The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered for resentencing for a former Lake County sheriff convicted last year on bribery and wire fraud charges, vacating some of his counts for insufficient evidence.
Former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich received a 15-year sentence from a federal judge in January 2018 after he was removed from office following bribery and wire fraud convictions. A jury found him guilty after concluding that Buncich accepted tens of thousands of dollars in bribes from towing businesses for campaign fundraising.
The former sheriff appealed his sentence in USA v. John Buncich, 18-1216, arguing that the government failed to introduce sufficient evidence to convict on his five wire fraud counts.
Buncich further argued that the district court erred in admitting a chart showing $58,100 in cash deposits into his jointly held bank account. He lastly appealed the admission of the testimony of an IRS agent in laying a foundation for the chart and testifying that deposits with no explained source were likely from criminal activity.
Three counts of Buncich’s five wire fraud conviction relied on “Federal Reserve payroll funds transfer[s]” dating from May 5, 2014, November 17, 2014 and August 10, 2015. The remaining two counts relied on JP Morgan Chase wire transfers dated April 8, 2014, and October 21, 2014.
The 7th Circuit reversed three of Buncich’s wire fraud convictions, finding that both parties agreed the evidence presented to the trial court failed to establish those wire transfers were the basis of three of the counts. The panel also found the prejudice to the former sheriff outweighed the evidence’s probative value because there was no evidence of criminal activity, and this was a joint account.
However, it found sufficient evidence existed to uphold the latter two wire fraud convictions, noting the JP Morgan Chase wire transfers were made as payment to Buncich in exchange for official acts to expand towing territory for Willie Szarmach of CSA Towing and Scott Jurgensen of Samson Relocation & Towing.
“The jury concluded that the April 2014 check was a quid pro quo bribe for maintaining Jurgensen’s territory. It also concluded that the October 2014 check was given in exchange for expanding the heavy tow boundary for Szarmach. These conclusions were rationally based on the evidence presented, and the guilty verdict is affirmed as to Counts IV and V,” Circuit Judge William Bauer wrote for the panel.
Additionally, the 7th Circuit concluded that the cash payments and the agent’s testimony in the three reversed counts would not have significantly altered the weight given to the rest of the evidence.
“… [N]or would it have changed the mind of the average juror. The other evidence presented was sufficient to support the jury’s guilty verdict,” the panel wrote.
It therefore concluded that the district court’s error in the admission of the Rule 404(b) evidence was harmless, and thus affirmed in part and reversed in part, remanding the case for resentencing.