ST. LOUIS — A rural southeastern Illinois town's newly elected mayor said Thursday his predecessor's guilty pleas to federal charges of using bogus invoices to skim money from the community means it finally can move on, even if the exact cost to local coffers remains publicly elusive.
Bridgeport Mayor Max Schauf, 56, entered the pleas Wednesday to three counts of mail fraud and one count of obstructing justice in U.S. District Court in Benton, Illinois The felonies together are punishable by up to 80 years in prison and $1 million in fines, though prosecutors said they'll recommend a punishment at the low end of federal sentencing guidelines, citing Schauf's voluntary "acceptance of personal responsibility for this criminal conduct."
Charged in an indictment last November, Schauf was accused of submitting false invoices, contracts and bills to the 2,200-resident farming and oil town about 170 miles east of St. Louis for services and equipment over a nearly three-year period until March 2011, taking a portion of money for personal use.
Schauf told The Associated Press after being charged that he had no plans to step down as mayor after more than 11 years in the post. He later opted not to seek re-election.
Brad Purcell, the only mayoral candidate on last month's ballot, was voted into office and assumes the seat Tuesday.
The indictment and documents associated with Schauf's charges don't reveal how much money he stole. Purcell said Thursday he also doesn't know, noting the FBI still has the city's financial records.
"The FBI would have an answer as much as anybody. I don't think we have a clue," Purcell said. "But we're not going to sit around and beat a dead horse about anything. With the settling of the court deal, everybody is ready to move forward. We're trying to keep our head up and keep going."
As part of the scheme, the indictment alleged, Schauf sought out various businesses and people — often family and friends — to provide services or equipment to Bridgeport. Schauf later submitted invoices or contracts to the town for the work or machinery, often without the providers' knowledge, typically to mislead Bridgeport's officials and taxpayers of the true costs, the indictment claimed.
Schauf deposited checks received from the town's coffers for the work or equipment usage into his own bank account and paid those owed cash amounts less than the invoices, profiting from the difference, according to the indictment.
The obstruction charge accused Schauf of knowingly directing an individual identified in the indictment only as "JP" to lie or mislead FBI investigators last November.
A co-defendant, Paul Kramer of Vincennes, Indiana, pleaded guilty in March to two counts of making false statements to the FBI. Kramer, 62, faces up to a decade in prison and $500,000 in fines when sentenced June 27.
Schauf's sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 8. He did not return a telephone message left Thursday at his home by the AP.
"Theft, fraud, and obstruction by one public servant tarnish the image of all those dedicated public servants who serve their communities each day with honesty and integrity," Stephen Wigginton, southern Illinois' U.S. attorney, said in a statement.