Former Sen. Karen Carter Peterson enters into plea deal; case involves the use of campaign funds
Prosecutors say some of the money was used for gambling-related expenses
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Until earlier this year Karen Carter Peterson was a political powerbroker but on Thursday (July 14) she entered into a plea deal with federal prosecutors related to allegations she illegally used campaign funds and money from her political party on gambling and personal expenses.
In April, Peterson spoke to her senate colleagues and addressed her gambling problems. Soon after she resigned from her position.
“As many of you know I’ve suffered with depression and a gambling addiction for many years,” said Peterson.
And now months later Peterson has entered into a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, says her attorney Brian Capitelli.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office says Peterson is charged in a one-count bill of information with wire fraud.
Joe Raspanti is FOX 8′s legal analyst.
“She’s not being indicted by a federal grand jury,” said Raspanti.”Bill of information which we already knew from the letter from her lawyer and her previous behavior is she’s entering a plea right out of the blocks. That’s going to give her what’s called acceptance of responsibility.”
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and federal court documents, while a state senator Peterson formed the Karen Carter Peterson Campaign Fund, a campaign organization to solicit and raise funds on the premise the money would be used for her re-election campaign, said prosecutors.
But prosecutors say Peterson diverted funds and caused others to divert money from the campaign fund to her. They say Peterson used the funds to pay for gambling-related expenses and personal expenses.
Peterson, according to the feds also caused the filing of false and misleading campaign finance reports that mischaracterized expenditures as being for legitimate purposes for her campaign.
Further, prosecutors allege that Peterson, while serving as the chairwoman of the Louisiana Democratic Party chose companies operated by associates supposedly to provide campaign-related services but in reality, the companies provided no services or minimal services for the political party. Still, they say Peterson directed the companies to give her a portion of the funds paid to them by the political party.
Late last year, Peterson was in a runoff for a seat in Congress. She was bested in the political contest by another candidate.
Robert Collins, PhD., is a Dillard University political analyst.
“It’s definitely a fall from a very high place, not only was she powerful herself, of course, she comes from a political family,” said Collins.
On the day of her being charged by prosecutors, Peterson said in one tweet, “Today marks an important step in my life-long recovery as I continue to address my gambling addiction. I sincerely apologize for the impact from my compulsive behavior resulting from this addiction.”
“I have made full repayment of funds used as a result of my addiction and I will continue to make amends. Staying true to the steps of my ongoing recovery, I have been forthright, honest and cooperative with the US Attorneys’ Office in their investigation.”
Raspanti said repaying the money would happen one way or another.
“She’s supposed to repay the money anyway, she’s going to be ordered to do it,” said Raspanti.
Collins said being accused of siphoning money from her own political party further hurts Peterson’s reputation.
“So, I think most people would see that as worse than simply spending your own funds on a gambling addiction which is bad enough, so I think there’s an issue of trust there,” he said.
And Raspanti says Peterson’s actions to date signal that she’s seeking leniency, in terms of sentencing.
“Absolutely, she’s looking for leniency through the way the federal sentencing guidelines work and it looks to me she’s working towards that and she’s completely admitting fault,” said Raspanti.
Court hearings have been set for August 1. Peterson is expected to plead guilty on that date in open court.
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