Van Til to Resign Effective Thursday

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Lake County Surveyor George Van Til today issued a statement saying he is resigning his position effective Thursday. According to the statement, Van Til says, “I believe that my political skills have often been a positive force for good yet, in the end, I let political campaigns intrude into the taxpayers work negatively and, ultimately, illegally. And for this, now, in declining health and regretting my errors, I need to leave.”

On Monday, Van Til agreed to plead guilty to six-counts of wire fraud, one-week before a trial was set to begin and a change of plea hearing is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.  The 65-year-old, who's been Lake County's surveyor for more than twenty years, is accused of using county employees in his office to do campaign work. The plea deal would also require Van Til to pay restitution, and two obstruction of justice charges would be dropped. State law prohibits public officials convicted of felonies from holding office.



DECEMBER 3, 2013

Forty four years ago, as a part-time college student, I walked into a Political Science Club meeting at Indiana University Northwest and while about the same time, I signed up to help as a Clerical Union Organizer at Bethlehem Steel where I was employed. I was just a struggling young father with an autistic son.

That was the beginning of my public political involvement in our area. It quickly led to my election to the first of two terms on the Highland Town Board in 1971 at the age of 24 and on to working on the staff of the Indiana House of Representatives; the U.S. Senate; the North Township Trustee; the County Sheriff’s Department, and much, much more.

I involved myself in literally dozens of voluntary civic, charitable and environmental groups and causes, unmatched by any political leader, while later I was elected by a caucus to serve on the Lake County Council followed by my election in 1992 to the first of six (6) terms as Lake County Surveyor.

These 40 plus years, by most accounts, were good, honest public service. At virtually every step along the way I left positive projects and programs for the people in my wake. From the wonderful Gazebo, in Highland’s Main Square decades ago to continuous improvements in the County Surveyor’s office as recent as a very productive meeting last week. Making a positive impact through public service has always been my goal, my career, and the reality of my service. Few will try to dispute this except for naysayers and political old-timers who never liked my reform agenda. BUT, now this all ends. I’m finished. It’s done. I am resigning my position as Lake County Surveyor effective December 5, 2013.

I think that I have given valuable public service, but I’m certainly not indispensable. I know that I have served with integrity, but I’ve made significant mistakes. I believe that my political skills have often been a positive force for good yet, in the end, I let political campaigns intrude into the taxpayers work negatively and, ultimately, illegally. And for this, now, in declining health and regretting my errors, I need to leave.

I now know I stayed too long. I have been involved in more than 66 elections. I’ve run and won, myself, 17 times, and for those honors I will always be grateful to the good voters of our area. Also, I’ve played a significant role in dozens of other people’s campaigns for public office, most of them good. I did it honorably and honestly until, in the end, tired, sick and uncertain, I did it wrong.

I know that the people’s employees and the people’s resources are for the people’s business. And for decades that’s the way I rolled in spite of literally countless examples from others who showed no respect for this model. 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.

I’ve always argued that long service in the same public office can be very beneficial to the taxpayers. I believe I proved that, with the expertise and institutional knowledge that I built up through the years that is valuable in an office like County Surveyor.

But now I’ve come to acknowledge that long service in the same office can be detrimental and I believe that I am an example of the problems that can be caused by this. During the last third or so of my tenure, without really realizing it, I developed a sense that it was “my office” and “my staff”, and sometimes, especially in political situations, I approached it as such, on occasion asking employees to work for me, not the public. This was something that, that in retrospect gradually developed. I knew better, but as the years went by, as my enthusiasm for politics waned, as campaigns became more onerous, as my age climbed, as my health declined and as my comfort in the office increased, I gained a sense of entitlement that was wrong, and led to my wrong doing and my downfall.

So with these problems that I caused myself plus the lies of some who saw opportunities in my mistakes, along with the discoveries by the federal government which are outlined in my plea agreement, combined with my rapidly declining health, I now must leave the office I’ve served in and loved. It is terribly difficult for me, but the right thing to do.

