Another day, another story of corruption in America.
According to federal authorities for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Indiana, Joseph Stahura, the longtime mayor of Whiting, Ind., was charged and accepted a plea deal for wire fraud and filing a false income tax return. Stahura, 64, pleaded guilty to both charges.
Authorities said that Stahura, mayor since 2004 of the city close to Chicago with fewer than 5,000 residents, and his wife, Diane Stahura, used his campaign funds for personal expenditures, including gambling, credit card debt, and financial support to their adult daughter.
From early 2014 through 2019, they allegedly misappropriated $255,000 in campaign funds.
More than $50,000 was spent at casinos in Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan.
“Today’s charges and guilty plea are another black eye for Northwest Indiana,” U.S. Attorney Thomas L. Kirsch II said in a statement. “Mr. Stahura, an elected official for over 35 years, illegally used his campaign funds for personal activities and expenditures and lied about it on his publicly filed campaign reports and tax returns. He knew his conduct was illegal, yet he persisted in it for over 5 years.”
A sentencing date hasn’t been set, though he’s expected to appear in court on Sept. 9. According to The Times of Northwest Indiana, Stahura is expected to receive a light sentence. Kirsch reportedly has recommended leniency because Stahura quickly admitted his wrongdoing.
The charges he pleaded guilty to carry a maximum 20 years in prison.
Stahura’s wife entered into a deferred prosecution agreement.
Admission of gambling activity
In a court filing, Stahura went into some detail about his gambling behavior.
“Between approximately April 2014 and November 2019, my wife or I made approximately 57 withdrawals from the Campaign Account totaling approximately $55,780 for gambling at various casinos,” Stahura said as part of the plea agreement.
He also admitted that he lacked the money in his personal banking account to afford the gambling trips.
“These Campaign Account withdrawals were purely personal purposes and unrelated to any legitimate campaign expense,” he said. “On numerous occasions when money was removed from the Campaign Account and used for gambling, there were insufficient funds in our personal account to cover our gambling expenses.”
According to court documents, the casinos the pair visited over the period include the Horseshoe casinos in Hammond, Ind., and Council Bluffs, Iowa, as well as the Blue Sky Casino in French Lick, Ind.
Stahura is expected to resign as mayor soon.