Van Til pleads not guilty, trial set for July
By Teresa Auch Schultz firstname.lastname@example.org May 20, 2013 12:36PM
Lake County surveyor George Van Til arrives with attorney Scott King to surrender for indictment charges at the Federal Courthouse in Hammmond, IN on Monday May 20, 2013. | Jim Karczewski~Sun-Times Media
Written statement from George Van Til
After winning 18 elections during more than 40 years in public service, I am now facing a fight for my reputation against allegations stemming from more than a year of relentless federal investigation using the government’s unlimited resources. I’m determined to fight these allegations with the single most powerful resource that I have available: The Truth.
I do admit to being a politician for most of my adult life. But I have always viewed politics a mere means to the end of being a public servant. That service always has and always will come first. 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. I am a man of thoughtful ethics, integrity and intense interest in doing the right thing while doing my best for the people who have allowed me to serve them. That’s my record.
I am proud of my record of service and honest work for Lake County. I love this area that has been my family’s home for 110 years, where I have been civically, governmentally and politically involved and invested for more than 40 years, 20 of them as Lake County Surveyor.
I feel bad for the good name of my family. I vow to do all I can to redeem it. I feel bad for all those who have believed in my and my service. I feel bad for those who have volunteered to me with their support or dollars to help with my success and service, for the wonderful employees through the years who have worked closely with me and, most of all, the taxpayers and voters who have given me the privilege to serve. This has been a difficult time for all.
You cannot imagine what this last long year has been like, in a process that is secretive and one-sided. I am sure that I have lost years off my lifespan. But I have continued to work on good projects and policies serving the people of Lake County, as they have the right to expect from me. It has been and is difficult for me in terms of my physical, mental and financial health, but I will continue to work at being as good a public servant as I can be.
I ask only for the opportunity to respond to these allegations in a process that permits me to present a truthful response to false and inaccurate allegations. I am committed to fighting those allegations with the truth in order [sic] validate the faith and confidence that my family; friends; loved ones and, most importantly, the public has so kindly shown me over the last 40 years.
Updated: May 20, 2013 11:09PM
Lake County Surveyor George Van Til denied in federal court Monday morning that he used his public office and employees to help run his past four re-election campaigns and asserted his innocence in a public statement later that day.
Along with another man also accused of taking part in another local public corruption case, Van Til, 65, of Merrillville, pleaded not guilty in the U.S. District Court in Hammond to six counts of wire fraud and two counts of obstruction of justice. Wearing a pale yellow shirt, gray suit and handcuffs, Van Til answered “yes” or “no” to U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Cherry’s various questions, including whether he understood the charges.
U.S. Attorney David Capp announced the charges against Van Til Friday. The indictment claims that Van Til has used the resources of his public office since 2007 to run his primary and general election campaigns for 2008 and 2012. This included using the county computer system and having employees work on his campaign, such as by working on finance reports and selling tickets for Van Til’s fundraising events, while they were being paid by Lake County.
Van Til even went so far as to hire an employee in the surveyor’s office to work only on his campaign and to run personal errands, the indictment claims. The employee worked at his office for about a month in 2011.
He instructed another employee in February 2012 to replace a county hard drive, saying the FBI should not find it, and that the employee should forget this conversation if anyone asked the employee about it.
The indictment claims Van Til continued to use county resources through December, about six months after the investigation into him became public.
Van Til released a written statement through his attorney Scott King after the hearing. In the statement, Van Til says he’s suffered from the federal government’s year-long and “relentless” investigation.
“I’m determined to fight these allegations with the single most powerful resource that I have available: The Truth,” Van Til says in the statement.
He cites his family’s long history with Lake County and his own 40 years of civic work, including his 20 years as surveyor.
He writes that he also would continue to serve the public to the best of his abilities, despite the investigation and criminal case.
“I ask only for the opportunity to respond to these allegations in a process that permits me to present a truthful response to false and inaccurate allegations.
Trial date of July 29 given
Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Benson told Cherry during Van Til’s arraignment that he expected the trial, which has been set for July 29, to take about a week. King said he had seen only the indictment and did not know how long the defense might take.
Cherry ordered Van Til, who had turned himself in that morning, to be released on a $20,000 bond.
Vahan Kelerchian, 53, of Richboro, Pa., also pleaded not guilty before Judge Cherry Monday morning in a separate case on nine counts related to working with then-Lake County Sheriff’s Department officers Joseph Kumstar and Ronald Slusser to illegally buy and sell gun parts and laser sights.
Only the military and law enforcement agencies are allowed to buy fully automated machine guns and laser sights. According to a federal indictment, Kelerchian, who owns a company that sells guns mostly online, worked with Kumstar and Slusser to use their position with the sheriff’s department to buy these guns by fooling the gun and laser sight makers into thinking they were selling the guns to the police department.
The men would instead intercept the shipment and sell the 74 laser sights they bought online to anyone. They took the 71 guns and took them apart. They then sold one part, the upper barrel, online. The upper barrel is highly desired because it can only be bought with the fully automated machine gun but can be used on many other guns.
Kumstar and Slusser were charged in the case in 2011 and have already pleaded guilty.
Kelerchian’s attorney, Paul Jeffrey Schlesinger, said his client was suffering from laryngitis, and Kelerchian spoke with a hoarse voice throughout the hearing.
Benson said the government was fine with Kelerchian being released as long as he agreed that he would stay away from his business’ warehouse and guns. Benson also asked that Kelerchian turn over his license to sell explosives and all the explosives at his business’ warehouse to the ATF. Kelerchian agreed, and Cherry released him on a $20,000 bond.
Kelerchian’s trial, which is also expected to last about a week, is set for Aug. 5.