CHICAGO (CBS) -- Joseph Stahura, the longtime mayor of Whiting, Indiana, is resigning after agreeing to plead guilty to federal fraud and tax charges, admitting he misused $255,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses; including gambling, credit card debt, and financial support to his adult daughter.
"All I can say at this time is that I used some funds from my campaign account for personal use, I routinely paid it back, the circumstances have resulted in wire fraud and income tax violations, and I'm very sorry for my actions and am prepared to take responsibility for them," Stahura wrote in an open letter posted on Whiting's official Facebook page. "While no city money was ever touched, this plea agreement will result in my resignation as Mayor in coming days. Thank you for all your support over the years – it has been my honor to serve the public, and ultimately the decision to accept the plea agreement is in the best interest of my family and the citizens of Whiting."
Stahura, 64, has been charged with wire fraud and filing a false income tax return, and has entered into an agreement to plead guilty to both charges, Northern Indiana U.S. Attorney Thomas Kirsch announced Thursday. His wife, Diane Stahura, also 64, entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, meaning she acknowledges there is sufficient evidence to charge her, but she won't be prosecuted if she meets the requirements of her agreement with prosecutors.
"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 publicly filed campaign reports and tax returns. He knew his conduct was illegal, yet he persisted in it for over 5 years," Kirsch said in a news release.
Joseph Stahura has been mayor of Whiting since 2004, and before that was a city councilman in Whiting for 20 years.
Prosecutors said he and his wife misused approximately $255,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses between 2014 and 2019, and sought to cover it up by filing falsified campaign finance reports.
Diane Stahura is accused of transferring money from her husband's campaign account to their personal account. According to prosecutors, the two used the money to pay personal bills, to gamble at casinos, and to provide financial support for their adult daughter.
Joseph Stahura is also accused of filing false and misleading campaign finance reports with the Board of Elections, omitting information about his personal use of campaign funds. He's also accused of filing a false tax return for 2018, in which he did not account for $51,480 he stole from his campaign account.
Indiana campaign finance law requires campaign funds to be used only for political activity related to serving in elected office, and prohibits the use of campaign money for personal expenses.
If a federal judge accepts the plea agreement, the judge will determine Strahura's sentence, including any fines or restitution. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for wire fraud and 3 years in prison for filing a false income tax return. The charges also carry a maximum fine of $250,000 each.
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