A mayor in northwest Indiana is resigning after pleading guilty to federal fraud.
Joseph Stahura, the longtime mayor of Whiting, Indiana, used campaign funds for gambling and other personal expenses, according to a press release from the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Indiana.
The misuse of funds took places over a handful of years.
Wire fraud agreement for Indiana mayor
Stahura has been working with the city for several decades.
He’s been Whiting’s mayor since 2004, and was a city councilman for 20 years before that.
His record as an elected official was clean until 2014, when he started dipping into his campaign funds, according to the US Attorney’s Office.
Stahura admits to having misused about $255,000 between 2014 and 2019. He spent the money on everything from gambling to financial support for his adult daughter.
Stahura apologized for the situation and announced his resignation with an open letter posted on the city’s Facebook page.
“All I can say at this time is that I used some funds from my campaign account for personal use, I routinely paid it back, the circumstances have resulted in wire fraud and income tax violations, and I’m very sorry for my actions and am prepared to take responsibility for them.”
Northern Indiana US Attorney Thomas Kirsch has been the one bringing forth charges.
Stahura entered a plea agreement with Kirsch after being charged with both wire fraud and filing a false income tax return.
The false tax return is from 2018, when Stahura filed without accounting for over $51,000 worth of stolen money from his campaign account.
How the money went missing
Basically, Joseph Stahura and his wife Diane falsified reports, according to a statement from Kirsch.
The statement describes how the duo would dip into the campaign account, and then submit a fake report afterwards. Those reports overstated the amount of campaign spending to cover the difference.
Diane Stahura transferred the money from her husband’s campaign account to their personal account, according to the statement.
The couple reportedly often spent the money gambling at casinos once they had it in their account. The city of Whiting is right next to Horseshoe Hammond, Ameristar East Chicago and the Majestic Star Casinos.
For her part in the scheme, Diane Stahura is entering a deferred prosecution agreement. In other words, she’s admitting there’s enough evidence to charge her with a crime, but she won’t be prosecuted as long as she meets the requirements of her agreement.
What happens now?
Joseph Stahura is also on the books for filing false and misleading campaign finance reports with the Board of Elections. That’s in addition to the wire fraud charge.
The wire fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, with a maximum of three years for the false income tax return.
He could also be facing a $250,000 fine for each charge.
Kirsch is coming down hard on the couple, since the wrongdoing went on for so many years.
“Today’s charges and guilty plea are another black eye for Northwest Indiana. 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 five years.”
Next up, everything will be handed over to a federal judge.
If the judge accepts the plea agreement, they will then determine Stahura’s final sentence.