Ex-Indiana lawmaker sentenced in casino money scheme

Aug 16, 2022, 10:26 PM | Updated: Aug 17, 2022, 1:54 pm
FILE - Then-Sen. Brent Waltz, R-Indianapolis, speaks during a joint committee hearing at the Stateh...

FILE - Then-Sen. Brent Waltz, R-Indianapolis, speaks during a joint committee hearing at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Jan. 6, 2012. The former Indiana state senator was sentenced Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, to 10 months in prison for his role in a scheme that illegally funneled money from a casino company to his unsuccessful 2016 congressional campaign. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A former Indiana state senator and a longtime casino executive were sentenced Wednesday to federal prison terms for their roles in a scheme that illegally funneled gambling company money to the politician’s unsuccessful 2016 congressional campaign.

The federal investigation into contributions to Republican Brent Waltz’s campaign tied to casino company lawyer John Keeler led the Indiana Gaming Commission to force the company out of its lucrative ownership of projects for new casinos in Gary and Terre Haute.

Waltz, 48, of Greenwood, pleaded guilty in April to helping route about $40,000 in illegal contributions to his campaign and making false statements to the FBI. He was sentenced to 10 months in prison.

Waltz said during Wednesday’s court hearing that his “greatest regret” was that his actions tarnished his reputation as a public servant, which included 12 years as a state senator representing the southern suburbs of Indianapolis, The Indianapolis Star reported.

Federal prosecutors had requested the 10-month sentence. U.S. District Judge James Sweeney, who also ordered Waltz to pay a fine of $40,500, could have sentenced him to up to five years in prison on each charge.

Sweeney said the political contribution scheme was “a plan with some sophistication.”

“This was clearly calculated from the start to get a leg up, to get that outside support,” the judge said.

Keeler, the former general counsel and co-owner of Indianapolis-based Centaur Gaming, was sentenced to two months in prison and fined $55,000.

Keeler was a Republican legislator for 16 years in the 1980s and 90s. He pleaded guilty in April to filing a false tax return for claiming as a business expense $41,000 that the casino company paid to a political consultant who, prosecutors say, made the contributions through straw donors.

Sweeney gave Keeler, 72, a shorter sentence than prosecutors sought, citing his age, lack of criminal history and service as a state legislator and Marine.

Centaur Gaming sold two Indiana two horse track casinos to Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment Corp. in 2018 for $1.7 billion. Keeler and longtime Indiana casino heavyweight Rod Ratcliff later led a group that formed Spectacle Entertainment to buy the Gary casino operation.

The September 2020 indictment of Keeler and Waltz led to Spectacle Entertainment being forced from ownership of Gary and Terre Haute casino projects now run by other companies.

The state gaming commission also raised financial misconduct allegations against Ratcliff, who agreed to give up his state casino license and exit the gambling industry. Ratcliff has not faced any criminal charges.

Federal prosecutors urged the judge to sentence Waltz and Keeler to at least 10 months in prison to discourage similar crimes by others. Prosecutors described both men as wealthy with successful careers.

“None of this was enough for either defendant,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing. “They wanted more, and they chose to commit crimes of opportunity — not economic necessity — to get what they wanted.”

Waltz struggled to raise campaign money and finished fourth in a five-candidate field in the 2016 Republican primary for the 9th Congressional District that stretched from the southern Indianapolis suburbs to Ohio River communities just north of Louisville, Kentucky. It has been redrawn to cover much of rural southeastern Indiana.

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Ex-Indiana lawmaker sentenced in casino money scheme