Jurors convict the former Calumet Township trustee’s secretary of a role in a shakedown conspiracy | Crime and Courts


HAMMOND — A jury has convicted the executive secretary of a former Calumet Township trustee and acquitted her former campaign manager of public corruption.

Ryan Holmes, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said jurors found Ethel Shelton guilty, and Alex Wheeler not guilty of federal conspiracy and fraud charges.

Shelton, 73, of Gary, reportedly was distraught, complained loudly that she had led a long and law-abiding life, and she was so upset she had to leave the courtroom. Court records indicate U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Van Bokkelen has taken under advisement a motion by Shelton’s lawyer to declare a mistrial in the case.

Valparaiso attorney Larry W. Rogers, who represents Wheeler, said, afterward, “The jury got it right as far as Alex is concerned. He feels badly for Ethel Shelton. They have long been friends.”

Andrea E. Gambino, who represents Shelton, couldn’t be reached Monday for comment.

The verdict came Monday afternoon after two days of deliberations. 

Shelton, executive secretary and friend to former Calumet Township Trustee Mary Elgin, and Wheeler, a chief deputy to Elgin and one of her former campaign managers, had been on trial for two weeks.

Federal prosecutors Maria N. Lerner and Abizer Zanzi argued the two defendants were essential in Elgin’s operation to exact political contributions from township employees’ pay and political work on public time.

Elgin and her son, Steven Hunter, pleaded guilty last spring to compelling township employees to give her campaign 1 percent of their public wages as well as work on her campaign during their township work hours. They are still awaiting sentencing.

Shelton and Wheeler’s defense attorneys said their clients were only minor figures on Elgin’s staff, and there is no credible evidence they were part of any illegal conspiracy.

Rogers argued during the trial that Wheeler, who knew Elgin from their days as steel union leaders, had become opposed to Elgin’s administration and ethical practices.

Stafford Garbutt, a former strategic adviser to Elgin and a confidential government informant, testified Shelton helped distribute Elgin’s political fundraising tickets, which employees were expected to sell or buy with their own personal funds.

Elgin was Calumet Township trustee from 2003 until 2014. She ran one of the largest township poor relief operations in the state.

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