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'Middle Man' Pleads Guilty In Coliseum Case

Jay Laesch walks
David Proeber
The Pantagraph (Pool)
Jay Laesch, 38, of Heyworth, was the former finance director for BMI Concessions, the in-house food and beverage company at the city-owned arena.

One of the five Coliseum defendants who prosecutors described as a “middle man” in a scheme to secretly pocket over $100,000 in cash pleaded guilty Wednesday and agreed to cooperate with authorities.

Jay Laesch, 38, of Heyworth, was the former finance director for BMI Concessions, the in-house food and beverage company at the city-owned arena. BMI was owned by John Butler, who also owned the arena management company, Central Illinois Arena Management (CIAM). Butler, Laesch, and three others were indicted last year and accused of running a multiyear fraud scheme that stole hundreds of thousands from the City of Bloomington.

Laesch initially faced 36 counts of theft, wire fraud, tax evasion, and other charges. He pleaded guilty to one count each of money laundering and filing a fraudulent tax return, both Class 3 felonies. He received 30 months probation (the maximum for a Class 3 felony), a $1 fine, court costs, and a requirement that he cooperate with other prosecutions.

As part of Laesch’s plea, prosecutors say he’ll provide information “showing the involvement and actions of (fellow Coliseum defendants) John Butler, Kelly Klein, and Paul Grazar.” Prosecutors said Laesch himself did not personally benefit financially from the scheme.

“Due to his role in the organization, (Laesch) has knowledge of the overall schemes being employed by CIAM and BMI,” prosecutors said in court. “(Laesch) has agreed to provide assistance through additional interviews and continued cooperation with the investigation and prosecution of those individuals.”

Laesch played a key role in tracking how much money was brought in at each event at the U.S. Cellular Coliseum, now called Grossinger Motors Arena and run by VenuWorks.

Prosecutors say Butler and Grazar (BMI’s general manager) told Laesch to begin stealing cash from the Coliseum vault. That cash came from food and beverage sales. Laesch would intercept the cash, take some of it, and then write down a phony lower cash total in the arena’s point-of-sale software, prosecutors said. They stole $102,571 in cash between 2013-2016 using this method, prosecutors said.

Investigators figured out the scheme in part because Laesch never changed the original cash sheets completed separately by the vault workers. Those cash sheets and the point-of-sale numbers didn’t match, prosecutors said. Investigators obtained the cash sheets through a search warrant served on Butler.

Because the right amount of cash was never reported, the City of Bloomington lost out on around $10,000 in commission money it was owed, prosecutors said.

A message left with Laesch’s attorney was not immediately returned Wednesday.

Charges are pending against Butler, Grazar, Klein, and Bart Rogers. They’ve pleaded not guilty.

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Ryan Denham is the content director for WGLT and WCBU.
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