Lake Surveyor Van Til, Crown Point businessman indicted
By Teresa Auch Schultz firstname.lastname@example.org May 17, 2013 2:25PM
Updated: June 19, 2013 6:11AM
Lake County Surveyor George Van Til’s efforts to run his political campaign on the public dime went so far that he hired an employee in his office to do nothing but work on his re-election and personal errands, U.S. Attorney David Capp charged Friday afternoon.
Van Til, 65, of Merrillville, faces six counts of wire fraud and two counts of obstruction of justice in an indictment filed in the U.S. District Court in Hammond.
The case was one of three related to public dollars that Capp announced Friday.
Scott King, attorney for Van Til, defended his client, who he noted has had a “long and distinguished career” in Lake County. Van Til has served as county surveyor for 20 years.
News that federal officials were investigating Van Til broke on June 5, and other public officials said in August they had been called to testify before a federal grand jury.
Earlier this week, federal investigators executed a subpoena seeking payroll records for the past 10 years for Van Til’s office.
“(During the investigation,) we’ve maintained he’s not committing any offense, and we maintain that now,” King said Friday.
The indictment claims that starting in November 2007, Van Til started using his county office space and the county computer system to help run his campaign. He also directed employees of the surveyor’s office to work on his campaign during their work hours, including telling them to prepare financial reports, plan fundraising events, solicit people to buy tickets to fundraisers and even work on campaigns for other people.
In November 2011, Van Til hired an employee, identified only as Person A, to the surveyor’s office to do nothing but work on his campaign and run personal errands for him, such as picking up a tuxedo for a fundraising event. Person A worked for the office for just one month, and Capp said the person was paid a normal county salary.
Van Til then tried to cover his tracks in February 2012, Capp said, by instructing another employee, identified only as Person B, to remove a hard drive from a county employee and to replace it with a new one. Van Til gave the employee $100 in cash to buy another hard drive from a local retail store, and after the employee replaced the hard drive, he gave the old one to Van Til.
Van Til told the employee he was concerned the FBI might take the hard drive, according to the indictment.
“And, by the way, if by some chance down the line there’s ever a conversation, we never had these conversations,” the indictment claims Van Til told the employee.
Capp said both employees are cooperating with the government.
The scheme continued until December and for the General Election in 2012, several months after news of the investigation into Van Til became public.
The wire fraud counts deal with money that Van Til sent from May 2008 to May 2012 to East Rutherford, N.J.; Wilmington, Del.; and Atlanta.
The indictment notes that Lake County passed an ordinance several months before Van Til started the scheme that banned county employees from using the county’s computer system for their campaigns. A county handbook, also created before the scheme started, detailed how employees should not work on campaigns during work hours.
Court records say Van Til will make his initial appearance Monday morning.
The second case announced Friday continues an indictment against three former officers of the Lake County Sheriff’s Department who all pleaded guilty to using their position with the department to illegally buy and sell gun parts.
Only the military and law enforcement agencies can buy fully automated machine guns and laser sites for guns. Joseph Kumstar, who was then deputy chief, and Ronald Slusser, a member of the SWAT team, used their positions to buy 71 guns and 74 laser sites and intercept them before they were delivered to the sheriff’s department.
The new indictment claims the men worked with Vahan Kelerchian, 53, of Richboro, Pa., in the scheme from 2008 to 2010. Kelerchian owns Armament Services International, a Philadelphia company that sells firearms mostly online and used his position to help convince the manufacturers that they were legally selling the guns and laser sites to the sheriff’s department, according to the indictment.
The men would buy the guns for $1,200 to $1,600 and the sites for about $1,200. Because private citizens cannot buy these products, the defendants could sell the sites for $2,800 to $3,000. They would take the guns apart and sell the upper barrels, which are considered state of the art and can fit on most any gun, for $2,500 to $3,000.
Police in Montreal, Canada, found some of the barrels when they served a search warrant against a gang. Other barrels were sold to someone identified only as Person A in Utah. The indictment does not say what happened to the barrels.
The men used not only letterhead from the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, according to the indictment, but they also at times pretended to be acting on behalf of the Lowell Police Department.
Investigators found one of the sites being sold online by a Mississippi man, Keith Mitts. He later got into a shootout with police in Mississippi, and police discovered more of the laser sites.
Kelerchian faces one count of conspiring to provide false information to a federally licensed firearm dealer, one count of conspiring to defraud the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which oversees laser sites, one count of conspiracy to make false statements and four counts of making false statements.
He is also charged with bribing Kumstar by giving him a Remington .12 gauge shotgun in July 2008 and conspiring to launder money.
Capp said Friday that officials from his office are also working to have Kelerchian turn himself in sometime next week for an initial appearance. Capp added that the investigation into this case continues.
Robin Shoemaker, special agent in charge of the ATF, said the indictment is good news for the citizens of Indiana and shows that the ATF will go after anyone who violates federal gun laws.
“No one is above the law, whether you’re a police officer or whether you’re a federal firearms licensee,” she said.
Lying on tax return
The third case charged Crown Point resident Roman Perez, who has contracted with the Lake County Sheriff’s Department and the Lake County Treasurer’s Office, of lying on his 2007 federal tax return and in a bankruptcy case in Hammond.
Perez has already signed a plea agreement with federal attorneys, Capp said.
The indictment claims Perez, 41, cut his income on the tax return by $110,108. Of that, $80,000 came from money he received from the treasurer’s office and the Lake County Sheriff’s Commissary Fund.
Capp did not say what work Perez provided for the county but said he owns a graphic arts company called Roman Arts Inc.
Perez continued to lie about $40,000 he was paid from the county in a 2009 Chapter 13 bankruptcy case.
Perez faces up to three years in prison on the charge of lying on a tax return and up to five years in prison on the lying in a bankruptcy case count. The agreement calls for him to pay $26,417, plus fines and interest, to the IRS.
Capp said Perez is cooperating with the government in an ongoing investigation.
James Lee, special agent in charge of IRS Criminal Investigation, said his office will continue to go after public officials and people who work with public officials to commit tax crimes.
“In these cases today, IRS Criminal Investigation did what we do best: We followed the money trail,” Lee said.
Capp said that he can’t comment on why public officials continue to break the law but promised that his office will continue to investigate and prosecute the cases.
The indictments come about seven months after the last round of public corruption indictments were announced. East Chicago Councilman Judah Parks, former Gary Common Councilwoman Marilyn Krusas and former Hammond Councilman Al Salinas have all since pleaded guilty to tax crimes. Krusas and Salinas resigned their seats after pleading guilty; both are awaiting sentencing.