Feds: Lake Station mayor gambled away campaign, food pantry cash

2014-04-16T21:00:00Z 2014-04-17T10:25:04Z Feds: Lake Station mayor gambled away campaign, food pantry cashElvia Malagon elvia.malagon@nwi.com, (219) 933-3246 nwitimes.com

LAKE STATION | An 11-count federal indictment filed Wednesday alleges Mayor Keith Soderquist and his wife, Deborah Soderquist, improperly used money from the city's food pantry and his re-election campaign at local casinos. 

A second federal indictment filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court alleges the couple knew the mayor's stepdaughter, Miranda Brakley, 33, pocketed at least $5,000 from the Lake Station City Court and helped her prevent apprehension.

Wednesday's indictments come after the fall 2013 execution of search warrants at Lake Station City Hall. The city's clerk-treasurer previously said she had received 10 subpoenas asking for records and information about Brakley's employment with the city.

Deborah Soderquist works for the city as the mayor's administrative assistant. She is also the treasurer of her husband's election campaign committee. Brakley previously worked as a city employee. 

Attorney Scott King, who is representing Soderquists, said both will enter a not guilty plea in federal court Thursday.

"They have been cooperating for more than a year," King said late Wednesday. "We will be there (Thursday)." 

One indictment alleges between spring 2010 and December 2012 Keith Soderquist, 44, and Deborah Soderquist, 55, were improperly pocketing funds at the same time that they lost $104,000 at local casinos.

The couple face charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, seven counts of wire fraud and three counts of false filing.

In a three-year span the couple took $18,500 from the election campaign's account, according to the indictment.

The couple also are accused of cashing a $300 check from the city that was intended for the Lake Station Food Pantry, according to the indictment. About two hours after the check was cashed July 13, 2011, both were gambling at the Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo, Mich, authorities said.

An ATM withdrawal from the food pantry was made July 16, 2011, but the indictment does not state how much was taken.

According to the indictment, in 2010 $3,500 was withdrawn during 12 different days from Soderquist's election campaign committee account. The money was withdrawn within one day from when the couple traveled to the Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo.

In 2011, the couple withdrew on 30 different days more than $10,000 from the campaign account, according to the indictment. Again, the couple traveled to the Four Winds Casino after the money was taken, the indictment states.

The next year, more than $5,000 was withdrawn from the campaign account, according to the indictment. The couple traveled to casinos after the withdrawals were made. 

From 2010 to 2012, the couple are accused of filing false or misleading Indiana Elections Commission CFA-4 forms and filing false tax returns.

In a separate indictment, Brakley is accused from 2011 to 2012 of taking at least $5,000 in bond money from the Lake Station City Court. She also is accused of making a false bankruptcy declaration by failing to disclose payments from the city of Lake Station that totaled more than $7,000, according to the indictment. 

Deborah Soderquist and Keith Soderquist are charged in the second indictment with being an accessory after the fact by preventing Brakley's apprehension. 

The Soderquists also are charged in the second indictment with structuring of financial transactions. According to the indictment, in December 2012 the couple drove to Kentucky to get $15,000 from an unidentified person. The indictment does not explicitly state the origin of the $15,000. 

The couple told the unidentified person to write three checks with three different dates that totaled less than $10,000, according to the indictment. Banks are required to file a report involving transactions of more than $10,000. 

The checks later were cashed in Bowling Green, Ky., Munster and Merrillville, the indictment states.

Clerk-Treasurer Brenda Samuels said last year she had received 10 subpoenas asking for records or information about the city. A number of the subpoenas involved the employment of Miranda Brakley, a former city employee and the mayor's stepdaughter.

King represented Brakley after a State Board of Accounts audit concluded she owed the city $37,182 in unapproved leave payments.

King said last year Brakley didn't owe the money, had done nothing wrong and was wrongfully terminated as a city employee.

On her last day as a city employee, $15,880 in missing city bond collections was found in Brakley's car. King previously said that money was returned to the city and was among boxes city employees moved to Brakley's car.

Earlier Wednesday, King denied his client had been asked to turn himself in to federal authorities. 

King's past federal criminal court clientele have included convicted former East Chicago Mayor George Pabey, disgraced former Lake County Surveyor George Van Til and convicted former Calumet Township Trustee Dozier Allen, all of whom pleaded guilty to or were convicted of public corruption charges.

Keith Soderquist was first elected as Lake Station mayor in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012.

Times staff writers Bill Dolan and Marc Chase contributed to this report.

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