April 18, 2022

Former Indiana casino executive pleads guilty to tax fraud

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A former Indiana casino executive pleaded guilty Monday to one count of filing a false tax return in a scheme to funnel cash to a political action committee associated with the Marion County Republican Party.

John Keeler's guilty plea came just one hour before his trial was scheduled to begin in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis. He entered his plea a week after his co-defendant, former state Sen. Brent Waltz, pleaded guilty to other federal charges for receiving about $40,000 in illegal campaign contributions for his unsuccessful 2016 congressional campaign.

Prosecutors agreed to drop five other counts against Keeler, a former top executive of Indianapolis-based Spectacle Entertainment, as part of his plea agreement, The Indianapolis Star reported. He will be required to pay restitution of $14,350.

Keeler faces up to three years in prison, but will likely receive less under the deal. His sentencing has not been scheduled yet.

Under his plea agreement, Keeler admitted to working with an out-of-state political consultant to funnel $25,000 to the Greater Indianapolis Republican Finance Committee, a political action committee associated with the Marion County Republican Party.

At the time, in 2016, the party was struggling financially, according to the plea agreement. Keeler wanted to help, but believed Indiana law prohibited casino company contributions.

Keeler also was accused of directing illegal corporate contributions through straw donors to Waltz, who was a Republican state senator for 12 years until giving up his seat in 2016 for an ultimately unsuccessful run in the GOP primary for the 9th Congressional District.

But those charges were dropped as part of Keeler's plea deal.

Keeler and Waltz were indicted following a lengthy FBI investigation into Spectacle Entertainment that led the Indiana Gaming Commission to force the company out of its ownership of projects for new casinos in Gary and Terre Haute.

The commission also raised financial misconduct allegations against former Spectacle CEO Rod Ratcliff, who agreed to give up his state casino license, ending more than a decade as a heavyweight in Indiana’s gambling industry. Ratcliff has not been charged with any crime.

Ratcliff and Keeler were leaders of Centaur Gaming, which sold Indiana’s two horse track casinos in Anderson and Shelbyville to Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment Corp. in 2018 for $1.7 billion. They led a group that then formed Spectacle Entertainment to buy the Gary casino operation.

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