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Whiting Mayor Stahura’s guilty plea to campaign fraud set for Sept. 9

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Whiting Mayor Joe Stahura

Whiting Mayor Joe Stahura is seen during an event June 22, 2019, in downtown Whiting. The federal government has charged Stahura with one count each of wire fraud and filing a false tax return, authorities announced Thursday. He has agreed to plead guilty.

HAMMOND — Whiting Mayor Joseph Stahura is now scheduled to plead guilty next month to stealing his political donations to gamble and repay personal debts unrelated to his reelection campaigns.

Magistrate Judge Joshua P. Kolar has scheduled a court hearing for the 64-year-old Whiting native to take place at 11 a.m. Sept. 9 in U.S. District Court in Hammond.

Stahura has signed a deal with U.S. Attorney Thomas L. Kirsch II, agreeing to plead guilty at this hearing to two felony counts and resign as mayor.

Kirsch has agreed to recommend Stahura receive leniency in return for Stahura’s cooperation with the federal investigation into his finances.

The magistrate is expected at next month’s hearing to ask federal prosecutors to summarize their case against the mayor and then hear Stahura tell the court in his own words what happened.

An abrupt end to Mayor Joe Stahura’s celebrated career

Stahura’s written agreement contains a five-page narrative of admissions he and his wife, Diane, made about 57 withdrawals from his campaign war chest between 2014 and 2019 and spent it for their personal use, in violation of state law.

That included more than $55,000 in gambling debts at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond; the Horseshoe Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa; and Blue Sky Casino in downstate French Lick.

He also admits he used campaign donations to cover additional credit card debt, personal taxes and medical bills of the Stahura family.

The mayor also admits filing a false 2018 federal income tax return that didn’t account for money he stole from his campaign account as well as a false 2018 campaign finance disclosure report to the county that overstated his repayment of money he took from his campaign fund.

If U.S. District Court Judge James T. Moody accepts Stahura’s guilty plea, the court would schedule a sentencing at a later date.

Whiting mayor, wife pulled $255K from campaign to fuel gambling habit, pay credit card debt, feds say

The felonies to which Stahura is prepared to plead guilty carry a statutory maximum penalty of more than 20 years imprisonment.

The U.S. Attorney’s office has agreed to recommend he receive leniency.

However, no agreement on a sentence of a particular number of months is binding on the sentencing court, which must balance Stahura’s prompt cooperation with federal investigators against Stahura’s abuse of the public trust, the amount of money involved and other factors.

Stahura also has agreed to pay the Internal Revenue Service at least $28,977 in delinquent taxes.

He and his wife have agreed to further cooperate with the IRS in determining the total amount of money he owes the government in terms of penalties and interest.

The U.S. Attorney’s office agreed not to charge Stahura’s wife, as long as she cooperates with federal prosecutors, or bring any additional charges against the mayor over this investigation.

Stahura’s agreement also stated he will resign as mayor “on or before the (Sept. 9) plea hearing.”

Since Stahura was nominated to public office by the Democratic party, state law requires the city’s Democratic precinct committee members to caucus within 30 days of his resignation to select another Whiting Democrat to serve as mayor until Stahura’s term expires, a little over three years from now.

How much do mayors get paid in Northwest Indiana?

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