Ex-Casino Magnate Pleads Guilty to Tax Fraud in Indiana

  • John Keeler diverted more than $40,000 of corporate funding to a political action committee
  • Keeler's co-defendant, Senator Daryl Brent Waltz, pleaded guilty to other charges last week
  • Several of Keeler's charges were dropped as a result of the plea agreement
  • The state gaming commission has alleged financial misconduct by ex-Spectacle CEO Rod Ratcliff
Money handshake
A former Indiana casino mogul has pleaded guilty to tax fraud. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

John Keeler accepts deal for tax fraud

A former Indiana casino baron pleaded guilty to tax fraud for falsely concealing money on tax returns in a scheme to direct funds to a political action committee (PAC). 

diverted more than $40,000 in corporate funds

72-year-old John Keeler diverted more than $40,000 in corporate funds as donations to an affiliate of the Marion County Republican Party. He plead guilty one hour before his trial in the U.S. District Court in Indianapolis was set to begin.

The former vice president of gaming company New Centaur LLC sent the money to a middleman for the Greater Indianapolis Republican Finance Committee. The prosecution agreed to drop five other charges against Keeler as part of his plea agreement. Keeler will now have to pay $14,350 in restitution.

The fallout from the plea agreement

Keeler’s tax fraud plea agreement comes one week after his co-defendant, Senator Daryl Brent Waltz, pleaded guilty to other charges stemming from $40,500 of illegal contributions used in an unsuccessful 2016 congressional campaign. The legislator had been in office for 12 years before flopping in the GOP primary for the 9th congressional district.

Keeler wanted to help the then-struggling Marion County Republican Party, according to the plea agreement. However, the former VP believed that Indiana law prevented donations from gambling entities. 

The Indiana gambling magnate also admitted to working with an out-of-state consultant, Kelley Rogers of Maryland, to funnel $25,000 to the Marion County Republican Party. Rogers’ companies sent fake invoices to Keeler and would then direct the money to the PAC.

Another pillar of the case against Keeler was his alleged misdirection of funds from straw donors to Waltz.

The plea agreement resulted in these charges against Keeler being dropped.

Legal ramifications

The FBI’s lengthy investigation of Spectacle Entertainment led to Waltz’s and Keeler’s indictments; the findings prompted the Indiana Gaming Commission to strip the group’s ownership of projects for two new casinos in Indiana.

The commission also levied financial misconduct allegations against former Spectacle CEO Rod Ratcliff. He ultimately gave up his state casino license, which ended his long-standing tenure as a leading figure in Indiana’s gambling space. 

recently criticized prosecutors for calling him a co-conspirator

Ratcliff remains firm that he is innocent. A well-known donor to former President Donald Trump and other Republicans, he recently criticized prosecutors for calling him a co-conspirator in the case. Although no criminal charges have been filed against Ratcliff, he also noted that he has been “falsely accused” of wrongdoing and has not been informed that he is a target of an investigation.

Ratcliff worked with Keeler at Centaur, which sold racetracks in Anderson and Shelbyville to Caesars Entertainment for $1.7bn in 2018. They continued this partnership as leaders of a group that then founded Spectacle Entertainment to buy the Gary casino operation.

Both Keeler and Waltz are still awaiting their sentencing. Waltz faces up to 10 years in prison, while Keeler faces a maximum of three years.

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