My mistakes have cost me the end of my career, my stature, my good reputation, my livelihood, my savings and the respect of many, in spite of whatever public good I’ve produced. The Van Til family and name have been respected here in Lake County for more than 100 years and though I mostly added to that, in the end I did not uphold it as I should have. This is heartbreaking to me and my family and friends. It should have not turned out this way. I am sorry and I apologize to those who’ve expressed faith in me for so long and to the taxpayers of Lake County that I let down.

I ask those who believed in me for forgiveness. I apologize to the public for not staying the course. And so I say good-bye and God bless, and ask if you should run into my dear son, who was always so proud of me, if you can find it in your heart, please tell him that that his dad was a good and decent man who tried to do the right thing, and most often did, loving the practice of Public Service, and loving Lake County and the people of it....

Read more: Van Til to Resign Effective Thursday


Vote on Illinois Pension System Could Come Today

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Illinois has the country's worst funded pension system. But ABC News reports lawmakers are hoping to change that today.
The state has been grappling with a 100 billion dollar pension crisis. At one point the governor withheld lawmakers' paychecks until they reached a deal. However that move was deemed unconstitutional. The latest agreement, reached by state leadership calls for a raising of the retirement age, adding a 401(k)-style option, reducing employee contributions, and changing the cost of living increases. Labor unions are calling the deal unconstitutional, and are threatening a lawsuit if it passes. A full vote could come as soon as today. ...

Read more: Vote on Illinois Pension System Could Come Today


NIRPC Transportation Policy Committee Aprroves Illiana

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By an 18-to-8 vote, NIRPC's Transportation Policy Committee today approved a proposal to include the Illiana Expressway and the I-65 expansion projects in their 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan. A lengthy public comment period was held after a committee overview of the two proposals, with some speaking in favor the projects, saying benefits would include reduced truck traffic on local roads, construction jobs and it has statewide bipartisan support. Many of those in attendance came out against the projects citing a bigger need for local redevelopment, the creation of more permanent jobs and financial feasibility of the project overall.
With the passage of the proposal, a full NIRPC Board vote will now take place on Thursday, December 12th. If the full board approves the projects, INDOT can wrap up their Tier Two study, then take the project to the Federal Highway Administration who will then make their decision....

Read more: NIRPC Transportation Policy Committee Aprroves Illiana


Cause of Hebron House Fire Not Yet Known

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The cause of a fire that destroyed a home just east of Hebron Monday afternoon is not yet known. Hebron Fire Chief Chad Franzman [fraanz-men] says the house in the 800 block of south County Road 500 West was fully engulfed when crews arrived, and the two people who lived there, a retired couple, were already outside, having gotten out without injury. Crews from three counties – Lake, Porter and Jasper – assisted, and the Hebron Public Works department helped to fill tankers at the fire station so crews could stay on scene. There were no injuries to firefighters. Chief Franzman says two cats whose whereabouts are unknown may have died in the blaze. Franzman says the roof collapsed on part of the wood frame home, collapsing into the second story, which then caved in on the first floor....

Read more: Cause of Hebron House Fire Not Yet Known


Officer Injured Responding to Disturbance

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In Valparaiso early this morning, officials say a Valparaiso Police officer was injured responding to a suspicious incident that turned into a physical disturbance in the 100 block of Greenwich Street. Just after 1 am, Officer Steve Clifford was in his fully-marked police car with lights and siren operating when he was struck by a vehicle at Greenwich and Lincolnway, police say. The officer was transported to Porter Hospital with numerous injuries, the department said, and later released, and the other driver was not injured. Other units responded to the disturbance and three subjects were arrested and taken to the Porter County Jail. ...

