Buncich was quick to call out the accused

Lake County Sheriff John Buncich speaks to a crowd of supporters as a bus of Democratic Party officials made a stop at the Genesis Convention Center in Gary on Oct. 13, 2016.

The annual crops of irony, black eyes and sprigs of hubris were particularly lovely this year In Lake County.

"This is another black eye on Lake County, Indiana. I mean, how many individuals have we had indicted, convicted and thrown out of office?"


The speaker seemed distraught. Hurt even, by the indignity.

That was Sheriff John Buncich speaking on May 16, six months before he was indicted and accused of scurrilous public scumminess. As he had done before, he was scolding accused fellow elected officials — this time an East Chicago city councilman accused of murder — about the heartache their moral flaws cause honest government.


And now?

If federal prosecutors and a grand jury serving the Northern District of Indiana are right, Buncich has been morally outraged for public consumption regularly for six years while also being a systemic thief himself.

You don't mind a crook being a crook or a sheriff scolding lesser beings. That's the nature of their chosen fields. But if they're both the same person, that's aggravating.

If prosecutors are right and can prove it, Buncich is just another crook indistinguishable from the punks his deputies have arrested over his four elected terms and 45 years as a cop.

Prosecutors suggest he wasn't even clever about the schemes — a rather bourgeoisie car-towing bribery operation with cash stuffed in Buncich's back pocket. Actual cash stuffed in an actual pocket.

That pay-to-play procedure would compensate in nerviness what it lacked in scruples.

Meanwhile, we all must hail the constitutional presumption of innocence and doubt U.S. Attorney David Capp can prove his case.

In the last 16 years, 56 other Lake County Democratic Party officials have faced justice with that presumption in that same back pocket where the cash usually goes. They all joined the club of convicted crooks, though the arrests of Buncich and his top badge-toting sidekick Tim Downs are more shocking.


If a sheriff will sell his soul for $30,000, the law is untrustworthy at any level. On a more human level, if a 70-year-old man nearing the end of his public career would sell out for so little, that speaks to either amazing greed or an indifference to personal risk.

That price might be spending the end of his life in prison.

Of course, he might be innocent.

Buncich is not only the highest ranking constitutionally empowered police officer in the county, he is double clout-worthy as the county's Democratic Party chairman. Even in decades of sleazy fish crackling in the county's legal frying pan, his conviction would mark the biggest catch.

Almost as a BOGO corruption bonus, the feds also indicted Portage Mayor James Snyder on his own towing bribery charges, as well as accusing him of years of financial shell games which the IRS views with stern disapproval.

Only in Northwest Indiana could a pair of alleged vehicle towing bribery schemes be run independently by public officials with no apparent knowledge of the other.


In 2012, Buncich persuaded the Lake County Council to raise to $75 from $20 the fee the county charges each time a deputy called for a towing firm. Buncich said he would use the revenue to support officers' salaries and benefits.

The county collected $220,000 last year and $164,000 this year from 7,000 vehicles towed by a dozen favored vendors.

Bribery schemes usually are unmasked in one of two ways. Sometimes the two overlap.

In the first, the alleged bribe payer is peeved that he's not getting a bigger slice of the benefit. In the second, the alleged bribe beneficiary creates a money trail to himself and forgets that some people watch electronic bread crumb trails.

Both seemed to have happened to Buncich and, to a lesser degree, Snyder, based on the allegations in their indictments.

The next steps are unclear.


Democrats can sever Buncich's party power, but he's not signaled he'll resign as sheriff. Embarrassment, shame and indignity don't motivate everyone in the same way.

But Capp suggests the window is closing for Buncich's as yet-unrevealed alleged partners. "You know who you are, and we know, currently, who some of you are," Capp said ominously. "And we are coming after you. And if any of you want to try to help yourself, time is running short."

If you trust anyone's candor these days, Capp would be the one.

David Rutter was an editor for 40 years at six newspapers.