Portage mayor’s trial to start Monday
Snyder to get his day in court after numerous delays in corruption case
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
“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.
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.
Portage Mayor James Snyder arrives at the federal courthouse in Hammond with his attorneys for a pretrial hearing in September.