- Associated Press - Friday, July 28, 2017

HAMMOND, Ind. (AP) - A second person indicted in an alleged bribery scheme will plead guilty and testify for federal prosecutors against a northwestern Indiana sheriff, who also was indicted, according to court documents filed Friday.

Tow truck operator William Szarmach of C.S.A. Towing in Lake Station says in a plea agreement filed in federal court that he bought tickets to Lake County Sheriff John Buncich’s fundraising events and made additional cash payments to Buncich between 2009 and 2016 to maintain and increase his business of towing vehicles for county police.

The agreement with Szarmach is similar to one made in December with former chief of police Timothy Downs, who pleaded guilty to collecting Buncich’s campaign contributions on public time. Downs agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in return for a lenient sentence. He resigned from the sheriff’s office.

Szarmach’s towing company was one of several that the sheriff approved to tow vehicles from public streets and highways for county police before the Lake County Board of Commissioners took over approval of towing contract approvals.

Szarmach agreed to plead guilty to federal wire fraud and bribery charges and failing to file a federal income tax return for 2015. The agreement states Szarmach can get a reduced sentence if he cooperates fully with the government.

“To become involved, to increase, or to retain my Lake County towing, beginning in 2009 and continuing through 2016, I regularly purchased tickets to Sheriff John Buncich’s fundraising events by cash and check,” Szarmach says in the plea agreement. ” These purchases were sometimes directly with the sheriff himself, and other times, through other individuals employed by the Lake County sheriff’s office, including the chief of police and co-defendant, Timothy Downs,” the plea agreement states.

Buncich’s lawyer, Bryan Truitt, said in an email to The Associated Press that the sheriff did not commit bribery.

“The Sheriff never encouraged or promised anything in exchange for his support,” Truitt said of Szarmach. “The Sheriff appreciated his, and many others, support. But there were never any strings attached. Nothing was ever demanded of nor promised by the Sheriff.”

Buncich is scheduled to stand trial beginning Aug. 7.

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