Former Lake County Sheriff/Democratic Party Chair John Buncich gets 188 months in federal prison
“[the people] desperately need to have elected and appointed officials who are honest . . which you are not. You were a crooked sheriff.” US District Court Judge James Moody
January 16, 2018-After a contentious 5 and a half hour sentencing hearing, Judge Moody of the US District Court sentenced former Lake County Sheriff and Democratic Party Chair John Buncich to 188 months in prison. The 15 year, 8 month sentence likely means the 72 year old Buncich will spend the rest of his life in federal prison. Under the terms of federal sentences, inmates are required to serve 85% of their time meaning Buncich could be eligible for release when he is 85 years old.
Judge Moody had some harsh words for the former Sheriff and party boss, saying his power was “staggering” and that the damage done by his abuse of power was also staggering. Assistant United States Attorney Phil Benson used Buncich’s own words to demonstrate the harm done by a pattern of corruption spanning years. In a WJOB interview, Buncich talked about how young people graduate college and do not want to come back to their home towns due to the culture of corruption that has permeated the region for decades. Asst. US Attorney Benson played that tape and Judge Moody seemed to reference it over and over while announcing the sentence. “When you abused your powers, the harm you caused was staggering. It is people like you who perpetuate the misconception that all elected officials in Lake County are corrupt.” While Judge Moody made clear that not all elected and appointed officials in Lake County are corrupt, he referenced the “blind political culture that existed in Lake County” and the “arrogance and greed” that existed in this Defendant. “The sentence needs to serve as a deterrent to elected and appointed public officials in Lake County” the Judge stated just before announcing the 188 month sentence.
Assistant US Attorney Benson made some shocking revelations today including that the Lake County computer database was abused to research not only a witness in the case but also Benson himself. The testimony came when FBI Agent Nathan Holbrook was on the stand. Benson asked about access to the system by Buncich significant other Deborah Back. Agent Holbrook testified that Ms. Back researched the names Scott Jurgensen and Phillip Benson.n At one point Chief Matt Eaton shut down three databases to keep the Sheriff himself from accessing information regarding witnesses. Law enforcement officers were denied access to critical information because of Buncich’s attempt at obstruction of justice Benson argued.
There was also evidence indicating that the gang unit was ordered to abandon a racketeering case being prepared against a gang in order to move to the night shift and tow more cars. This occurred in 2013 and 2014, when Gary was experiencing a rash of homicides. “We are the f______ing tow police” one gang unit officer was quoted as saying.
For his part, Defense Attorney Brian Truitt attempted to paint a picture of a Sheriff who cleaned up issues at the jail including a federal mandate which resulted from a lawsuit. Truitt pointed out the the restitution amount in the case was only $800 and that Buncich’s age should be taken into account. Buncich made a statement saying that he has done good things in his life and tried to be a productive citizen for 72 years.
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