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Former Schererville judge sentenced

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A former judge in Lake County received a 15-month federal prison sentence on Thursday, four years after being indicted for extortion and fraud, and two years after she pleaded guilty to getting kickbacks from more than 1,000 defendants that she'd sentenced to driving school and counseling classes she secretly owned and personally profited from.

U.S. District Judge Philip Simon in the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division, sentenced former Schererville Town Judge Deborah Riga to prison and also ordered her to pay $12,120 in restitution to the town and state.

She was the second person elected to that town court and started in 2000; her plea agreement shows that within a year of taking the bench she set up the driver education and youth counseling programs and started using her judicial power to mandate criminal offenders attend those classes.

Court records show a similar but unrelated scheme where Riga had directed employees to change their hours and billing practices so that money normally going to the state and county would instead go to the town, and that the former judge stopped paying rent to the town for court space and had employees working on the township payroll whose wages should have come from a juvenile counseling program fund. At the sentencing hearing, Judge Simon noted the former judge made about $30,000 from that scheme.

Since Riga's indictment in 2004, the federal court granted six continuances and noted in its latest one in June that it would be the last. Part of the reason for delay was that Riga has been cooperating with the federal government in the prosecution of former political ally Robert Cantrell, who was convicted in June of 11 counts of fraud. That helped her get a reduced sentence, as well as the use of more lenient rules that were in place in 2002.

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