John Keeler, Ex-Indiana Casino Executive, Avoids Federal Trial with Plea

Posted on: April 19, 2022, 06:02h. 

Last updated on: April 19, 2022, 11:19h.

John Keeler, a former executive with two Indiana gaming companies, entered a guilty plea in an Indianapolis federal court Monday. His action came on a charge of causing a false corporate tax return to be filed.

Spectacle Indiana Gaming
John Keeler, shown here at an August 2019 Indiana Gaming Commission meeting, entered a guilty plea to a false tax return charge in federal court on Monday. The former executive with both Centaur Gaming and Spectacle Entertainment could get up to three years in prison. However, prosecutors expect a lighter sentence for the former state representative. (Image:

With the agreement, Keeler avoided going to trial on five other charges in connection with an illegal political contribution scheme.  That led to funds from Centaur Gaming going into a Republican congressional campaign account of a then-Indiana state senator who ran unsuccessfully six years ago. The trial was supposed to start on Monday.

Brent Waltz, the former state senator and congressional candidate, was also charged in the case. He entered a guilty plea last week to also avoid going to trial.

By pleading guilty to the tax charge, Keeler – a former state lawmaker himself – agreed to make restitution on more than $14,000 to the federal government. He also faces up to three years in prison. Keeler and Waltz, who faces up to 10 years for accepting bogus campaign contributions, await sentencing from US District Judge James R. Sweeney II.

However, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana said in a statement Monday it expects lighter sentences for both men.

Had the case gone to trial, Keeler’s attorneys planned to present photos of Keeler’s former boss, Centaur Gaming founder Rod Ratcliff, attending President Trump’s 2017 inauguration. Prosecutors objected and asked a judge to bar the pictures from the trial.

Bogus Invoices the Conduit for Contributions

Keeler was first indicted 18 months ago on charges of conspiring to make corporate contributions, making corporate contributions, and making false statements. Last year, prosecutors got two additional indictments against him on the false tax return charges.

One of the tax return charges was in connection with the Waltz campaign investigation. The second charge, which was the one pled guilty to, was connected to a different scheme that funneled money to an Indianapolis GOP political action committee.

The investigation was part of a larger inquiry into illegal political contributions tied to Maryland-based consultant Kelley Rogers. In September 2019, Rogers pleaded guilty to taking millions from donors for sham political committees. As part of his plea agreement, Rogers agreed to testify in the Waltz case.

In 2015, Rogers met with someone listed in court records as “Individual A,” an unnamed coconspirator who served as the CEO of Centaur Gaming. That matched the description of Ratcliff. In their meeting, authorities said a scheme was devised to funnel Centaur funds into Waltz’s congressional campaign.

The plan involved Rogers’ firm submitting phony invoices for research projects that were never performed. Rogers, Waltz, and Chip O’Neil – another political consultant – found contributors to donate $2,700 each to the Waltz campaign.

Once the bogus invoices were submitted, Keeler signed off on them, and Centaur sent the funds to Rogers company. Part of those proceeds was then used to repay the initial donors. The tax charges came into play after authorities discovered Keeler allowed Centaur to deduct the bogus invoices on its returns.

Local GOP Also Benefitted from Centaur

A second similar scheme was revealed in court documents. Prosecutors said that in 2016, Keeler pledged to work with the Greater Indianapolis Republican Finance Committee (GIRFCO) on a campaign fundraising issue that also involved Rogers and phony invoices.

Centaur, at the time of the schemes, owned Indiana Grand and Hoosier Park racinos. Ratcliff, who founded the company, sold the tracks to Caesars Entertainment in 2018. He then established Spectacle Entertainment and unveiled plans to bring a land-based casino to Gary.

Keeler served as a vice president and general counsel at both Centaur and Spectacle.

The Indiana Gaming Commission learned of the federal investigation in January 2020. Shortly after that, the IGC started its own. The IGC’s inquiry led to both Keeler and Ratcliff, a longtime Indiana gaming and political fixture, losing their licenses. What’s left of Spectacle is now a minority partner in Hard Rock Northern Indiana.