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BLOOMINGTON — Five former management officials of the city-owned arena face a total of 111 indictments accusing them of stealing city funds, money laundering, wire fraud and conspiracy, filing false sales tax returns and conspiracy to commit tax evasion.

The indictments, returned Sept. 20 by a McLean County grand jury, were unsealed Monday after all five defendants posted bond.

Charged are John Y. Butler, president of Central Illinois Arena Management (CIAM); Bart Rogers, CIAM general manager; and CIAM employees Jay C. Laesch, Paul E. Grazar and Kelly W. Klein. 

The theft charges against Butler accuse him of taking more than $1.1 million in city money between May 2010 and March 2016 — the end date being days before the expiration of CIAM's 10-year management deal with the city.

Butler did not return a request for comment on Monday.

Stephanie Wong, lawyer for Rogers, said she had not reviewed all the charges, but "based on what I'm aware of, Bart's involvement appears much more minor, if at all." Wong said a "huge discrepancy" exists in the number and nature of the charges leveled against Rogers and the other co-defendants.

The charges follow an 18-month investigation by Illinois State Police and the Illinois Department of Revenue into alleged mismanagement of funds at the facility, then known as U.S. Cellular Coliseum. The probe was initiated after Bloomington police cited a conflict of interest in reviewing CIAM's operations.

Questions about the company's arena management surfaced in August 2016 as the city was working to close the arena's financial books during the management transition from CIAM to the new managers, VenuWorks, city officials said at the time.

The investigation focused on Coliseum operations while CIAM was in charge, according to the city.

In a statement Monday from state police, the agency said it "conducted a thorough investigation and presented their findings to the McLean County state's attorney. On Sept. 20, 2017, a grand jury convened and signed indictments on the five suspects." 

The office of McLean County State's Attorney Jason Chambers is handling prosecution of the case. Chambers said Monday that the investigation required a review of "boxes and boxes of documents" provided by the state police.

CIAM managed the arena from its opening in 2006 until March 31, 2016, when its contract with the city ended. VenuWorks took over the next day. 

CIAM, which is still listed by the Illinois Secretary of State's office as an active corporation, had opted not to renew its contract with the city.

Forty-four counts are filed against Butler, 58, of Bloomington, including 22 involving theft of government funds, and multiple counts of money laundering, wire fraud, filing false sales tax returns and conspiracy to commit tax evasion. If convicted of the most serious theft charges, Butler would be eligible for six to 30 years in prison.

Butler, who is represented by Urbana lawyer Steven Beckett, was released after posting $30,035.

Rogers, 47, of Morton, is accused of 13 counts of theft of government funds. He was released after posting $10,035. 

Kelly W. Klein, 57, of Bloomington, who was assistant general manager for finance at the time, is charged with theft and money laundering. She was released after posting $20,035.

Paul Grazar, 50, of Normal, former food and beverage director for CIAM, faces 13 charges of theft, money laundering, tax evasion and conspiracy to commit tax evasion. He was released on $5,035 bond.

Jay C. Laesch, 37, Heyworth, ex-finance director of BMI Concessions, CIAM's one-time food and beverage service for the venue, was indicted on the same charges as Butler —  theft, wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to commit tax evasion. He was released on $25,035 bond.

Laesch is employed by Illinois State University as a budget manager for the School of Teaching and Learning, according to an ISU website. ISU spokesman Eric Jome said he could not comment on the status of Laesch's employment.

"Illinois State University was notified that Mr. Laesch was being taken into custody for matters unrelated to his work at ISU," said Jome.

The state police said the investigation is ongoing.

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Follow Edith Brady-Lunny on Twitter: @pg_blunny



McLean County Courts Reporter

McLean County courts reporter for The Pantagraph.

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