Read more: Officer Injured Responding to Disturbance


Coast Guard 'Christmas Ship' to Deliver Trees

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Members of the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw begin loading more than 1,200 Christmas trees onto the ship in its home port of Cheboygan, Mich., Nov. 25, 2013. The Mackinaw, serving as this year's Christmas Ship, will arrive in Chicago Dec. 6, where the trees will be unloaded to community organizations, designated by the Chicago Christmas Ship Committee, and distributed to families. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Courtney Marker)
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Courtney Marker)
The Mackinaw, serving as this year's Christmas Ship, will help re-enact a tradition dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s when the Rouse Simmons delivered trees to the people of Chicago for more than 30 years. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class John Filippone)
Members of the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw finish loading more than 1,200 Christmas trees onto the ship's fantail in Cheboygan, Mich., Nov. 25, 2013. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Courtney Marker)...

Read more: Coast Guard 'Christmas Ship' to Deliver Trees


Arrest Made in Overnight Shooting

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La Porte County Sheriff's Police say a 23-year-old Gary man has been arrested in connection with a shooting overnight at a Michigan City-area apartment complex. Deputies responded shortly before 1 am to Woodland Crossing in the 300 block of Woods Edge Drive in reference to shots fired. Within minutes Michigan City Police officers located the suspect vehicle in a nearby housing complex, and the suspect was taken into custody without incident. The suspect has been preliminarily charged with Criminal Recklessness, a class "C" felony. Authorities say the victim was treated for a bullet wound to his lower back. Officials say the case came to a quick resolution as a result of a collaborative effort between the Michigan City Police Department and La Porte County Sheriff's office....

Read more: Arrest Made in Overnight Shooting


Times Managing Editor to Head Bishop Noll

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A longtime Region newsman is leaving The Times Media Company to become president of Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond. Managing Editor Paul Mullaney is a 1977 graduate of Noll, and his new job becomes effective January 6th. The 54-year-old Mullaney has been with The Times for 23 years.  [Photo/Times]...

Read more: Times Managing Editor to Head Bishop Noll


Cyber Monday Shoppers Reminded of 'Use Tax'

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Another Cyber Monday is in the books, and the Indiana Department of Revenue has this reminder.  Shoppers are advised to check to see Indiana sales tax was collected with online and/or catalog purchases yesterday as well as any day of the year.  If it wasn't, Indiana residents are required by law to pay that same seven-percent state sales tax as a "use tax".   “Use tax is essentially a seven percent tax on any purchases where the regular Indiana sales tax was not collected. If you make a purchase and the online or catalog retailer does not collect Indiana’s seven percent sales tax, you are required by law to pay that same seven percent as a use tax,” noted department spokesman Bob Dittmer.
“When preparing your 2013 individual tax return at the end of the year, simply total those purchases, take seven percent, and that’s your use tax. This does, of course, require you to either keep records of your online or catalog purchases or to rely upon your retailer to maintain a list for you (and many online retailers do that).” Last year, 28,853 taxpayers in Indiana reported use tax on their individual tax return, amounting to more than $1.9 million. Each year, more than 3.1 million individual income-tax returns are filed in Indiana. Indiana has required Hoosiers to pay use tax on their Indiana income tax return since 1969.  For more information about Indiana’s use tax, here's a link to the department’s use tax liability frequently asked questions:

Read more: Cyber Monday Shoppers Reminded of 'Use Tax'


Trial Begins in Alleged Hit-Run Jail Officer Death

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In Lake County court, trial is underway for a Lakes of the Four Seasons man accused in an alleged hit-and-run crash that killed Lake County Corrections Officer Brittney Meux and injured three others in March 2012. 43-year-old Jason Cozmanoff faces multiple felony counts. A mistrial was declared this past June, after a jury was selected, after officials say a man who was part of the jury pool informed the court he witnessed the accident. Police say the officers were struck while jogging along 93rd Street not far from the Lake County Government Center in Crown Point....

