The full scope of the investigation into alleged mismanagement at U.S. Cellular Coliseum became clearer Friday as prosecutors disclosed a long list of potential witnesses and police interviews already conducted with past and present City of Bloomington officials.
Prosecutors filed their first discovery disclosure Friday, notifying defense attorneys for the five Coliseum defendants about more than 2,000 exhibits and documents they’ve collected. That came as the five defendants made their first court appearance and pleaded not guilty on 111 combined counts of theft, fraud, money laundering, and other charges.
Facing charges are John Butler, who owned the Coliseum’s management and food-and-beverage companies; Jay Laesch, the former finance director for the food-and-beverage company; Kelly Klein, the arena’s former assistant general manager for finance; Paul Grazar, the former general manager of the food-and-beverage company, and Bart Rogers, the arena’s general manager.
The 16-month Illinois State Police investigation that began in May 2016 led to recorded interviews with Bloomington City Manager David Hales and City Finance Director Patti-Lynn Silva, prosecutors disclosed. Interviews also included former City Manager Tom Hamilton (Hales’ predecessor) and the city’s former chief accountant, Paulette Hurd. Hamilton was city manager when Bloomington’s original contract with Butler was signed.
Those police interviews also included Mike Nelson, who was Butler’s original business partner in Central Illinois Arena Management (CIAM) but left the group in 2009.
Nelson is also on a list of 26 potential witnesses that prosecutors disclosed Friday. Hales and Silva are also on that list, as are a criminal intelligence agent from the Illinois Department of Revenue; a CPA with Bronner Group, which did a special audit of the Coliseum in 2015; and two officials with the arena’s new management firm, VenuWorks.
The State Police’s investigation also led to three separate visits and/or search warrants to CEFCU, presumably to review bank accounts associated with the arena or its staff.
The Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) assisted State Police with the investigation. Butler is accused of filing fraudulent tax returns for allegedly understating the amount of taxable sales.
IDOR’s exhibits include documents related to several specific Central Illinois businesses and organizations—possibly sponsors or advertisers with the arena. IDOR has also collected documents related to specific events at the Coliseum, including a Jason Aldean concert in February 2014 and the Brad Paisley concert in March 2016, prosecutors said.
"It was a very extensive investigation that State Police and the (Illinois Department of Revenue) investigators were involved in. It took well over a year. Thousands and thousands of pages of documents for them to go through," McLean County State's Attorney Jason Chambers said this week. "There's no way to go through that thoroughly in a quick manner."
Also Friday, Assistant State’s Attorney Adam Ghrist asked the court to reassign the cases out of Judge Scott Drazewski’s courtroom. Ghrist raised concerns that Drazewski may be “prejudicial against the state,” asking Chief Judge Kevin Fitzgerald to assign someone else.
The five defendants are due back in court Nov. 3 for a status hearing.
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