Former Louisiana Senator Gets 22 Months in Prison for Gambling With Campaign Funds

  • Karen Carter Peterson had pled guilty in August to a single charge of federal wire fraud
  • Peterson pleaded for leniency and was seeking probation or a home confinement sentence
  • The former senator took campaign and party funds over a seven-year period to gamble at casinos
  • Struggles with gambling first came to light after she gambled at a casino despite self-exclusion
Prison cell bars
Former Louisiana Senator Karen Carter Peterson has been sentenced to 22 months in prison for gambling with campaign funds. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Paying for her transgressions

Former Louisiana Senator Karen Carter Peterson has been sentenced to 22 months in prison for misusing campaign funds. She pled guilty in August to a federal wire fraud charge; US District Judge Sarah Vance sentenced her on Wednesday. The 53-year-old will begin her prison sentence on March 6 and has surrendered her law license.

already paid restitution to the Democratic Party of $53,107

After she gets out, Peterson will also be subject to supervised release for three years and must do 600 hours of community service. She has already paid restitution to the Democratic Party of $53,107 and has reimbursed the funds taken from her campaign account. She was also fined $115,000, with $94,250 of the sum due immediately.

Holding Peterson to account

Before she was sentenced, Peterson was emotional in court, pleading with the judge for some sort of leniency. Speaking about what she did, Peterson said: “I failed my constituents, family, friends and the public who trusted me. I am an imperfect child of God.” Her legal team sought home confinement or probation; the 22-month sentence she got was approximately half of the 41-51 month federal sentencing guidelines term.

public has the right to expect that politicians uphold the trust placed in them

Following the sentencing, the US Attorney’s Office released a statement saying that the public has the right to expect that politicians uphold the trust placed in them. The statement explained that Peterson “broke the law, deceived contributors, and violated her duty to the voters and the political party with which she was affiliated on dozens of occasions.”

These types of crimes lead to civic disengagement, cynicism, and frustration among the public, according to the statement. The US Attorney’s Office underlined its commitment to bringing corrupt public officials to justice.

The fall from grace

A federal probe led to Peterson initially being charged after investigators discovered that the former senator was using campaign funds to finance her addiction to gambling. She had taken money from her own campaign account and state Democratic Party coffers to gamble at casinos. In total, she took $147,357 over a seven-year period. She received help from at least six people who would cash checks Peterson wrote to them for supposed campaign services. These people would return the money to her so she could then gamble. None of them have been charged.

Peterson had no previous criminal record and spent over 22 years in the Louisiana Legislature. She was the Louisiana Democratic Party chair between 2013 and 2020, as well as unsuccessfully running for Congress twice.

The public first became aware of Peterson’s long-running gambling addiction when she received a misdemeanor summons in February 2019 after gambling at a Baton Rouge casino. She had been on a self-exclusion list that meant she should not enter any of the state’s casinos.