Van Til enters guilty plea; resigns office
By Teresa Auch Schultz firstname.lastname@example.org December 5, 2013 3:53PM
Updated: January 7, 2014 6:36AM
Speaking in a hesitant but clear voice, former Lake County Surveyor George Van Til pleaded guilty Thursday to using his office and staff to help run his last two re-election campaigns.
“Guilty, your honor,” said Van Til when U.S. District Court Judge James Moody asked him how he pleaded to six counts of wire fraud. The former elected official’s resignation became effective Thursday.
Van Til spoke little at the change of plea hearing at the U.S. District Court in Hammond, just answering Moody’s questions, including whether he understood the terms of the plea agreement.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Benson laid out the government’s case against Van Til, including that he paid three employees, identified only as Person A, B and C, to do political work while on the clock, including planning fundraisers and selling fundraiser tickets. He also had one employee pick up clothing for him in December 2011 that he planned on wearing that evening for a fundraiser.
Benson said Van Til knew that these employees would be paid by the county for working full shifts, even though they spent some of their time doing campaign work, and knew they would be paid through wire transfers.
Van Til declined to comment Thursday but apologized for his actions in a statement released Tuesday
“Throughout four decades I’ve seen many abuses of political campaigning by public employees and, while it was always my goal and desire not to cross that line, towards the end I definitely did, and I think that much of this came from staying too long and taking things for granted,” he said in the statement.
Van Til faces up to 20 years in prison on the counts and has agreed as part of his plea deal to pay restitution to Lake County, although the amount has not been determined yet. Although federal attorneys are dropping two obstructing justice counts against him, Van Til did admit in the agreement that he had a county employee destroy a county hard drive in February 2012 and buy a new one on Van Til’s credit card in order to hide evidence of his crimes from any investigator.
A sentencing date has not been set yet. Van Til remains free on bond.