Sheriff’s lawyer tells jurors FBI invented bribery case

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A lawyer for a northwestern Indiana sheriff on trial for federal bribery charges told jurors that the FBI tried to buy a crime where one didn’t exist.

Federal prosecutors opened the trial of Lake County Sheriff John Buncich in Hammond on Monday by saying they would present recordings of him receiving thousands of dollars in cash in envelopes as bribes from tow truck operators seeking towing business.

One of the first witnesses was a former Merrillville police officer and towing company owner who testified FBI agents recruited him to pay bribes to Buncich and record the meetings. Scott Jurgensen testified the FBI paid him more than $130,000 over five years, including bribe money.

Buncich is a Democrat and was elected in 2015 to his fourth term as sheriff of Indiana’s second-most populous county. He and Portage Mayor James Snyder were indicted in November 2016 on public corruption and bribery charges handed down by a grand jury.

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