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Lake County surveyor will plead guilty to federal charges

Lake County Surveyor George Van Til will plead guilty wire fraud according pleagreement filed Monday U.S. District Court. | Post-Tribune

Lake County Surveyor George Van Til will plead guilty to wire fraud, according to a plea agreement filed Monday in U.S. District Court. | Post-Tribune File Photo

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Updated: January 4, 2014 6:20AM

After vigorously proclaiming his innocence for months, Lake County Surveyor George Van Til is admitting he illegally used county employees and resources to run his re-election campaigns in 2008 and 2012.

“I did knowingly and intentionally request and direct some employees of the Lake County Surveyor’s Office to engage in political campaign work while they were being paid with Lake County governmental funds,” Van Til says in his plea agreement, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in Hammond.

The long-time Lake County politician declared himself the victim of federal bullies after he was charged in May with using his office to run his campaigns, including hiring someone for about a month to do nothing but campaign and personal work. Other employees would sell fundraising tickets while on the county dime.

In a letter sent to the media shortly after he was indicted, Van Til claimed that he would defend himself with the truth and railed against the government’s investigation into him.

“I, like anyone, have made mistakes among many thousands of decisions, large and small, during my four decades in public life, government and politics, but I have not done what the government has accused me of,” he wrote at the time, adding that he was a man of “integrity.”

On Monday afternoon, Van Til declined to comment. He referred a reporter to his attorney, Scott King, who said they decided on the plea agreement because of several factors, including what King called Van Til’s serious health issues.

“I just think on balance this is the best resolution,” King said.

According to the agreement, Van Til will plead guilty to six counts of wire fraud and pay restitution, to be determined by a judge, to Lake County. Van Til faces up to 20 years in prison on the charges.

He is also voluntarily resigning from his office, although all convicted public officials are automatically removed from office by state law. King said Van Til would submit his resignation before the change of plea hearing, which is set for Thursday afternoon.

In return, prosecutors will recommend that he serve the minimum of whatever range the federal sentencing guidelines recommend and will allow him to ask that he serve his sentence somewhere other than jail. King said he would certainly ask that Van Til serve a sentence below the guideline range, noting that he has done good for the community, and would ask that he serve any sentence outside of prison.

However, prosecutors say in the indictment that they will ask that Van Til serve prison time.

The government will also drop two counts connected to obstructing justice. However, Van Til does admit in his plea deal that he did direct an employee on Feb. 27, 2012, to destroy a county hard drive in order to keep evidence on it hidden from federal agents.

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