Former Portage Mayor James Snyder’s attempt to have his federal convictions thrown out for a $13,000 bribe over a garbage truck contract and hiding income from the IRS with his mortgage loans ended as an appeals court ruled on Thursday that the convictions would stand.
“Snyder appealed, challenging his convictions on several grounds. We assert,” begins the 42-page filing with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.
Snyder did not return a request for comment. He had been sentenced to 21 months in federal prison and a year of probation, but was allowed to remain free as his appeal ended.
It’s not immediately clear from the court docket online when Snyder might report to federal prison or what other avenues he might have in the future.
Snyder was indicted on two counts of bribery and one related to the IRS in November 2016. While another federal indictment was also filed in U.S. District Court in Hammond that day- there involving another elected official, former Lake County sheriff John Buncich, Snyder’s case dragged on long after Buncich’s case came to an end.
A jury found Buncich guilty of bribery and wire fraud, among other charges, for soliciting bribes from county tow operators. Buncich, now 77, has an expected release date of Oct. 5, 2027, according to Federal Bureau of Prisons online records. He is housed in a secure federal medical facility in Springfield, Missouri.
Originally sentenced to 15 years and 8 months in prison, a judge reduced that sentence to 37 months after an appeal by Buncich resulted in some of his convictions being overturned.
The appeals court’s decision in Snyder’s case provides a point-by-point rebuttal of Snyder’s attempt to have both of his convictions overturned. A jury in Snyder’s first trial found him not guilty on a second bribery charge involving tow truck contracts.
A second jury reaffirmed his conviction on the bribery charge from the first trial.
In the bribery case, Snyder argued that his right to a speedy trial was violated; that the bribe he received for a garbage truck contract was actually payment for services he provided to Great Lakes Peterbilt, the company that sold the garbage trucks to the city ; and that there was insufficient evidence for a conviction.
“Given the irregularities in the bidding process, Snyder’s contemporary contacts with the Buhas (unique among bidders), the timing of the $13,000 payment, the questionable explanations provided for the payment, and the absence of corroborating evidence for Snyder’s claim that he was paid for the consultancy, a reasonable jury might conclude that Snyder accepted the check as a bribe or gratuity for directing the contracts to GLPB” , noted the appeal judges.
With respect to the IRS case, based on the government’s argument that Snyder deliberately hid assets and income from the IRS after he failed to pay his personal and salary taxes in a timely manner in creating a second business to channel the income without declaring it, the appeals court ruled that “sufficient evidence supported the jury’s verdict”.
Snyder had argued that the statute of limitations had been passed on the IRS charges and there was not enough evidence for a jury to convict him.
Snyder has an pending federal lawsuit against current Portage Mayor Sue Lynch and city attorney Dan Whitten, alleging they coached Randy Reeder, a witness in the bribery case, not to meet with Snyder or his legal team.
Post-Tribune archives contributed.