The former mayor of Whiting, Ind. told a court that he did have a gambling problem. He escaped a prison sentence for plundering his campaign funds for money to blow in casinos on Wednesday.
Joseph Stahura resigned after 16 years as mayor of the city in Lake County in the Chicago metropolitan area last August. A month later, he pleaded guilty in a federal court in Hammond to charges tied to the misuse of around $255,000 since 2014.
Indiana politicians are prohibited from using political campaign funds for personal use and are required to itemize expenditures of $100 or more.
Stahura, 68, and his wife, Diane, 64, spent the money on trips to mostly out-of-state casinos. They also used it to pay off credit cards, income tax, and medical bills, according to court filings.
Prosecutors traced about 50 visits to casinos between March 2014 and October 2019 via ATM withdrawals totaling around $55,000.
County History of Corruption
A federal court in Hammond found Stahura guilty of wire fraud and filing a false income tax return. But the judge opted to show leniency, sentencing him to two years’ probation, one year home detention, and a $7,500 fine. As part of his plea deal, he has dropped his right to appeal the sentence.
Stahura had faced up to 20 years on the wire fraud charge and three years on the false return charge, and fines of up to $250,000 for both.
Diane Stahura, who accompanied her husband to court, has accepted a deferred prosecution agreement, and she will avoid charges if she complies with its terms.
According to The Chicago Tribune, prosecutors pushed for a custodial sentence for the former major, because Lake County politicians have a history of corruption.
But Judge James T. Moody agreed with Stahura’s lawyer, Kerry Connor, that the former mayor’s crimes were less serious than some of his counterparts who had been found guilty of accepting bribes.
A Different Type of Politician?
“Stahura’s conduct was wrong and illegal, but it didn’t impact his role as mayor, and I think that’s an important distinction,” said Stahura’s lawyer, Kerry Connor. “Mr. Stahura’s conduct was significantly different that these other politicians.”
The judge also noted the defendant’s contrition and the fact that he had paid most of the money back. Stahura apologized to the court for his conduct, saying he deeply regretted his actions.
“I’ve not only embarrassed my wife, my family, and the residents of Whiting but everyone who believed in me,” Stahura said.
Moody was impressed: “You’re different,” he said. “I’ve handled numerous corrupt Lake County politicians. You’re the first to show remorse for what you did.”
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