A northwestern Indiana mayor pleaded not guilty Thursday to federal charges that he and his wife took more than $18,000 from his campaign account at the same time they had big casino gambling losses.
Lake Station Mayor Keith Soderquist, his wife Deborah Soderquist, and stepdaughter entered the pleas during a federal court hearing a day after prosecutors announced grand jury indictments charging them with wire fraud and filing false tax returns.
Defense attorney Scott King said Soderquist, a Democrat, might be responsible for sloppy reporting of campaign finances, but that he and his wife did nothing illegal.
"Every penny they ever received from the campaign fund was reimbursement for expenses they had personally incurred on behalf of the campaign. Therefore, there is no act of fraud," King told reporters after Thursday's court hearing.
The indictment charges the couple made numerous withdrawals between spring 2010 and late 2012 at the same time that they lost $104,000 at area casinos.
Another charge is that they cashed a $300 check from the city that was intended for the Lake Station Food Pantry. About two hours after the check was cashed in July 2011, both were gambling at a New Buffalo, Mich., casino, according to the indictment.
King, a former Gary mayor, said his client did nothing wrong, and criticized prosecutors for trying to tie bank transactions with a later trip to a casino. Keith Soderquist will continue serving as mayor while he contests the charges, King said.
"Quite candidly, so what? What is that proving?" King said.
Soderquist was first elected mayor of the 13,000-person city just east of Gary in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012. Deborah Soderquist is her husband's mayoral administrative assistant and has been treasurer of his campaign committee.
They are also charged with helping the mayor's stepdaughter hide the theft of at least $5,000 from the Lake Station City Court.
The couple surrendered to federal authorities Thursday, and appeared in handcuffs in court before being released on $40,000 bonds.