- Associated Press - Thursday, September 10, 2015

HAMMOND, Ind. (AP) - A northwestern Indiana mayor charged with illegally taking more than $20,000 from his election campaign fund said at his trial that he was properly reimbursing himself for political expenses.

Lake Station Mayor Keith Soderquist testified Wednesday that those expenditures included paying poll workers, phone bills and mileage expenses during his mayoral or city council campaigns going back to 1999. He said he meant to amend his campaign reports to include the expenses but would always procrastinate.

Prosecution witnesses have presented cellphone, ATM and casino records to try to show how withdrawals were made from Soderquist’s campaign fund and a city food pantry account just before he and his wife made trips to casinos, where they lost more than $100,000 gambling between 2009 and 2012.

“That was the convenient way to take cash out of the committee to pay me back for my expenses,” Soderquist said.

He and his wife face charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and filing false tax returns during the trial that began last week in federal court in Hammond.

Soderquist testified that he didn’t seek reimbursements for the old campaign expenses until after losing his private-sector job in 2009, the year after he became mayor, The (Munster) Times and the (Merrillville) Post-Tribune reported.

“I felt a little guilty charging my committee what was owed to me,” he said. “I didn’t need to be reimbursed at the time.”

Soderquist indicated that his gambling probably increased after he lost his job, but under repeated questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Benson he refused to say he was addicted to gambling.

“Looking back now, I had a problem and I gambled too much,” he said.

Soderquist has remained mayor of the 13,000-person city just east of Gary since he and his wife were indicted in April 2014. His term runs until the end of this year after he was badly beaten in May’s Democratic primary, ending his bid for a third term.

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