Ex-GOP state Sen. Brent Waltz gets 10 months in prison for straw donor scheme

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Former Indiana state Sen. Brent Waltz was sentenced to 10 months imprisonment Wednesday after he acknowledged his role in a scheme to route $40,500 in illegal contributions to his failed bid for Congress.

In April Waltz pleaded guilty to making and receiving conduit contributions and making false statements to the FBI. He was charged after he worked with out-of-state political consultant Kelley Rogers to funnel funds from Indiana casino company New Centaur to his 2015 U.S. House of Representatives campaign through straw donors.

Three charges against Waltz were dropped as part of the plea agreement.

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The 10-month federal prison sentence by U.S. District Judge James R. Sweeney II matched the punishment requested by federal prosecutors. Waltz also was ordered to pay a fine of $40,500.

At a sentencing hearing Wednesday, the 48-year-old former Republican state legislator said his "greatest regret" was how his actions tarnished his reputation as a public servant.

He also said he was in the Greenwood Park Mall July 17 at the time a gunman fatally shot three people and wounded two others. Waltz spent 45 minutes huddled with five or six other people in the mall, he said.

"That 45 minutes is probably the longest time of my life," he said Wednesday. It helped him realize that "life is precious, time is short, and the most important thing about both of those is the difference we make." His attorney requested the judge sentence him to 640 hours of community service in lieu of prison.

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Sweeney, however, said Wednesday before announcing his sentencing decision it was clear the straw donor scheme was "a plan with some sophistication."

"This was clearly calculated from the start to get a leg up, to get that outside support," the federal judge said.

Waltz's co-defendant in the case, John Keeler, also was sentenced Wednesday to two months imprisonment, and ordered to pay a fine of $55,000. Sweeney gave Keeler, 73, a lesser sentence than what prosecutors were asking for based on his age, lack of criminal history and previous public service as a state legislator and Marine.

Keeler was an executive at New Centaur at the time of the illegal contributions. In April he pleaded guilty to one count of filing a false tax return.

In tax filings for New Centaur he claimed as a business expense $41,000 that the casino company paid to Rogers in 2016, according to prosecutors. Rogers routed $25,000 of those funds to a Marion County Republican Party PAC called the Greater Indianapolis Republican Finance Committee.

Keeler was originally charged in connection with the straw donor scheme tied to Waltz’s congressional campaign, but five other charges against him were dropped as part of a plea deal.

In 2020 Rogers was convicted of wire fraud for a separate case in Virginia federal court and sentenced to three years in prison.

More:Former Indiana GOP Sen. Brent Waltz admits role in straw donor scheme

More:Casino executive admits funneling cash to Indy GOP, pleads guilty to tax fraud

Waltz, Keeler committed 'crimes of opportunity'

Federal prosecutors had asked the judge in the case to sentence Waltz to 10 months imprisonment. They wanted Keeler to get five months imprisonment and five months home detention.

Waltz should pay a fine of $40,500, and Keeler should pay a fine of $79,500, prosecutors requested in court documents.

Prosecutors described Waltz, who spent 12 years as a state senator, as “a successful businessman with millions of dollars in assets.” They pointed to Keeler's past as a state legislator and reiterated his role as a former executive at a billion-dollar casino company.

“None of this was enough for either defendant,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “They wanted more, and they chose to commit crimes of opportunity – not economic necessity – to get what they wanted.”

Prosecutors cautioned the judge about issuing a sentence that was less than what they were asking.

“A downward variance for either Waltz or Keeler — two defendants who used their positions of immense power and privilege to violate the law — would be inappropriately lenient and unjustified,” prosecutors wrote.

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Keeler’s attorneys asked for no prison time for their client, and submitted to the court letters of support from more than 80 people attesting to his character.

The attorneys wrote that the “collateral consequences” of the conviction were punishment enough.

“He has lost his gaming license with the Indiana Gaming Commission, and his law license is currently suspended and under review based upon his conviction. He is also dealing with financial institutions who have severed relationships with him because of his conviction,” attorneys wrote.

“Mr. Keeler’s conviction has caused an upheaval in his daily life, amplified by the media coverage of this case.”

In court documents, Waltz's attorney downplayed the former state senator's role in the scheme by saying Rogers, the political consultant who helped facilitate the New Centaur transactions, told the FBI he intentionally hid the source of the illegal contributions from Waltz.

Prosecutors, however, have said Waltz and Rogers worked together to find the straw donors — some of whom were Waltz's friends and family.

IndyStar reporter Tony Cook contributed.

Call IndyStar courts reporter Johnny Magdaleno at 317-273-3188 or email him at jmagdaleno@indystar.com. Follow him on Twitter @IndyStarJohnny

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Brent Waltz gets 10 months in prison for straw donors