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Former Lake County cop will serve two years in jail for gun sales

Lake County Sheriff's officer Ed Kabella. | Provided Photo~Sun-Times Media









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Lake County Sheriff's officer Ed Kabella. | Provided Photo~Sun-Times Media ptmet

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Updated: February 25, 2013 12:44PM



HAMMOND — A former Lake County cop who won accolades for helping keep millions of dollars of drugs off the street will now spend two years in prison after admitting he illegally bought and sold high-tech gun parts.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Van Bokkelen also ordered Edward O. Kabella during his sentencing hearing Wednesday to pay a fine of $6,000 and a restitution to the IRS of $26,115.

Kabella was arrested and pleaded guilty in September 2011 with two other former Lake County Sheriff’s Department officers, Ronald Slusser and Joseph Kumstar, on charges of using their position with the department to buy 74 fully automatic machine guns that only law enforcement and the military can buy. The men then took the guns apart and sold the upper receiver barrel, which is not sold on its own, online. The men did the same with 91 laser sites, using their position with the department to buy and resell the gun parts online.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Benson said the guns are used by all the special operation forces in the U.S. military and are highly desired on the black market. The lasers are top grade as they work at 2,000 meters, or about 1.2 miles, from a target, he said.

“These sights ... are incredibly dangerous,” Benson said.

Police discovered some of the guns during a raid on the West End Gang in Montreal, Canada, and some of the laser sites were found on a Georgia man who got into a shoot-out with police officers and killed himself.

Kabella, of Crown Point, also pleaded guilty to lying on his tax return about the profit he made from the scheme and other money he earned.

His attorney Paul Stracci defended his client, noting that Kabella has served as both a SWAT officer and on Lake County’s Drug Task Force and Highway Interdiction Unit. He won Officer of the Year in 2007 after he helped take part in the bust of $1.2 million worth of methamphetamine, then the county’s largest bust. Kabella also took part in the entry team as part of SWAT and would often be the first one in the door.

“He was the guy that took the most dangerous job first,” Stracci said during the hearing.

Kabella was also a minimal participant in the scheme, buying just four to five guns and three to four laser sights.

Benson credited Kabella for his cooperation in the case and did ask that he be sentenced to two years instead of the 51 months recommended by federal guidelines.

However, Benson also stressed that Kabella violated the public’s trust by selling dangerous weapon parts online to unknown buyers.

“That’s not protecting the community,” Benson said, adding that the government can’t know where most of the weapon parts are now.

The government also needs to stop other police officers from following in Kabella’s steps, Benson said, adding that it would be easy for other cops to commit a similar crime.

Kabella apologized to his family and fellow police officers, saying that he is still devastated by what happened.

“I feel a great responsibility to live up to my promise I made to everybody to be there,” he said as he struggled to speak through tears.

Family members, friends and police officers from several local departments wrote letters in support of Kabella, including his former partner, Detective Michael Stewart.

“There have been situations in which I have had to, literally, trust Ed with my life, and he has never let me down,” Stewart wrote.

Stracci noted during the hearing Wednesday that Kabella acted as a mentor to Levi Evans, the Lake Central High School student who died last summer during a dinner break at band practice.

Evans’ mother, Kathy Evans, sent the court an essay her son wrote in 2011 for school about how Kabella was one of the most important people in his life, describing how the former officer helped him during a troubling year in seventh grade.

“ ... Yeah he was always mad at me for not doing well, but it was OK with me because it showed me that he cared, so I can’t thank him enough as well,” Evans wrote in his paper.

Van Bokkelen noted all the letters of support and Kabella’s past good in the community. However, the judge also expressed concern about Kabella illegally selling gun parts, especially in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting. Selling those gun parts has created “real and needless danger” for the public, Van Bokkelen said.

“Quite simply, the public had a right to expect better of you,” the judge said.

He added that he likely would have sentenced Kabella to a longer sentence if it hadn’t been for the government’s request for two years.

Kabella is to report to prison on March 20. Slusser and Kumstar, who also pleaded guilty in the case in September 2011, do not have a sentencing hearings scheduled.



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