Portage mayor’s trial to start Mon­day

Sny­der to get his day in court after nu­mer­ous de­lays in cor­rup­tion case

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Craig Lyons Post-Tri­bune

The fed­eral cor­rup­tion trial of Portage Mayor James Sny­der has been de­layed four times, but he will get his day in court be­gin­ning Mon­day.

Sny­der’s trial could last up to four weeks. Pros­e­cu­tors will lay out a case in which they al­lege Sny­der schemed to so­licit bribes from tow op­er­a­tors to get work from the city, and Sny­der took bribes to se­cure a board of works con­tract and to skirt tax laws.

Sny­der has de­nied the

charges.

“Mr. Sny­der never so­licited or ac­cepted any bribes from any­one at any time,” Sny­der’s de­fense team said in a Fri­day state­ment. “Mr. Sny­der and his de­fense team look for­ward to ex­on­er­at­ing Mr. Sny­der dur­ing the trial that be­gins next Mon­day.”

Sny­der was in­dicted in Novem­ber 2016 on charges of vi­o­lat­ing a fed­eral bribery statue. Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors said the mayor al­legedly so­licited money from John Cortina, of Kus­tom Auto Body, and “In­di­vid­ual A” and gave them a tow­ing con­tract for Portage.

Sny­der also was in­dicted for al­legedly ac­cept­ing $13,000 in con­nec­tion with a board of works con­tract and ob­struct­ing in­ter­nal rev­enue laws.

Cortina was in­dicted the same day as Sny­der, but on Fri­day pleaded guilty to pay­ing bribes to se­cure a con­tract with the city.

The charges say Cortina al­legedly gave Sny­der checks for $10,000 and $2,000 to get the spot on the tow­ing list.

“At all times, I knew this $12,000 pay­ment to Sny­der was a bribe given specif­i­cally in ex­change for Sny­der giv­ing me and ‘In­di­vid­ual A’ a part of the Portage tow­ing,” Cortina said in a plea agree­ment filed Thurs­day night.

Sny­der’s de­fense at­tor­neys said Cortina’s guilty plea was “of no con­se­quence.”

Since the in­dict­ments, Sny­der’s at­tor­neys have made re­peated at­tempts to show that fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors erred in re­view­ing emails be­tween the mayor and his at­tor­neys ahead of his in­dict­ment. They ar­gued that the com­mu­ni­ca­tion fell un­der at­tor­ney-client priv­i­lege and ad­vo­cated for the dis­missal of pros­e­cu­tors on the case and of some of the charges.

Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors say Sny­der has not pre­sented any ev­i­dence that shows his emails were used in any im­proper way dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments, and that a judge should not dis­qual­ify the pros­e­cu­tors or dis­miss any charges.

Judge Joseph Van Bokke­len is­sued an or­der in which he said, “The court finds that, as car­ried out in this case, the fil­ter process worked suf­fi­ciently, even if the process it­self has in­her­ent flaws (it has a sem­blance of the fox guard­ing the hen house).”

Van Bokke­len did not see cause to re­move the fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors or dis­miss any of the charges, and later re­buffed a re­quest to re­con­sider his rul­ing.

‘Juice money’

Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors plan to in­tro­duce a se­ries of un­der­cover record­ings made by “In­di­vid­ual A,” who co­op­er­ated with the FBI to gather ev­i­dence of pay-to -play tow­ing in North­west In­di­ana. The record­ings chron­i­cle the tow op­er­a­tor’s process of get­ting on Portage’s tow list, ac­cord­ing to court fil­ings, and doc­u­ment how the con­fi­den­tial source and Cortina each gave Sny­der $6,000 by check for his cam­paign fund and roundtable com­mit­tee.

In 2016, the source recorded con­ver­sa­tions with Cortina where he was re­port­edly told to pay Sny­der to get on the city’s tow­ing list.

Dur­ing one recorded con­ver­sa­tion, Cortina re­port­edly said Sny­der called the money “loans,” but he called it “juice money.”

At an Aug. 9, 2016, meet­ing, the con­fi­den­tial source recorded a con­ver­sa­tion with Cortina where the two dis­cussed the $12,000 pay­ment and get­ting on Portage’s tow list, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

“Uh, I asked the mayor last night if he needs any­thing. He says he doesn’t need any­thing,” Cortina said. “So for­get it. We gave $12,000.”

“Yeah, I know,” the source said.

“We gave $12,000. I’m, I’m gonna (un­in­tel­li­gi­ble),” Cortina said.

“We, and we gave $12,000, and we got noth­ing,” the source said.

“Yeah, I know,” Cortina said.

“Un­til to­day,” the source said.

“Well, till to­day,” Cortina replied.

Jackie Ben­nett Jr., Sny­der’s at­tor­ney, said the record­ings in no way doc­u­ment how the mayor op­er­ated and do not show a con­spir­acy by him to so­licit bribes. Cortina’s com­ments were only blus­ter, he said.

“More than two years after in­dict­ment, the gov­ern­ment can­not pro­duce ev­i­dence show­ing Mr. Sny­der made any quid-pro-quo ar­range­ment with Mr. Cortina,” Ben­nett said in a De­cem­ber fil­ing. “Ab­sent from the prof­fer is any ev­i­dence that Mr. Sny­der knew any­thing about Mr. Cortina’s pri­vate puffery, all of which oc­curred out­side Mr. Sny­der’s pres­ence.”

Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors say a sec­ond prong of the case al­leges that Sny­der ac­cepted a bank check for $13,000 for con­tracts ap­proved by the Portage Board of Works, a con­struc­tion project through the re­de­vel­op­ment com­mis­sion and “other con­sid­er­a­tion.”

Sny­der’ s at­tor­neys sought to bar the “other con­sid­er­a­tion” lan­guage in the charge. They claimed they can­not pre­pare a de­fense for Sny­der be­cause the word­ing is too vague.

Van Bokke­len has asked pros­e­cu­tors to ex­plain the “other con­sid­er­a­tion” or risk hav­ing the lan­guage stricken from the in­dict­ment.

Sny­der also faces al­le­ga­tions that he schemed to avoid pay­ing fed­eral in­come taxes and pay­roll taxes owed by his mort­gage busi­ness, First Fi­nan­cial Trust Mort­gage LLC.

KYLE TELECHAN/POST-TRI­BUNE

KYLE TELECHAN/POST-TRI­BUNE

Portage Mayor James Sny­der ar­rives at the fed­eral court­house in Ham­mond with his at­tor­neys for a pre­trial hear­ing in Septem­ber.

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