Indiana Casino Executive Indicted for Violating Federal Campaign Finance Laws

Posted on: September 29, 2020, 10:41h. 

Last updated on: September 29, 2020, 02:23h.

Indiana casino executive John Keeler, the vice president and general counsel of Spectacle Entertainment, has been indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly violating federal campaign finance laws.

Indiana casino executive John Keeler
The Justice Department alleges John Keeler, a longtime casino executive in Indiana, was involved in an illegal political donation plot. (Image: Chicago Tribune)

Keeler is accused of orchestrating a scheme in 2016 to finance the congressional campaign of then-Indiana Sen. Brent Waltz (R-District 36). Federal authorities say Keeler, who was a casino executive with Centaur Gaming at the time, plotted with Maryland-based political consultant Kelley Rogers to funnel more than $25,000 from the casino company to Waltz’s campaign.

The Department of Justice and US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana say Rogers created phony invoices billed to Centaur for claimed services rendered. Keeler transferred the money to Rogers, who then gave the funds to straw donors.

A straw donor is a person who illegally uses another person’s money to make a political contribution in their own name. The DOJ says numerous straw donors each contributed $2,700 to the Waltz campaign, the maximum individual donation at the time.

Keeler has been charged with one count of conspiracy to make illegal corporate contributions, false statements, and to obstruct justice, one count of making illegal corporate contributions, one count of obstruction of justice, and one count of making false statements.

Waltz was charged with one count of conspiracy to make conduit contributions, false statements, and to obstruct justice, one count of making and receiving conduit contributions, one count of obstruction of justice, and two counts of making false statements.

An indictment is not a finding of guilt but merely alleges that crimes have been committed.

Waltz Spectacle

In 2018, Centaur Gaming sold its two-horse racetrack casinos — Hoosier Park and Indiana Grand — to Caesars Entertainment for $1.7 billion.

Keeler, along with former Centaur Chairman and CEO Rod Ratcliff, formed Spectacle soon after Centaur’s closing. In late 2018, Spectacle acquired the Majestic Star riverboats for an undisclosed sum.

Spectacle won approval from the Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC) to take its Majestic Star casino licenses to a new land-based casino in Gary. Spectacle and Hard Rock International are currently building a $300 million casino resort called Hard Rock Northern Indiana.

However, the federal investigation involving Centaur and Waltz prompted the IGC to launch an investigation into Spectacle earlier this year. Ratcliff and Keeler agreed in May to disassociate themselves from the Hard Rock project.

Ratcliff is no longer is listed on the Spectacle Entertainment website, with Jahnae Erpenbach now the company’s chair and CEO. However, Keeler still shows as VP and general counsel.

Centaur, Waltz Link

According to the Federal Election Commission, 42 individuals donated the maximum $2,700 to Waltz’s failed 2016 congressional bid. What’s unclear is why Keeler, should the federal allegations be proven, agreed to play a role in funneling cash to his campaign.

Waltz finished fourth in the US House Indiana District 9 Republican Primary. The victor was US Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-Indiana), who went on to beat Democratic nominee Shelli Yoder in the general election.