Ex-Indiana Pol Pleads Guilty to Taking Contributions from Casino Operator

Posted on: April 13, 2022, 04:29h. 

Last updated on: April 13, 2022, 10:31h.

A former Indiana state lawmaker entered a guilty plea in federal court Monday that he made and received illegal campaign contributions. The charges stem from a run for a congressional seat that eventually led to the downfall of two casino executives.

Former Indiana state Sen. Brent Waltz, seen here in a 2015 picture for an Indiana Public Media broadcast, entered a guilty plea earlier this week in a federal court on charges related to illegal campaign contributions he received from a gaming company. The trial for a former executive of that gaming company is set to start next week. (Image: Adam Schwartz/Indiana Public Media)

According to court documents, Brent Waltz faces up to five years in prison for the illegal contributions and an additional five years for making false statements. Waltz, who served as a state senator for 12 years, ran for a US House seat in 2016.

Waltz was one of two indicted in the case. The trial for John Keeler, a former Indiana state representative and an executive with Spectacle Entertainment and Centaur Gaming, is expected to start Monday in Indianapolis.

According to authorities, Kelley Rogers, a Washington consultant working on the Waltz campaign, met with an executive from Centaur in 2015. A plan was devised to direct company funds to the Waltz campaign in that meeting.

Centaur, which was founded by Rod Ratcliff, owned and operated the Indiana Grand racino in Shelbyville and Hoosier Park racino in Anderson. While unnamed in the court documents, it’s believed that Ratcliff met with Rogers.

The scheme involved consultants sending bogus invoices to Centaur for work that was never performed. Rogers, Charles “Chip” O’Neil, and Waltz then recruited individuals to make $2,700 contributions to the campaign. After Centaur paid the invoices, those donors were refunded their money. However, their names stayed on campaign finance reports.

Spectacle Essentially Out of Indiana Gaming

Officials with the Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC) became aware of the matter in January 2020. By that time, Ratcliff had sold Centaur to Caesars Entertainment and Spectacle and Terre Haute businessman Greg Gibson.

The IGC started its investigation into the matter roughly two weeks after Spectacle officials celebrated the groundbreaking for Hard Rock Northern Indiana, a casino in Gary the Indiana company developed with Hard Rock International owner Seminole Gaming. The two had submitted a proposal for a casino in Terre Haute.

The investigation eventually led to Keeler losing his gaming license and Ratcliff, a longtime fixture in Indiana gaming, reaching a settlement to leave the industry. The IGC also fined Spectacle $530,000.

The investigation delayed the opening of Hard Rock Northern Indiana, and eventually the Seminoles bought a controlling stake in the casino. That left what remained of Spectacle to hold a small stake in the casino and not be involved in the operation.

A Spectacle team led by Gibson eventually received the license for the Terre Haute casino in May 2020. However, that endeavor failed to get off the ground. That led the IGC to pull the license in June 2021. It was eventually awarded to Churchill Downs Inc., which plans to break ground later this spring.

Keeler Contests Prosecution’s Strategy, Late Evidence

After indicting Keeler initially in September 2020, prosecutors returned last fall and added two additional charges in his case. Those charges were tied to Centaur’s false tax returns in 2015 and 2016. Authorities say Keeler knew those tax returns included improper business deductions tied to the bogus invoices the company paid the consultants.

On Tuesday, Keeler’s lawyers filed a motion to block prosecutors from recalling the case agent and potentially other federal agents to the stand multiple times during the trial.

Keeler’s lawyers claimed that the strategy would drag out the trial if prosecutors elected to use it. Further, the move could be considered prejudicial, since the case agent would be sitting with the prosecuting team, which the defense claimed would give the agent “a ‘credibility advantage,” since the jury would see them daily throughout the trial.

In addition, Keeler’s attorneys also challenged the prosecution’s efforts to offer evidence it found after the court’s March 4 deadline. They claimed the motion to introduce new evidence infringes upon Keeler’s Sixth Amendment right to effective counsel and his right to a fair trial.

Among the newly found evidence the government plans to present is information pertaining to a limousine company that Waltz owned with others. The prosecution plans to present a witness to testify that Waltz received more than the true value of his stake in the company when an unnamed individual bought it more than a decade ago.

The unnamed individual allegedly was represented by Keeler in the acquisition.

Keeler faces up to 20 years on charges he falsified corporate records.