Now defunct casino company Centaur Gaming figured prominently in recent court cases involving a former state senator and two others with notable histories in Indiana’s casino industry.
On Aug. 18, former Indiana Senator Brent Waltz received a federal prison sentence of 10 months after pleading guilty in April to involvement in a “straw donors” scheme.
That scheme illegally routed $40,500 from Centaur Gaming to Waltz’s failed 2016 Congressional bid. He came in fourth in a five-way Republican primary, with just 13% of the vote, according to Shelby County Post.
Waltz also pled guilty to making false statements to the FBI, according to the Indianapolis Star.
Federal prosecutors requested a 10-month sentence. Besides that, presiding US District Judge James R. Sweeney II sentenced Waltz to:
- A fine matching the amount of the involved conduit contributions
- Two years of supervised probation
A plea agreement helped to drop three other charges against the 48-year-old ex-senator.
“Crimes of opportunity” or politically motivated charges?
Waltz claimed the case was “politically motivated,” according to the Daily Journal. He opined, “The government’s been on a jihad for conservatives ever since Donald Trump was elected.”
Waltz claimed they were really after Rod Ratcliff, the former chair of New Centaur LLC. He was also Donald Trump’s campaign finance chairman for Indiana, according to 93.1FM WIBC.
Waltz told 93.1FM that the charges against him made no sense because he could have donated to his own campaign “many times over.” He claimed he pled guilty to avoid more prison time.
Prosecutors addressed Waltz’s “millions of dollars in assets” in their sentencing memo and codefendant John Keeler’s position as an executive at a billion-dollar casino company:
“They wanted more and they chose to commit crimes of opportunity —not economic necessity — to get what they wanted.”
Before announcing sentencing on Aug. 18, Judge Sweeney said that the straw donor scheme, which went into operation in 2015, was “a plan with some sophistication.”
“This was clearly calculated from the start to get a leg up, to get that outside support,” Sweeney said.
Trio in trouble
Two others besides Waltz were involved in the scheme. The FBI and IRS-Criminal Investigation were investigating the somewhat labyrinthine case. The original grand jury indictment was handed down in September 2020.
The grand jury found that Waltz and Kelley Rogers, a political consultant from Maryland, funneled the money from Centaur to Waltz’s 2016 “Brent Waltz for Congress” campaign. Waltz was running for election to the US House of Representatives this time after serving as a senator for a dozen years.
Previously, in 2019, Rogers agreed to testify in the Waltz case as part of a plea deal for taking millions of dollars from donors for bogus political committees.
In 2020, he pled guilty to wire fraud in a Virginia case and received a three-year prison term.
Waltz’s attorney had asked Judge Sweeney to sentence Waltz to 640 hours of community service instead of prison time. The attorney also argued that Rogers told the FBI that he intentionally kept the identities of the real donors from Waltz.
Prosecutors countered that Waltz and Rogers had worked in tandem and that Waltz’s own family and friends — plus a business partner — were among the bogus donors who donated up to $2,700 each.
A lighter sentence for Keeler
In April, a grand jury indicted Indianapolis resident Keeler, a former GOP state rep, and former VP and general counsel of New Centaur at the time of the straw donor operation.
He pled guilty to a false tax return charge connected to the Waltz campaign investigation. A plea deal helped in dropping five other charges.
Sweeney sentenced Keeler to:
- two months in federal prison
- one year of probation
- a $55,000 fine
Keeler’s age of 73, his lack of criminal history, and his service as a Marine and in the state legislature factored into a lighter sentence than the five months in prison and five months home detention prosecutors had requested.
Keeler had to relinquish part-ownership in a new casino in Terre Haute when Rogers pled guilty to wire fraud.
Caesars bought Centaur Gaming in 2018
Remember that labyrinth we referred to? Keeler was Vice President and General Counsel at Spectacle Entertainment and worked under Rod Ratcliff, who created the company.
Ratcliff also owned Centaur Gaming and sold it to Caesars in 2018 for $1.7 billion in cash.
Centaur’s Hoosier Park Racing and Casino and Indiana Grand Racing and Casino became Caesars’ third and fourth Indiana properties.
Centaur was largely operating with horse racing; Caesars introduced table games. Caesar’s Indiana properties now include:
- Horseshoe Indianapolis
- Horseshoe Hammond
- Harrah’s Hoosier Park
- Caesars Southern Indiana
The state has only one tribal casino at this time.