HAMMOND, Ind. (AP)
- The second-in-command at the Lake County Sheriff’s Department pleaded
guilty to wire fraud Friday in a bribery case in which the sheriff and a tow
truck operator also are charged.
Chief of Police
Timothy Downs admitted using his position to solicit campaign donations from
tow truck operators in exchange for giving them towing contracts.
“I did wrong. I
want to clear it up,” Downs told U.S. District Court Judge Rudy Lozano.
Downs, 65, also
resigned Friday from the sheriff’s department, ending a tenure of more than
37 years, according to court documents.
Downs said he
performed political fundraising while on duty and while using his publicly
provided police car on the orders of Sheriff John Buncich.
Bryan Truitt said his client disagrees with the allegations contained in the
plea agreement. “Sheriff Buncich is very proud of his honest public service
and his good works, and is completely innocent,” Truitt said.
Buncich, Downs and
William Szarmach of Chase Street Auto in Lake Station were named in a
multicount indictment last month alleging the sheriff accepted more than
$32,000 in bribes for towing contracts. All three were charged with wire
fraud, while Buncich and Szarmach also were charged with bribery. Buncich
and Szarmach have pleaded not guilty.
Downs said he sold
fundraiser tickets to tow truck operators and would meet with them to make
“The more they
bought, the better they were treated,” Downs said.
Downs said he has
been helping investigators and will cooperate in any future prosecutions in
return for the government’s promise to recommend he receive the minimum
possible prison time under federal sentencing guidelines. Downs also could
face up to 20 years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine for the crime,
said Lozano, who took the plea agreement under advisement.