Meetings & Information


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Gambling Embezzlement: Lake Station mayor's corruption trial starts

Lake Station mayor's corruption trial starts

The federal corruption trial of Lake Station Mayor Keith Soderquist, shown in April during a city council meeting, got started Tuesday in Hammond. (Kyle Telechan / Post-Tribune)

By Teresa Auch Schultz


Federal attorneys say Lake Station mayor, wife used donated money for gambling Lake Station Mayor Keith Soderquist's criminal trial finally kicked off Tuesday afternoon with attorneys describing two versions of the politician: in one, a mayor who defrauded others to keep gambling, and in the second, a mayor so dedicated to the city he lost his job.

Soderquist and his wife, Deborah Soderquist, are charged with one count of conspiring to commit wire fraud, seven counts of wire fraud and three counts of filing a false income tax return.

"Soderquist campaign reports pulled by FBI"

Assistant U.S. Attorney Josh Kolar argued during the government's opening statement that the couple used money donated to his campaign election committee and the Lake Station Food Pantry to pay for trips to local casinos over a period of several years.
"This didn't happen once, this didn't happen twice," Kolar said. "It happened more than 50 times."

Kolar laid out the government's case, including evidence that the Soderquists would withdraw money from accounts connected to the food pantry or the campaign fund within 24 hours of trips they would take to the casinos. The Soderquists oversaw both accounts because they were the chairman and secretary of the campaign fund, and Soderquist had made his wife assistant director of the food pantry when he became mayor. He noted that the food pantry didn't have an ATM card until the Soderquists took over and that they never recorded the withdrawals from the campaign fund on forms they were required to fill out.

Kolar also described the couple's financial difficulties, which started in 2009 after Soderquist lost his private, full-time job. They withdrew more than $95,000 over three years from their retirement accounts, he said, and racked up credit card debt. At the same time, they kept gambling, losing as much as $45,000 a year.

"They kept gambling, and they paid for that from donated money," Kolar said.

Defense attorney Scott King argued the government's case isn't supported by the evidence.

"It's going to show Deborah and Keith Soderquist did not conspire to commit any act remotely close to fraud," he said.

King admitted the Soderquists did get into financial trouble because the mayor spent so much time trying to help the city recover from the 2008 floods that there were complaints about not doing all his duties at his private job.

He was eventually fired, and in order to shore up their finances, the couple took steps to cut their costs, including taking money from their retirement accounts, King said. They also wanted to renegotiate their credit card debt, but in order to do so, King said, they had to first go into default.

They also finally decided to seek reimbursements from the pantry and his campaign for expenses they had originally paid for out of their pocket, the attorney said.

"Every penny that the government is going to wave in front of our faces is reimbursement for money spent out of their own pockets," King said, adding that they had receipts to support this.

He urged the jury to not judge the couple for gambling, noting that these trips were just a relaxing evening for the Soderquists to enjoy a free dinner and then play some slots. He also questioned the government on how much the couple had actually lost, although he did not say how much that amount was.

The opening statements got underway at 4 p.m. at the U.S. District Court in Hammond after a full day spent selecting the jury, which includes 12 jurors and four alternates. The trial was originally set to start Monday but was canceled for the day after only a few hours when not enough potential jurors showed up to select a jury. The trial is supposed to last four to five days.

No comments: