The longtime mayor of the city of Whiting has entered into a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s office after being accused of illegally using campaign funds for personal benefit.
U.S. Attorney Thomas Kirsch says Joe Stahura was charged with wire fraud and filing a false income tax return.
Stahura, who has served as Whiting’s mayor since 2004, is accused of spending $255,000 in campaign money for gambling, paying down credit card debt and supporting his adult daughter.
“Today’s charges and guilty plea are another black eye for Northwest Indiana,” said U.S. Attorney Thomas Kirsch. “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 publicly filed campaign reports and tax returns. He knew his conduct was illegal, yet he persisted in it for over five years.”
Kirsch says Stahura’s wife, Diane, entered into a deferred prosecution agreement which acknowledges that the government has sufficient evidence to charge her with wire fraud.
“I can’t really talk about it … I made a plea, and we’ll just leave it at that,” Stahura told our partners at The Times of Northwest Indiana, and then deferred all questions to his attorney.
The publication reports Stahura said in an email to friends and colleagues that he has accepted a plea agreement, which will result in his resignation “in the coming days.”
The U.S. Attorney said Stahura used money from the “Committee to Elect Joe Stahura” from February 2014 until 2019.
The Times says Stahura was chairman and treasurer for his own campaign committee. The Justice Department says that enabled him to take the money “while disguising the activity by filing campaign reports with false and misleading information and by omitting material information from the reports.”
Stahura’s attorney, Kerry Connor, said her client’s “reputation as a dynamic mayor and dedicated family man are well known across the Region.”
“He used some of his campaign funds for personal use, routinely paid it back, and is devastated that his nearly two-decade term as mayor is ending in this manner,” said Connor in a statement. “…and his decision to accept this plea agreement was in the best interest of his family and the citizens of Whiting.”
The U.S. Attorney’s office said if the 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.