On Monday, April 18, Indianapolis state lawmaker and casino executive John Keeler pleaded guilty several hours before his trial’s beginning in the US District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. In September 2020, he was accused of funneling casino cash to a political action committee related to the Marion County Republican Party.
Per the plea agreement, in 2016, Keeler, 72, secretly funneled $25,000 in casino cash to the Greater Indianapolis Republican Finance Committee, which is linked to the Marion County Republican Party PAC. At that time, the said party faced significant financial problems.
Political donations through falsified invoices
In order to conceal the origin of the funds, Keeler, who was at that time vice president and general counsel at New Centaur LLC, and Kelley Rogers, a Maryland political consultant, agreed that a company owned by Rogers would send a falsified invoice to New Centaur, and then Rogers would donate the money to the Greater Indianapolis Republican Finance Committee.
On April 15, 2016, the Maryland consultant sent a falsified invoice for services concerning the horse racing activities of New Centaur. Keeler authorized a payment worth $41,000 and later provided information about the Republican finance committee’s account to Rogers. Later, the political consultant made a political donation worth $25,000 to the said committee. Allegedly, the funds from the donation came from New Centaur LLC. However, when filing its taxes, the casino company claimed the payment of $41,000 as a business expense instead of an expense related to political candidates’ donations, in order to be deductible.
Charges dropped due to plea deal
Keeler was charged with five other crimes, including transferring illegal corporate donations to Waltz, who at the time was a Republican state senator until leaving his position in 2016. However, those charges were dismissed as part of Keeler’s plea agreement.
He could be sentenced to up to three years imprisonment, a fine of up to $100,000, and a maximum of one year of supervised release after imprisonment, but probably will receive less because of the plea deal. He was also ordered to pay restitution of $14,350 due to tax losses.
The Keeler’s guilty plea came after a week after Brent Waltz, a former member of the Indiana Senate, also pleaded guilty to charges of making and receiving illegal political contributions and providing false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Waltz could receive up to 10 years in prison, but will likely be sentenced to less due to his plea agreement. Keeler and Waltz’s sentencing hearings have not been scheduled yet.
Keeler was formerly vice president of Spectacle Entertainment LLC, an Indianapolis-based casino company, which owned and ran the Majestic Star Casino in Gary. In 2021, the Indiana Gaming Commission began an investigation into Keeler and Waltz due to the aforementioned allegations. The Gaming Commission made Keeler and another casino executive, Rod Ratcliff, sell their ownership stakes in casino projects.