CROWN POINT, Ind. — The Lake County Democratic Party selected Oscar Martinez Jr. on Saturday to complete the term of former Sheriff John Buncich, who was convicted last month on federal bribery and fraud charges.

Martinez, a longtime member of the Lake County sheriff’s office, bested a field that included more than a half-dozen other candidates. He won on the third ballot of voting.

Buncich, a Democrat, was elected in 2015 to his fourth term as sheriff. But Indiana law mandates the immediate removal of an elected official after a felony conviction.

More than 500 Democratic precinct committee members gathered Saturday in Crown Point to select someone to complete his term, which runs through the end of 2018. Other candidates who unsuccessfully sought the position include Lake County Deputy Police Chief Daniel Murchek, Schererville Police Chief David Dowling and former county Commissioner Gerry Scheub.

An officer on the department for more than 24 years, Martinez most recently held the rank of deputy commander.

He tried to unseat Buncich in the 2010 and 2014 Democratic primaries.

For years he worked in a narcotics enforcement division that he says was disbanded after his first run against the former sheriff. His campaign website says he has a degree in business from Robert Morris University and has three children with his wife Melissa, whom he has been married to for 23 years.

Buncich was convicted by a federal jury last month of accepting bribes to help tow company operators get more jobs through his department. He has denied all wrongdoing and is awaiting sentencing Dec. 6.

One tow truck operator, William Szarmach, pleaded guilty to charges of bribery, wire fraud and tax evasion and agreed to testify for federal prosecutors in Buncich’s trial. Szarmach said in a plea agreement that he bought tickets to Buncich’s fundraising events and made additional cash payments to Buncich to maintain and increase his business of towing vehicles for county police.

The sheriff oversees 475 county police, corrections officers and civilian employees, the county jail and a $32 million annual budget.


Information from: The Times, http://www.nwitimes.com