Read more: Trial Begins in Alleged Hit-Run Jail Officer Death


Investigations Continue Into Deadly Gary Shootings

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Police in Gary continue to investigate three homicides after what is believed to be two separate shooting incidents Monday. A 22-year-old Gary man died and three others were wounded in an apparent home invasion in Black Oak early Monday. Shortly before 7 am, a man was found dead of a gunshot wound in the 21-hundred block of Georgia Street. Just before 11 am, authorities found a Gary man dead of a gunshot wound inside a van at East 19th Avenue and Pennsylvania Street, a van police had been searching for after a woman said she and her boyfriend were both shot by another man inside that vehicle earlier Monday morning. Police also continue to investigate a shooting death in Glen Park this past Friday. This year Gary has seen more than fifty homicides. In 2012, there were 43 homicides recorded in the city....

Read more: Investigations Continue Into Deadly Gary Shootings


Valpo Schools to Discuss Electronic Report Cards

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A discussion is scheduled for Wednesday evening on Valparaiso Community Schools transition to electronic student report cards. Superintendent Michael Berta says the process of communicating student progress to parents electronically has been in place for the past couple of years, but this action would be the formal reporting of a grading period summary to the parent electronically. Berta says they will continue to provide a paper report card for parents who do not have access to receive the report cards electronically, which he says their data has found to be a minimal percentage.
Superintendent Berta says they are targeting having the electronic report cards sent out shortly after the end of the second grading period on January 16th. For more information, Superintendent Berta says to contact your child's school or stop by the meeting which will be held Wednesday at 6pm in the Cafeteria of Thomas Jefferson Middle School, in the 16-hundred Roosevelt Road. ...

Read more: Valpo Schools to Discuss Electronic Report Cards


Pence to Join Hoosiers in Fulton, Pulaski and White Counties

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Gov Mike Pence
Indiana Governor Mike Pence is scheduled to join Hoosiers in Pulaski County tomorrow. The Governor's Office reports Pence will be giving the keynote address at a luncheon of the Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce in Winamac at 12 EST. Prior to his stop in Pulaski County, the Governor is also scheduled to ring the bell for the Salvation Army's Red kettle campaign at 11am EST at a Rochester Kroger and later that afternoon, at 2:15 EST, Pence is scheduled to make a jobs announcement at Adkev, in Monticello. ...

Read more: Pence to Join Hoosiers in Fulton, Pulaski and White Counties


House Fire in Hebron Under Investigation

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No injuries were reported after a residential fire this afternoon near County Road 835 South and County Road 500 West in Hebron. Hebron fire officials report they were called out just before 12:30pm and spent around three-and-a-half hours at the scene. The cause of the fire remains under investigation and the family was displaced due to the fire....

Read more: House Fire in Hebron Under Investigation


Passengers Call Police on Erratic Driver

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portage pd
A 28 year old Chicago Heights man faces three misdemeanor charges, including operating while intoxicated, after a female passenger in his vehicle called the police due to his alleged erratic driving. Portage Police report they received a call around 2:45am on Sunday from one of the two passengers, while the driver, Dante Theus was in a gas station getting directions. While police were en-route to locate the vehicle, when the complainant advised dispatch the vehicle had crashed on a bridge. The suspect vehicle was later found in front of the Comfort Inn on US Highway 20. Officers report the man stated he got lost coming from Illinois after picking up the two women in South Holland and was trying to get them back to Sauk Village. The man reportedly smelled of alcohol and a warrant was served to force the man to submit to a blood test. ...

Read more: Passengers Call Police on Erratic Driver


Authorities Look to Reunite Victims with Stolen Property

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LapPorte County Sheriff logo - this one
The LaPorte County Sheriff's Office announced today they will be holding a press conference on Wednesday to discuss details about a recent rash of residential burglaries, most of which are believed to have occurred in the northern part of county. The Sheriff's Office reports property was recovered last week at a residence in rural Coolspring Township, and efforts are underway to identify the owners of the recovered property. The press conference will be held at 9am, at the Sheriff's Office Training Center, at the LaPorte County Fairgrounds. Potential victims who hope to identify property are encouraged to contact the LaPorte County Sheriff's Office Lead Investigator Andrew Hynek at (219) 326-7700 ext. 2401 or (219) 879-3530....

