Corruption trial set for remaining Cal Twp. figures | Crime and Courts

HAMMOND — Two political operatives of convicted former Calumet Township Trustee Mary Elgin are in line to be tried next month on public corruption charges.

U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Van Bokkelen ordered Ethel Shelton and Alex Wheeler to stand trial June 5 on conspiracy and wire fraud counts arising from a scheme to shake down township employees for political contributions.

Elgin, the trustee for whom they worked, pleaded guilty May 8 to charges she demanded Shelton, Wheeler and her son, Steven Hunter, require the rest of her staff to buy her fundraising tickets as a condition of their public employment.

Hunter pleaded guilty May 11 to similar charges.

Both Elgin and Hunter were scheduled for their own trial earlier this month until they signed last-minute plea agreements to earn leniency when they are sentenced in late September.

The government alleges Shelton and Wheeler are longtime friends of Elgin. Shelton was Elgin’s personal secretary, and Wheeler ran the township’s job search department for indigent township residents receiving public assistance.

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The government alleges Shelton’s duties included collecting money for Elgin’s fundraisers and keeping a list of employees who did or didn’t contribute.

The government alleges Elgin wanted Wheeler to enforce employees’ ticket sales, and Wheeler told two unidentified township employees they were expected to either sell the tickets to others or buy them with their own personal funds.

The government has alleged the scheme was designed to kick back about 1 percent of their salaries. Elgin employed as many as 135 to distribute assistance to Gary’s poorest residents.

The government said the conspiracy cost taxpayers between $15,000 and $40,000 over Elgin’s years in office.

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