HAMMOND - Former Whiting Mayor Joseph Stahura admitted in court that he looted his campaign donations to gamble and for other personal uses over the last five years.
The "Times" reports Stahura appeared late Wednesday morning before a U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge to formally plead guilty to charges of wire fraud and filing a false tax return.
The charges, which were filed last month, could land Stahura in prison. They also end his long political career which includes decades of public service as a Whiting city councilman and mayor.
During his time as Whiting mayor, Stahura coordinated the revitalization of the city’s downtown retail district and lakeshore recreational area.
The 64-year old Whiting native told the court Wednesday he knew it was illegal to convert re-election campaign funds to his personal use, but did it repeatedly for five years, between 2014 and 2019.
Stahura also admitted to filing a false 2018 federal income tax return that didn’t account for the diverted money 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.
As part of the plea deal, Stahura agreed to waive his right to a jury trial. He also resigned last week as mayor as part of his deal with U.S. Attorney Thomas L. Kirsch II in exchange for Kirsch to recommend Stahura receive leniency. Kirsch also is opting not to charge Stahura’s wife, Diane, with any involvement in misusing campaign money.
If U.S. District Court Judge James T. Moody accepts Stahura’s guilty plea and the plea deal, he will likely sentence Stahura in the first week of December.
UPDATE: Stahura's attorney Kerry Connor said in a statement sent to Lakeshore Public Radio on Wednesday:
"The full story is that over the years Joe routinely made payments back to his political campaign account, and he returned the vast majority of funds to the account long before he had any inkling that he was being investigated. No city money was ever touched."