Indiana Mayor Resigns, Used Campaign Funds for Casino Trips
Posted on: August 28, 2020, 01:39h.
Last updated on: August 28, 2020, 10:09h.
The mayor of Whiting, Ind., agreed to step down and plead guilty to charges of wire fraud and filing a false tax return after an investigation uncovered he and his wife misused more than $250,000 in campaign funds for personal uses. That included trips to casinos, according to court documents filed Thursday in an Indiana federal court.
Joseph Stahura, 64, has been mayor of the northwest Indiana town since 2004, and before that, the Democrat served 20 years as a city councilman. He also served as the chairman and treasurer for his re-election committee, with his 64-year-old wife, Diane Stahura, having signatory powers.
In a detailed complaint, federal authorities outlined how the couple used campaign funds for such personal purposes as paying tax and credit card bills, and providing money to their daughter. The complaint also traces about 50 visits to casinos from March 2014 to October 2019, where the Stahuras withdrew about $55,000 either at casino ATMs or before visiting the gaming venues.
The couple used the money at casinos in Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
Indiana campaign finance law explicitly prohibits the use of political campaign funds for personal use. In addition, the campaign finance reports had to itemize all expenditures of $100 or more.
Prosecutor: “Black Eye” for Community
The US Attorney’s Office said Diane Stahura accepted a deferred prosecution agreement, and she will avoid charges if she complies with the terms of her agreement.
In his deal, Joseph Stahura agreed to pay nearly $29,000 in restitution to the IRS for taxes owed between 2014 to 2018. That amount does not include any interest or penalties due.
Stahura faces up to 20 years on the wire fraud charge and three years on the false return charge. Both also carry fines of up to $250,000. He agreed to drop his right to appeal and would not be able to withdraw his plea as part of the non-binding agreement.
Thomas L. Kirsch II, the US Attorney for Northern Indiana, said in a statement Stahura knew his conduct was illegal. Still, he continued his actions for more than five years.
“Today’s charges and guilty plea are another black eye for Northwest Indiana,” Kirsch said. “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.”
Mayor “Devastated,” Attorney Says
Whiting is a town of a 5,000 on Lake Michigan between Hammond, Ind., and East Chicago, Ind. Those communities have casinos less than two miles from Whiting.
The Times of Northwest Indiana reported Thursday that Stahura emailed colleagues to let them know he would resign in the days ahead. He declined an interview request with the newspaper.
However, his attorney defended him and said he was a “dynamic mayor” and strong family man.
He used some of his campaign funds for personal use, routinely paid it back, and is devastated that his nearly two-decade term as mayor is ending in this manner,” Kerry Connor said in a statement to The Times. “Whiting has gained several millions of dollars in lakefront development and infrastructure enhancements, nearly $600,000 in COVID-19 relief, a mascot Hall of Fame, and so much more under his leadership, and his decision to accept this plea agreement was in the best interest of his family and the citizens of Whiting.”
Court records do not indicate when Stahura will appear in court.