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Former GOP lawmaker, casino executive pleads guilty to tax fraud

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Posted at 12:09 PM, Apr 18, 2022

INDIANAPOLIS — Former casino executive and GOP lawmaker John S. Keeler pleaded guilty Monday to tax fraud in connection with his role in a scheme to funnel illegal campaign donations to a congressional candidate in 2016.

In a 19-page plea agreement filed Sunday in the U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, Keeler, 72, agreed to plead guilty to causing the filing of a false tax return. In exchange, U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Myers' office agreed to dismiss four pending felony charges.

Keeler, a former member of the Indiana House and former chair of the Marion County Republican Party, faces a maximum of three years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

Keeler's trial had been scheduled to begin today. Instead, he pleaded guilty "to causing the casino company to make false statements on its federal tax return by concealing contributions to a local political party as deductible business expenses," Myers' spokesman Steven Whitaker said in a news release.

According to a federal indictment, Keeler, then vice-president of Centaur Gaming, tried to skirt federal limits on campaign donations by paying $41,000 in illegal contributions to Republican Brent Waltz's congressional campaign through a Maryland-based political consultant and several straw donors.

The straw donors each gave maximum $2,700 contributions to Waltz's campaign and were later reimbursed by Keeler's casino company, the government said.

"To further conceal the nature of the contribution," Whitaker said, "Keeler caused New Centaur’s federal tax return filed with the Internal Revenue Service to falsely describe the $41,000 payment to (a political consultant) as a deductible business expense."

At the time of the alleged crimes, Centaur Gaming owned the horse-track casinos in Anderson and Shelbyville. Centaur sold the casinos to Caesars Entertainment in 2017.

When the charges were filed in September of 2020, Keeler was working for Indianapolis-based Spectacle Entertainment, which operated the Majestic Star Casino in Gary. Spectacle has since shut down and its casino license was transferred to Hard Rock International in August 2021.

Waltz, 48, finished fourth out of five candidates in the 2016 GOP primary for Indiana's 9th District. The seat was later won by Republican Trey Hollingsworth.

Last week Waltz, a former Indiana state senator from Greenwood, pleaded guilty to making and receiving conduit contributions and making false statements to the FBI. He faces a sentence of up to five years in prison for each offense.

Keeler and Waltz will be sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge James R. Sweeney II at a later date, Whitaker said.

WRTV emailed attorneys for Keeler and Waltz seeking comment.

More: Former state senator indicted on campaign finance charges | Former state senator pleads guilty to accepting illegal campaign donations, lying to FBI

The Associated Press contributed to the story.

Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at victor.ryckaert@wrtv.com or on Twitter: @vicryc.