Ex-Portage mayor gets 21 months in prison for seeking bribe

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A former northwestern Indiana mayor who was found guilty of taking a $13,000 bribe from a trucking company and illegal tax evasion was sentenced Wednesday to 21 months in prison.

A federal judge ordered the sentence against former Portage Mayor James Snyder after a jury convicted him in March of seeking the bribe in 2013 in return for steering about $1.1 million in city contracts to the company.

Snyder, a Republican, has maintained his innocence, testifying during his trial that the money was payment for consulting work that he declared on his income tax returns.

Snyder’s defense attorney sought probation or home confinement for him, calling the company’s payment a “gratuity” and arguing that even if Snyder was guilty the offense was “nonviolent and an example of aberrant behavior in an otherwise positive and law-abiding life.”

“A single transaction that involved a modest amount of money that is at worst a gratuity does not rise to the level of seriousness reflected in the scope and nature of (other corruption cases),” defense attorney Andrea Gambino wrote to the judge.

The prison time that Judge Matthew Kennelly ordered, along with one year of supervised release, was less than what is called for under federal sentencing guidelines. Kennelly said Snyder’s offense did appear to be an “aberration” but agreed with prosecutors that prison time was proper to help deter corruption by public officials.

Snyder, 43, won elections as mayor in 2011 and 2015. He was indicted on the bribery charges in 2016 and was removed from office in 2019 when he was first convicted in the case. A judge later threw out that verdict, ruling that aggressive tactics by prosecutors denied Snyder a fair trial.

A former owner of the Great Lakes Peterbilt trucking company testified during Snyder’s retrial that he felt pressured when Snyder showed up at the trucking company’s office asking for money.

Jurors also convicted Snyder of obstructing the Internal Revenue Service from collecting unpaid taxes owed by a private mortgage company he ran.

Federal prosecutors had recommended about four years in prison for Snyder. The judge gave Snyder until Jan. 5 to surrender for the start of his prison term.

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