HAMMOND – After nearly five years, two convictions and changes in his legal team, James Snyder, former mayor of Portage, was sentenced to nearly 2 years in prison and one year supervised release for his crimes Wednesday, Oct. 13, in Hammond’s federal court.
Former Portage mayor was sentenced to 21 months in prison for soliciting bribes and obstruction. He will have to surrender into custody on Jan. 5. He was convicted in February 2019 of using a shell company to hide income assets from the IRS while owing back personal and business taxes but never sentenced.
Snyder, 43, was indicted in November 2016, on the same day former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich was indicted for accepting bribes in a towing scheme. Since then, Snyder’s case docket has 559 filings. Buncich, 75, has been in prison in Springfield, Missouri, since early 2018, serving a 15-year sentence.
In February 2019, a jury convicted Snyder, 43, of taking a $13,000 bribe in exchange for contracts to sell five garbage trucks to the city and using a shell company to hide income assets from the IRS while owing back personal and business taxes. The jury acquitted Snyder on a third count that alleged he took a $12,000 bribe to get a company on Portage’s tow list.
On Nov. 27, 2019, Judge Joseph Van Bokkelen granted a new trial on the soliciting bribes charge. The retrial was heard by Judge Matthew F. Kennelly, from the Northern District of Illinois, who is the third judge to review the case.
In March, after a two-week retrial, a federal court jury found Snyder guilty of soliciting bribes. Snyder’s sentencing was moved to Wednesday in August after Snyder hired Gambino — who represented ex-Calumet Township employee Ethel Shelton — to replace Jackie M. Bennett Jr., Vivek R. Hadley and Jayna M. Cacioppo, of Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP.
Snyder faced the judge, and occasionally turning to the audience in the courtroom, thanked his family, friends, church members, staff and lawyers for their support. Wednesday was garbage day in his neighborhood, Snyder said, and he realized that every time he sees a garbage truck he “won’t be able to forget about this.”
“Your honor, I should’ve been better. I had not only an obligation to be better to my family but to my constituents,” Snyder said. “Everyone knows the deep remorse I feel.”
Prosecutors stated that Snyder should be sentenced “within the applicable guideline range,” which is 46 to 57 months. Andrea Gambino, Snyder’s new attorney, requested probation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu said bribery undermines the public’s trust in government, and “normalizes the idea that leaders can circumvent the law.” A prison sentence provides a “counter-message” to those who “break the law and think they can get away with it.”
Throughout the investigation, Bhachu said, Snyder lied to law enforcement, coordinated statements with other witnesses and “effectively tried to limit the truth-finding process.”
“This is a defendant who had many opportunities in life,” Bhachu said. “But he was a defendant who had those opportunities, had that job, and he knew better.”
This article is made available through Hoosier State Press Association.