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Former Bloomington arena manager looks to seal records related to fraud case

John Butler in court
David Proeber
The Pantagraph (Pool)
A Dec. 17 hearing is scheduled on John Butler’s request.

Former arena manager John Butler has asked a judge to seal court records related to his 2020 misdemeanor conviction for theft in connection with what started as one of the largest embezzlement cases filed in McLean County and ended with a plea deal that required Butler to pay the city $450,000 restitution.

Butler and four other officials with the city-owned sports and entertainment complex faced more than 100 criminal charges in 2017 following a lengthy Illinois State Police investigation into financial management at the Coliseum. Three years later, as his jury trial was about to open, Butler reached a plea deal agreement that resolved his case.

As part of the plea deal, BMI Concessions, the food and beverage supplier at the arena, pleaded guilty to felony theft based on Butler’s conduct. Butler’s firm, Central Illinois Arena Management, was accused of lax oversight during the decade the firm managed the arena.

In a request filed in August to expunge court records in the felony case, Butler checked a box on the court form stating, “I was found factually innocent in the case I am asking to expunge.”

The state recently filed an objection to Butler’s request, arguing that Butler did not receive a dismissal or acquittal of all charges. The request also was filed prematurely, according to the objection filed by First Assistant State’s Attorney Brad Rigdon, because state law requires a defendant to wait three years after a sentence has concluded before filing such a request.

Butler’s conduct outlined in the indictments “included a very high volume of fraud, theft, and deception that deprived funds from the taxpayers of the City of Bloomington,” the state argued in his objection.

A Dec. 17 hearing is scheduled on Butler’s request.

In addition to the $450,000 restitution, the 62-year-old owner of Central Illinois Arena Management was ordered to serve three months of home confinement. The remaining criminal counts that could have sent Butler to prison for decades were dismissed in the plea agreement.

In a statement after his plea agreement, Butler denied he was a thief. Employees of the management business took funds without his knowledge, said Butler, concluding that “The buck stops with me. Ultimately, I owed a duty to the taxpayers, and I dropped the ball.”

Former general manager Bart Rogers pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft. Concessions general manager Paul Grazer and former concessions finance chief Jay Laesch both pleaded guilty to felony offenses. Charges against former assistant GM for finance Kelly Klein were dismissed.

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Edith began her career as a reporter with The DeWitt County Observer, a weekly newspaper in Clinton. From 2007 to June 2019, Edith covered crime and legal issues for The Pantagraph, a daily newspaper in Bloomington, Illinois. She previously worked as a correspondent for The Pantagraph covering courts and local government issues in central Illinois.
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