The lead defendant in the Coliseum fraud case will not be going on trial this week after all.
John Butler’s trial was unexpectedly vacated Tuesday in the middle of jury selection that began Monday. Four jurors had been selected, but not sworn in when the trial was canceled.
It’s unclear what led to the trial being called off. The docket says the “state is considering additional matters” with the case set for a status hearing on Sept. 9.
No formal plea offer has ever been made in the nearly three-year-old case, prosecutors and the defense said Monday in court. McLean County State’s Attorney Don Knapp declined to comment on why the trial was called off. A message left with Butler’s lead attorney, Steve Beckett, was not immediately returned. Another Butler attorney, Tristan Bullington, confirmed the trial was vacated.
Butler faces 34 remaining counts that were filed in 2017 by then-State’s Attorney Jason Chambers, who is now a judge. Butler was accused of running a multiyear fraud scheme that stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from Bloomington taxpayers. He owned Central Illinois Arena Management (CIAM) that managed the city-owned downtown arena for its first decade. (The former U.S. Cellular Coliseum is now called Grossinger Motors Arena.)
The case against Butler is complex—and that’s one reason why it took almost three years to reach trial. Jurors were likely to hear complicated interpretations of management contracts and audits and learn what oversight the City of Bloomington staff provided to the arena's finances.
Jury selection also was expected to be a challenge with such a high-profile case. The defense sought unsuccessfully to move the case out of McLean County, citing pretrial publicity.
Beckett, Butler’s attorney, sought unsuccessfully on Monday to delay the start of the trial. He proposed that jury selection take place and then opening statements, but then delay hearingn from first witnesses and evidence until Aug. 17. Beckett argued that would give Butler’s defense more time to review nearly 16,000 pages of financial workbooks the state planned to present as evidence during trial. Judge William Yoder denied that request, and jury selection began.
Butler was one of five managers charged with 111 total criminal counts in September 2017, following a 16-month Illinois State Police investigation that began when a new arena management company noticed financial discrepancies and alerted the city.
Former concessions general manager Paul Grazar and former concessions finance chief Jay Laesch have pleaded guilty and were expected to testify during Butler’s trial. Charges against former assistant GM for finance Kelly Klein were dismissed. Charges remain pending against former Coliseum general manager Bart Rogers.
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