HAMMOND — A secretary to disgraced former Calumet Township Trustee Mary Elgin hopes to avoid the imprisonment her one-time boss suffered for public corruption.
Ethel Scott-Shelton is asking be released on probation when U.S. District Court Judge Joseph S. Van Bokkelen sentences her Wednesday for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud.
A federal jury last year convicted Scott-Shelton of helping Elgin shake down township employees to kick back part of their salaries for Elgin’s re-election campaigns as well as work for her political benefit on public time.
Scott-Shelton's defense attorney, Andrea E. Gambino of Chicago, wrote a memo to the court last weekend arguing Scott-Shelton deserves leniency for her previous law-abiding history and her work as a steel union official and civil rights advocate.
This is after federal prosecutors, who won her conviction, said Scott-Shelton deserves to be imprisoned from eight to 14 months and pay a $20,000 fine.
Elgin, who served as Calumet Township trustee from 2003 until 2014, recently finished serving 10 months at a federal prison in Pekin, Illinois.
Steven Hunter, Elgin’s son and a township department head in her administration, served five months for his role in furthering the same scheme.
Gambino said Scott-Shelton was born in the state of Mississippi. She left home in the 1950s to come to Gary to complete high school and begin work at one of the area’s steel mills.
She eventually became a union griever who advocated for her fellow union members over work rule disputes. She also worked on the union’s civil rights committee at a time when such activism required considerable courage, Gambino said.
Scott-Shelton raised two daughters as a single mother, married, had two more children and helped raised a child from her husband’s previous marriage as well as the children of one of her sisters.
She retired from the mill after 38 years, underwent heart surgery and eventually became Elgin’s secretary at the township trustee office.
Indiana’s 1,008 elected township trustees distribute public assistance to the poor.
Calumet Township is home to thousands of Gary residents living below the poverty line. Its trustee’s office payroll grew to well over 100, whose combined salaries averaged $4.5 million annually even before Elgin first took office in 2003.
The government’s evidence showed Elgin, who ran for re-election in 2006, 2010 and 2014, expected her employees to contribute part of their salaries to her campaigns in gratitude for their jobs.
Township employees testified during the case they didn’t want to purchase fundraising tickets, but felt pressured by Elgin, Scott-Shelton and others in Elgin’s administration to contribute between $60 and $1,000 in political fundraising tickets a year.
Prosecutors said Scott-Shelton used her position as Elgin’s secretary to manage employee participation in Elgin’s annual fundraising events. Scott-Shelton collected the money from employees and kept a detailed log of their payment histories.
Those employees who said they couldn’t afford all the tickets they were given at one time were directed by Scott-Shelton to be placed on an installment plan.
They said Scott-Shelton worked on Elgin’s reelection campaign when she should have been doing the people’s business and signed official time sheets attesting she was doing official business those times.
Prosecutors said Scott-Shelton also used public time and resources to run her own campaign for election to a lucrative seat on the township’s advisory board in 2013 and 2014.
Scott-Shelton’s defense was that she was simply following Elgin’s orders, a position the jury rejected in light of all the evidence.
Gambino said Scott-Shelton didn’t allow her political work for Elgin to interfere with her public duties by working extra hours without overtime compensation.