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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of Indiana

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, August 27, 2020

Whiting Mayor Charged With Wire and Tax Fraud And Enters Into Agreement to Plead Guilty

HAMMOND – Joseph Stahura, age 64, of Whiting, Indiana, was charged with wire fraud and filing a false income tax return, announced U.S. Attorney Thomas L. Kirsch II.  He has entered into a plea agreement indicating his intent to plead guilty to both charges.  His wife, Diane Stahura, age 64, also of Whiting, Indiana entered into a deferred prosecution agreement wherein she acknowledges that the Government has sufficient evidence to charge her with wire fraud.

United States Attorney Thomas L. Kirsch II said,

“Today’s charges and guilty plea are another black eye for Northwest Indiana.  Mr. Stahura, an elected official for over 35 years, illegally used his campaign funds for personal activities and expenditures and lied about it on his publically filed campaign reports and tax returns.  He knew his conduct was illegal, yet he persisted in it for over 5 years.

“My office has a long history of aggressively pursuing public corruption cases on behalf of the honest citizens of our community. That will continue as long as I am US Attorney.  While most elected officials serve the public professionally and honestly, some do not.  Those who seek illegal personal gain by virtue of their public office will be held accountable.

“If you have information concerning corrupt public officials, I encourage you to call my office or the FBI.”

According to documents in the case, Mr. Stahura, the Mayor of Whiting, Indiana since 2004, and his wife used his campaign fund for personal expenditures, like gambling, credit card debt and providing financial support to an adult daughter.  Mr. Stahura has been the Mayor of Whiting since 2004 and prior to that he served as a Whiting City Councilman for 20 years.  He was also the Chairman and Treasurer of his campaign committee entitled “Committee to Elect Joe Stahura” (“Committee”). 

From February 2014 through 2019, Mr. and Mrs. Stahura used approximately $255,000 of funds from the “Committee” for personal purposes, while disguising the activity by filing campaign reports with false and misleading information and by omitting material information from the reports.  To further defraud, they sought donations from individuals and entities, and held fund raising events to raise money for the “Committee”.  Mrs. Stahura transferred money from the “Committee’s” bank account to the Stahuras’ personal bank account, which were then used the funds to pay personal bills, provide support for their daughter and gamble at casinos.  To further the scheme, on multiple occasions between 2014 and 2019, Joe Stahura filed false and misleading campaign finance reports with the Board of Elections which omitted information about the personal use of the campaign funds that had been occurring from 2014 through November 2019. 

In April 2019, Mr. Stahura filed a false tax return.  He falsely listed his gross income, not accounting for the amount stolen from the Campaign Account in 2018 which was approximately $51,480.  Additionally, on his campaign finance report he overstated the “loan repayment amount” to his campaign by approximately $40,000.

Indiana campaign finance law restricted the use of money contributed to a campaign committee. Candidates could use committee money to pay expenses reasonably related to a campaign for political office, continuing political activity, and activity related to service in elected office.  Candidates could not use committee money for a primarily personal purpose or commingle personal funds with campaign funds.  Indiana campaign finance law also required campaign committees to regularly file public reports using a state form containing instructions including “WARNING: Using campaign funds for primarily personal purposes is prohibited.” Reports had to itemize each expenditure above $100, name the recipient and state a purpose.  These reports provided citizens with a record of the expenditure of campaign funds, provided donors with a measure of accountability regarding the funds, and assisted voters in making informed decisions at the polls.

Mr. Stahura entered into a plea agreement, which has been filed with the court, to resolve the criminal charges.  If this signed plea agreement is accepted by the court, the length of sentence and amount of restitution will be determined by the court at a sentencing hearing after consideration of federal sentencing statutes and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

“Public corruption continues to be a high priority for IRS Criminal Investigation”, stated Special Agent in Charge Kathy A. Enstrom of the IRS Criminal Investigation, Chicago Field Office. “Public officials stealing campaign funds for personal purposes is an unacceptable practice and IRS Criminal Investigation will be there to uncover the fraud and tax evasion in order to bring the dishonest officials to justice.”   

“Public corruption is the top criminal investigative priority for the FBI. The American people and the FBI do not tolerate public officials who use their position for private gain. Public corruption erodes the trust constituents put in their elected officials and undermines the integrity of government,” said Special Agent in Charge Paul Keenan, FBI Indianapolis. “The FBI and our partner law enforcement agencies will continue our mission to root out fraud and corruption in all forms and serve our communities."

This case is being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, both members of the US Attorney’s Public Corruption Task Force.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Philip Benson and Gary Bell. 

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Topic(s): 
Public Corruption
Updated August 27, 2020