Jonathan Miano, The Times

HAMMOND — The Whiting parks director has pleaded guilty to using the city's animal shelter to aid an Illinois man who has admitted his role in a federal dogfighting case.

But he won't be losing his city job as parks director.

Martin Jakubowski, 48, of Whiting, admitted Thursday to U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge John E. Martin he made the shelter available to Pedro Cuellar, an Illinois man who recently pleaded guilty to a dog fighting conspiracy charge in New Jersey.

Court records didn't indicate Friday whether the judge will accept the plea, which would result in a misdemeanor conviction. The plea is part of an agreement with the U.S. Attorney's office.

Jakubowski oversaw Whiting’s animal control program and animal shelter as parks director, according to the statement issued by the U.S. Department of Justice this week.  

He gave Cuellar Sulfadimethoxine, a prescription for veterinary antibiotics the city had earlier purchased to treat two sick shelter cats.

Jakubowski also admitted that between 2011 and 2016, he housed dogs for Cuellar at the city animal shelter buildings for up to a year. One of the dogs had scarring consistent with scars on dogs used in fights.

Jakubowski also gave two pit bull-type dogs from the city’s animal shelter to Cuellar without standard adoption paperwork, knowing that Cuellar intended to transfer the dogs to other people.

Neither Jakubowski nor his attorney could be reached Friday for comment.

‘One stupid mistake’

Whiting Mayor Joe Stahura said he will retain Jakubowski as parks director but the city will now look for a new shelter boss.

"He is still employed and I intend to keep him employed," Stahura said. "He resigned from his animal control position. That will cost him some money."

Stahura said Jakubowski has been working for the city nearly 20 years.

"Marty has done a million good things for the animals of the community and he made one stupid mistake," he said. "There is no way I would even consider terminating him because I don't think it warrants that. His good far outweighs that."

State records indicate Jakubowski received $73,492 in salary and benefits last year. Stahura said Jakubowski will forfeit a stipend of $600 a month as the animal shelter chief.

In a statement Friday, Stahura defended his decision to retain Jakubowski as parks director.

“Not everyone will agree with that decision, but no one knows how much this man cares about that shelter more than I do,” Stahura said in a Facebook post verified by The Times. 

“This does not lessen the seriousness of the situation, but it is critical to know that the Whiting Animal Shelter has done enormous good under Marty’s guidance and while he made a series of serious mistakes, this was not widespread normal activity,” he said.

He added that the initial barrage of news reports from area media “varied from wildly inaccurate to selectively sensational.”

“Let me be clear, I’m not condoning what Marty did, but only exaggerating the negative and totally ignoring the positive is simply bad reporting. At least one reporter questioned me in a manner that suggested that dog-fighting was being staged at the shelter, which is totally untrue and grossly misleading,” he said in the statement.

Whiting City Council President Chris Sarvanidis could not be reached Friday for comment.

Jakubowski also admitted to his own prior involvement in a "roll" dog fight in 2004. A "roll" is a dog fight staged for the purpose of assessing the fighting characteristics of a dog or dogs, rather than for wagering purposes, and is generally stopped by the handlers before serious injuries result.

The government is recommending Jakubowski be sentenced to three months of home confinement followed by six months of supervised probation.

The Justice Department states the case is part of Operation Grand Champion, a coordinated effort across numerous federal judicial districts to combat organized dog fighting.

The phrase "Grand Champion" is used by dog fighters to refer to a dog with more than five dog-fighting "victories." To date, 98 dogs have been rescued as part of Operation Grand Champion, and either surrendered or forfeited to the government.

This part of Operation Grand Champion was investigated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of the Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Anthony Mohatt.

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Lake County reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.