John E. Martin he accepted a $500 check to fund his former campaign for Lake County sheriff knowing the money came from someone other than the person whose name was on the check.
Murchek said when FBI agents questioned him about that contribution, he falsely denied it was illegal.
His admission was part of a plea agreement Murchek made to avoid a trial on the charge and win the U.S. attorney's recommendation that Murchek receive the minimum sentence under federal guidelines and a fine of only $3,500.
No sentencing date has been scheduled yet.
Paul Stracci, Murchek's defense lawyer, argues in a sentencing memorandum Murchek's lie "was the low point in a life otherwise filled with honor. It was a moment in time during which he was trying to be the politician he wasn't, instead of the police officer he was.
"Mr. Murchek does not deny he had neither the savvy nor the finesse to muddy his way through Lake County politics," Stracci said. Murchek would likely have been able to remain a policeman even if convicted in state court of a campaign violation if only he hadn't denied the violation to federal agents, he added.
"He is now a convicted felon, will never again serve his community as a law enforcement officer, and, although not required to do so, he has resigned from the leadership roles he held in many labor and community service organizations so as not to further tarnish their missions," Stracci said.
Murchek had been president of the Northern Indiana Area Labor Federation and the Lake County Police Association Local 72.
Murchek served variety of posts in law enforcement
Stracci said Murchek began as a security guard for a local hospital, he became a reserve officer and later a full-time officer for the Hebron Police Department, where he did undercover work for the Porter County Drug Task Force.
He served with Dyer police before moving to the sheriff's department.
Stracci said Murchek saved the life of a suicidal neighbor, rescued a child from a burning building, arrested a wanted rapist and later a car thief lurking about a Calumet City apartment complex.
He received numerous commendations for his police work, became president of the department's police union to help raise the salaries of officers who have been among the lowest paid in the county.
Murchek rose to third-in-command as deputy chief of the Lake County Sheriff's Department between 2011 and last fall under former Sheriff John Buncich, who is now serving a 188-month prison term, currently at a federal secure medical facility in Springfield, Missouri, for bribery.
Stracci said Murchek had no involvement in Bunich's shakedown of towing firms working for the sheriff's department, but a federal grand jury indicted Murchek earlier this year on allegations he solicited campaign financial support for a run for sheriff in fall 2015 from Willie Szarmach, owner of CSA Towing in Lake Station, and Scott Jurgensen, owner of Samson’s Towing in Merrillville, who were involved in the Buncich investigation.
Murchek told the towing owners how they could disguise campaign contributions to him by making them the names of other people to avoid the maximum limit for business corporations.
On Sept. 23, 2016, Jurgensen gave Murchek a $1,000 contribution in the name of the towing business and a $500 check illegally structured to look like a separate contribution from one of his towing employees, although Jurgensen told Murchek he was the source of the money for both checks.
FBI agents later questioned Murchek about whether he received a structured contribution from Jurgensen. Murchek said he didn't, but now admits his denial was a lie.
The sentencing memorandum includes a number of letters in support of leniency for Murchek, including one from state Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, who she has known since she was a Hammond police officer.