Indiana Casino Exec Charged for Illegal Political Donations
A lengthy investigation
A leading executive at a casino company in Indiana has been hit with federal charges for allegedly illegally funneling contributions to the unsuccessful congressional campaign of a former lawmaker in the state.
Another executive in the company has also left his position because of the investigation.
The federal indictment, announced on Tuesday, charges Spectacle Entertainment vice president John Keeler and former Republican Senator Brent Waltz for allegedly partaking in a scheme to send over $25,000 in illegal contributions from the corporation to Waltz’s 2016 campaign via straw donors.
In all, 15 people were recruited to give maximum contributions of $2,700 to Waltz’s campaign. They were repaid illegally using almost $80,000 that originally came from Spectacle, but directed through a Virginia political firm called Strategic Campaign Group. Two executives of the firm have pleaded guilty in separate fraud and campaign finance cases.
Waltz also faces charges of lying to FBI agents about a payment of $12,000 from one of the Strategic Campaign Group executives, as well as for claiming that he sold certain expensive items to fund a campaign loan of over $100,000. It is alleged that this money was given to him by two unnamed individuals.
Details of the investigation first went public in January when a political consultant entered a guilty plea in Virginia for getting a number of individuals to write checks for the Waltz campaign using the casino company’s money.
This spring, Indiana casino officials forced Spectacle executives Rod Ratcliff and Keeler to surrender their ownership positions in the new Terre Haute $125m casino project as a result of the investigation. Their business partner was able to continue with this project.
The Indiana Gaming Commission suspended Keeler’s casino license on Tuesday and is currently conducting its own investigations into the parties involved, including Spectacle.
According to a statement from Spectacle, Keeler is currently on administrative leave. This statement also noted: “It is important to remember that Mr. Keeler is presumed innocent of all charges.”
Two major players
Both Keeler and Ratcliff have been active casino industry lobbyists in the state for a long time. They were at the forefront last year of an effort to push lawmakers to approve the move of the $400m Gary casino project to a more lucrative location. Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb had to undergo an ethics review in 2019 because of his dealings with Ratcliff.
Ratcliff treated the governor to private jet flights in 2018 when they were traveling together for meetings hosted by the Republican Governors Association in Arizona and Colorado. The state inspector general ultimately decided that Holcomb committed no wrongdoing, as the flights were given to the governor’s group as opposed to his office.
There was no mention of Ratcliff in the indictment and he is not looking at any criminal charges. However, he did resign from his position as CEO and chairman of Spectacle in June. Ratcliff is able to retain his ownership piece of Spectacle but cannot have any management or control over the upcoming Gary casino.