Former state senator Waltz pleads guilty to felony campaign finance violations

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Former state Sen. Brent Waltz, left, and casino executive John Keeler, were indicted on campaign finance violations.

Former state Sen. Brent Waltz pleaded guilty on Monday to two felonies related to an FBI investigation into his role in receiving illegal campaign donations from a casino.

Waltz, 48, of Greenwood,  pleaded guilty to making and receiving conduit contributions and to making false statements to the FBI, according to the Department of Justice. He faces up to five years in prison for each offense. He will be sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge James R. Sweeney II at a later date.

Waltz and casino executive and former state lawmaker John Keeler were both indicted in September 2020 as part of the investigation. A trial for Keeler is scheduled to begin on April 18.

Keeler, a former Republican state representative, was indicted on four counts connected to an alleged scheme to use straw donors to illegally funnel about $40,000 in casino money to Waltz’s unsuccessful 2016 campaign for the U.S. House. He has since been charged with additional counts of tax evasion.

The allegations against Waltz and Keeler led the Indiana Gaming Commission to begin an investigation that affected the construction of a casino in Terre Haute as well as the ownership of a casino in Gary.

The Gaming Commission forced Keeler and another top executive to give up their ownership stakes in the projects last year and eventually pulled the license for the Terre Haute casino away from the operators they had previously been involved with.

Keeler, 72, was formerly vice president of Indianapolis-based Spectacle Entertainment LLC, which owned and operated the Majestic Star Casino in Gary. Spectacle was acquired by Hard Rock International last year. Keeler has pleaded not guilty to his charges.

The initial indictments against Waltz and Keeler were related to an earlier investigation that became public in January 2020 when Republican strategist Chip O’Neil, a vice president at Strategic Campaign Group, pleaded guilty to conspiracy in federal court in Virginia. He admitted to helping collect donations from small donors in the names of candidates who never received the money.

O’Neil said in court that at least eight people, including his girlfriend, were used as conduits for illegal corporate donations to a U.S. House candidate in Indiana. Court documents did not initially reveal the candidate, but Federal Election Commission records indicated the recipient of the funds was Waltz, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for Indiana’s 9th Congressional District in 2016.

Court records implicated an unnamed Indianapolis gaming company and its vice president and general counsel as part of the scheme. The Indiana Gaming Commission later acknowledged that company was New Centaur LLC, which at the time owned two race track casinos in Indiana, and the executive was Keeler.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Keeler worked with Maryland-based political consultant Kelley Rogers—who worked with O’Neil at Strategic Campaign Group—to transfer thousands of dollars from the accounts of New Centaur to Rogers, who then contributed that money to Waltz’s 2016 congressional campaign.

Rogers allegedly created fake invoices and agreements to make it appear like he was providing services for New Centaur and recruited straw donors to each contribute $2,700 to Waltz’s campaign. That was the federal maximum contribution limit at the time.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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5 thoughts on “Former state senator Waltz pleads guilty to felony campaign finance violations

  1. Interesting the feds busted the federal campaign issues, but no state district attorneys seem interested in things like Gibson reaching out to hire Bosma as the attorney for the Vigo CIB nor the coincidental hiring of Jerry Torr for title work …