Former Portage Mayor James Snyder filed a petition earlier this month asking the U.S. Supreme Court to consider overturning his conviction in federal court over taking $13,000 in regards to a contract for garbage trucks.
At the crux of the argument filed by his attorneys is whether that payment, which according to court documents was received after the garbage trucks were purchased in exchange for consulting services reportedly provided by Snyder to Great Lakes Peterbilt, the company that sold the garbage trucks, was a gratuity.
Snyder has exhausted his options in the federal appellate court system, with a denial last month by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago to give his case another hearing. His attorneys argue in their petition that the circuit courts don’t agree on what constitutes a gratuity, and the Supreme Court has the opportunity to clarify the matter by taking up Snyder’s case.
“There is a split in the Circuits with respect to whether or not the bribery statute also includes gratuities at the State and local level. The Seventh Circuit’s position is that the statute covers both. The First and Fifth Circuits have issued opinions to the contrary. We continue to pursue justice for Mr. Snyder,” Andrea Gambino, one of Snyder’s attorneys, said in an email last month.
The federal statute as it now stands, according to the filing, “criminalizes only quid pro quo bribes — corrupt exchanges like paying a governor to veto a bill, or giving a house inspector a luxury watch in exchange for a passing grade.”
The statute doesn’t cover gratuities, “payments for actions already taken or planned,” like a donation to the governor’s campaign after a veto or buying a gift for the inspector after the report is complete.
“Yet the government’s gratuity theory sweeps much farther,” the filing notes, going on to include the examples of a grandmother thanking a governor for supporting military troops on a donation check after a fight to keep a military base open, or a nurses’ union holding a gala for state public health officials who supported vaccine mandates.
“Those acts ‘reward’ public official for past conduct and thus risk ten years in federal prison for both the official and the grateful constituent,” with a risk of “‘chilling effects’ on protected speech.”
Federal prosecutors have said in court testimony and documents that there was no written agreement between Snyder and the Bruha brothers, who owned Great Lakes Peterbilt, to provide consulting services for health care and information technology, nor was there evidence of any work done under the arrangement.
Snyder filed the petition for a writ of certiorari on Aug. 1; attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice have a Sept. 5 response deadline.
Snyder, 45, a Republican, was first elected mayor in 2011 and was reelected in 2015. He was ordered in late June to report to the federal Bureau of Prisons before 2 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 16 to begin serving his sentence. His placement has yet to be determined.
Snyder’s case has moved in fits and starts since he was first indicted in U.S. District Court in Hammond in November 2016 on a charge of corrupt solicitation involving a contract with Great Lakes Peterbilt for garbage trucks; interfering with the IRS, for hiding funds from the federal agency from his mortgage company; and receiving a bribe for a tow truck contract.
A federal jury found Snyder guilty on the charges involving the garbage truck contract and the IRS and acquitted him on the allegations involving the towing contract.
Snyder asked for and received a new trial on the count involving the garbage trucks, and that trial, in March 2021, also resulted in a jury conviction.
Snyder filed another appeal in October 2021 in an attempt to have both of his convictions overturned and the court granted him bond pending that appeal. The appeals court rejected Snyder’s bid to have his convictions dismissed in a June 15 ruling.
On July 14, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago noted that “no judge in active service has requested a vote on the petition” that Snyder filed asking for a rehearing before the full court, and “all the judges on the original panel have voted to deny the petition for panel rehearing.”
The order went on to note that “Circuit Judge Thomas L. Kirsch II did not participate in the consideration of this petition for rehearing en banc.” Early on in Snyder’s case, Kirsch was his defense attorney before being appointed as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District and later being appointed as an appellate judge.
Snyder has a pending federal lawsuit against Lynch and Dan Whitten, the city attorney, alleging they coached Randy Reeder, a witness in the garbage truck case, not to meet with Snyder or his legal team.
Lynch and Whitten have filed to have the case dismissed.