Ex-Indiana Lawmaker in Casino Dark Money Case Claims Federal Set Up

Posted on: August 22, 2023, 08:14h. 

Last updated on: August 22, 2023, 09:56h.

A former Indiana state senator imprisoned in August 2022 for accepting illegal campaign donations from a casino company executive claims he was stitched up by federal prosecutors. He’s also blaming his lawyer for putting him in the slammer, IndyStar reports.

Brent Waltz, Centaur Gaming, Indiana
Brent Waltz, above, when he was an Indiana state senator. Waltz was sentenced to 10 months last year after agreeing to a plea deal he says was tailor-made to put him in prison. (Image: Fox)

Republican Brent Waltz served seven months in prison after pleading guilty to two felony counts of making and receiving conduit contributions and lying to the FBI. He has since been released and is currently on probation.

As part of his plea deal, Waltz admitted receiving $40,500 in dark-money campaign contributions from John Keeler in 2016.

Keeler is also a former Republican state senator who was, at the time, general counsel and vice president for Centaur Gaming. Centaur owned the Indiana Grand and Hoosier Park racinos, which it sold to Caesars in 2018.

Keeler was sentenced to two months in prison in 2022 after pleading guilty to filing a false tax return. This charge was related to his role in funneling money from Centaur to Kelley Rogers, a political consultant working on Waltz’s congressional campaign.

Innocence Claim

In an affidavit filed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Waltz asserted he was “innocent of all charges.”

He said he had believed the prosecutors’ claim was “weak.” That’s because Rogers had told the FBI he had “intentionally hid his illegal acts from [Waltz] and did not believe [Waltz] was aware of those illegal acts,” according to the affidavit.

Waltz claimed in the filing he was prepared to fight all the charges at trial but was also worried that a jury might side with prosecutors. So he agreed to a plea deal that would drop three additional charges. Unknown to him, the deal was tailor-made to land him in prison, according to the affidavit.

The deal required that Waltz plead guilty to illegally accepting $40,500 from Centaur, a figure that Walz claimed was mystifying to him since the actual figure was less than that.

It also mystified his lawyer, who should have realized that confessing to less than $40K in illegal donations could have led to a lesser prison sentence or no prison time at all.

According to the filing, anything over $40K has a “presumption of imprisonment,” according to the filing.

Waltz claims that federal prosecutors cooked up the $40,500 specifically to land him in prison and that “no one present during the agreement discussions,” including his lawyer, was aware of this. That’s according to Waltz’s new attorney, Abraham Murphy, in the filing.

Waltz’s former attorney, Russell Johnson, admits that he “did not research the issue” during plea negotiations, according to the affidavit.

Hard Rock Project

After Caesars bought up Centaur’s Indiana properties, Keeler formed Spectacle Gaming with former Centaur CEO Rod Ratcliff. The new company owned the Majestic Star Casino in Gary and worked with Hard Rock International to create a land-based casino in the northwest Indiana city.

In January 2020, less than a month after Spectacle and Hard Rock International broke ground on the project, state regulators announced Keeler was under investigation for funneling corporate money to politicians.

Keeler and Ratcliff were ultimately removed from Spectacle, and restructuring the company made it a minority shareholder in what became the Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana.