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Calumet Township trustee's son sentenced to time served, probation for public corruption
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Calumet Township trustee's son sentenced to time served, probation for public corruption

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HAMMOND — The son of former Calumet Township Trustee Mary Elgin will not join his mother in federal prison for coercing township employees to contribute time and money to his mother's political campaign.

Steven Hunter, 52, of Chicago, was sentenced Tuesday in the U.S. District Court of Hammond to about five months in jail, time he already served last year at the Lake County Jail after his bond was revoked for drug use, for his guilty pleas to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and two counts of wire fraud.

Hunter will serve one year supervised probation as part of his sentence. He was also ordered to pay in restitution the $15,000 the federal government estimates that Hunter and other defendants cost township taxpayers and residents through their illegal activity.

Hunter admitted in his guilty plea to using his position in the trustee's office to coerce employees to purchase fundraising tickets for his mother's political campaign events. He also did other political work on public time.

He apologized to the people and staff of Calumet Township in a prepared statement Tuesday. He said he was a “changed man,” who was committed to sobriety and improving the community. He said he was recently accepted into Roosevelt University's graduate program for hospitality and tourism management, though he acknowledged his felony conviction would make it difficult to find work in the future.

Judge Joseph S. Van Bokkelen said Tuesday he believed Hunter was a good person, but he should have objected to his mother's illegal fundraising scheme.

“I don't care who tells you to do something illegal — your mother or whoever — you don't do it,” he said.

Hunter benefited greatly from his silence, Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip C. Benson said. As head of the township's information services and technology office, he was paid between $40,000 and $50,000 a year.

“Everyone loves their mom, but she was telling you to break the law,” Benson said.

Elgin, who served as Calumet Township trustee from 2003 until 2014, was sentenced last month to 12 months and one day in federal prison for directing administrative staff, which included her son, to distribute her political fundraising tickets to employees and keep track of ticket sales.

Federal prosecutors said employees were pressured to buy the tickets with their own money if they could not sell them. Employees who refused to purchase tickets were denied job benefits.

Employees also prepared campaign finance reports, wrote campaign literature and organized fundraisers while being paid by the trustee's office, prosecutors said.

A grand jury in December 2014 indicted Elgin, Hunter, Elgin's secretary Ethel Shelton, and Alex Wheeler, a township department head. Elgin and Hunter pleaded guilty in May 2017 to wire fraud charges. In April, a jury convicted Shelton and acquitted Wheeler of public corruption charges.

The defense and prosecution agreed Hunter would face the minimum sentence for the offenses, though they disagreed on whether Hunter accepted responsibility for his crimes, which would shave a few months from his sentence.

Hunter tested positive for marijuana or cocaine on four separate occasions while on bond awaiting trial, Benson said. He agreed to enter treatment for drug addiction after the second time, but tested positive for drugs two more times, which resulted in his bond being revoked May 8, 2017. He pleaded guilty three days later.

Benson argued Hunter's drug use precluded him from accepting responsibility for his crimes. Defense attorney Brian Woodward said his client's addiction caused him to relapse, but he had not tested positive for drugs in the 13 months since his revocation.

Van Bokkelen granted Hunter the sentencing reduction, which meant he faced eight to 14 months in jail, minus the time he already served in jail.

Van Bokkelen lamented the impact public corruption had on the community's opinion of its government, but he agreed with Woodward that sentencing Hunter to an additional couple of months in jail would not be in the best interest of justice.

He warned the defendant if he violated the terms of his probation, which included testing positive for drugs, he would be sent to prison.

“Thank you for believing in me, and giving me the sentence you gave me,” Hunter said.


A look back at corruption in the Region

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Lake County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Steve covers Lake County courts and social justice issues for The Times. The UW-Milwaukee graduate joined The Times in 2016 after reporting on criminal justice in New Mexico and Wisconsin.

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