Whiting mayor charged with wire, tax fraud; enters agreement to plead guilty

Joe Stahura, involved in Whiting politics for over 30 years, will resign

ByABC 7 Chicago Digital Team WLS logo
Thursday, August 27, 2020

WHITING, Ind. (WLS) -- The mayor of a northwest Indiana city has been charged with wire fraud and filing a false income tax return.

Whiting Mayor Joseph Stahura, 64, has entered into a plea agreement, indicating his intent to plead guilty to both charges, U.S. Attorney Thomas L. Kirsch II of the Northern District of Indiana said Thursday.

His wife Diane Stahura, 64, also of Whiting, entered into a deferred prosecution agreement wherein she acknowledges that the government has sufficient evidence to charge her with wire fraud.

"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," Kirsch said. "He knew his conduct was illegal, yet he persisted in it for over 5 years."

In a public statement Thursday morning, Stahura said "this plea agreement will result in my resignation as mayor in the coming days.

"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 violation, and I'm very sorry for my actions and am prepared to take responsibility for them," Stahura wrote.

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According to documents in the case, Stahura, the mayor of Whiting 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. Before he was mayor, Stahura served as a Whiting City council member for 20 years. He was also the chairman and treasurer of his campaign committee, entitled "Committee to Elect Joe Stahura."

From February 2014 through 2019, the Stahuras 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, Kirsch said. To further defraud, they reportedly sought donations from individuals and entities, and held fundraising events.

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, Kirsch said.

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In April 2019, Joe Stahura reportedly 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 candidates can 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 cannot use committee money for a primarily personal purpose.

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.

Sun-Times Media contributed to this report.