Read more: Authorities Look to Reunite Victims with Stolen Property


Van Til Agrees to Plead Guilty

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A jury trial scheduled for December 9th will longer be necessary after Lake County Surveyor George Van Til today agreed to plead guilty to six-counts of wire fraud. The US Attorney's Office in Hammond reports Van Til has officially signed the agreement but no date has been scheduled for him to make the plea or for the court to accept the plea, which would also require Van Til to pay nearly 20-thousand dollars in restitution. Two obstruction of justice charges will be dropped against Van Til, who has spent over 20 years as Lake County's Surveyor.
Van Til was charged in May with six counts of wire fraud and two counts relating to obstruction of justice and was accused of using county employees to do campaign work....

Read more: Van Til Agrees to Plead Guilty


Cost of 12 Days of Christmas Up 7.7% from 2012

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It's that time of year again, time to take a look at the cost of the 12 days of Christmas. ABC News reports PNC Wealth Management says this year the total for all the items is $27,393.
The cost of "The 12 days of Christmas is about 7 point 7 percent more than last year. The prices for 10 lords a leaping and 9 ladies dancing have spiked this holiday season. The 10 lords cost twelve hundred dollars more, while the 9 ladies dancing is up 476 dollars. The cheapest item on the list the partridge that costs 15 bucks, unchanged from last year. ...

Read more: Cost of 12 Days of Christmas Up 7.7% from 2012


Update: Police Investigate Gary Homicides

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Gary PD
A white van involved in an early morning shooting today in Gary was discovered just before 11am, near East 19th Avenue and Pennsylvania Street, with a dead man inside it. Gary Police Public Information Officer Corporal Gabrielle King says, at about 3:30 am, a woman reported being in the van with her 34 year boyfriend and a friend of his, when the friend pulled out a gun and shot both of them, and she was able to jump out. Damian Reedus was pronounced dead at 11:45am due to a gunshot wound to the neck and the alleged gunman remains at large.

Corporal King says a body found in the three-thousand block of Georgia, initially believed to have been the woman's boyfriend, was later determined to be from a separate incident. The deceased has been identified by the Coroner's Office as 28 year old Andre Woods, of Gary, who died due to a gunshot wound to the head.

Police are also investigating a fatal shooting on the west side of the city overnight. Corporal King says shortly after midnight officers received a call of shots fired in the 62-hundred block of West 29th Avenue. Investigators say it was determined that three masked gunmen came to the front door of the residence and tried to get in, then went around to the side door, where they came into contact with one of the occupants of the home.  Police say they led him back into the house at gunpoint, a struggle ensued and shots were fired.  Four people were shot, and one individual, identified as 22-year-old Rolando Correa was pronounced dead at approximately two-o'clock this morning at an area hospital.

Corporal King says an investigation into all three incidents continues and anyone with information regarding these three incidents is asked to contact Gary Police Detective Lorenzo Davis at (219) 881-4738.

Read more: Update: Police Investigate Gary Homicides


CR 500 W Closed Between SR 8 and CR 900 S for Fire

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Fire crews are currently on the scene of a residential fire in the 800 block of County Road 500 West, south of State Road 8 and east of Hebron. As a result of the fire, County Road 500 West is closed between State Road 8 and County Road 900 South. The first call to dispatch came in just before 12:30 this afternoon and a second call was made at 12:47pm. Hebron, Boone Grove and Porter fire departments are on the scene, with a tanker assist being provided by Crown Point. No further information is available at this time....

Read more: CR 500 W Closed Between SR 8 and CR 900 S for Fire


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