The lead defendant in the Coliseum fraud case lost two of three rounds in a McLean County courtroom Friday, as a judge rejected attempts to kill the case before trial.
John Butler, whose company ran the city-owned arena, is accused of masterminding a multiyear fraud scheme that stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the City of Bloomington. His attorneys say it’s a contract dispute—not a criminal matter.
In a McLean County courtroom, Judge Bill Yoder denied Butler’s motion to dismiss six wire fraud counts against him. Butler’s attorneys had argued the state’s wire fraud statute was so vague that it would violate Butler’s due-process rights. And they argued that all of Butler’s actions were pursuant with his arena-management agreement with the city.
“A civil contract dispute is not a scheme to defraud,” attorney Steve Beckett said.
Yoder also denied a motion to quash the indictments against Butler over constitutional concerns. Butler’s defense argued the state’s attorney’s office misused the grand jury proceedings in two ways—because grand jurors never got a copy of the management agreement, and because subpoenas were returned to a State Police investigator working the case, not the court.
Yoder didn’t buy either claims.
“They could’ve seen (the management agreement) had they asked for it,” Yoder said.
A separate motion to dismiss remains pending. That motion attacks the indictments for not being specific enough in connecting Butler personally to any illegal activity. Beckett argued again that it was a contract dispute, and that the indictments ignored the contract’s existence.
McLean County First Assistant’s State’s Attorney Brad Rigdon said the contract-or-crime dispute was up for a judge or jury to decide at trial.
Yoder did not rule on that motion. He said he planned to review a ruling by Judge Michael Stroh to dismiss theft charges against Bart Rogers, one of Butler’s former employees. (Criminal charges remain pending against three other former employees: Paul Grazar, Kelly Klein, and Jay Laesch.)
Meanwhile, 14 of the 44 counts against Butler were dismissed Friday. Prosecutors didn’t not fight their dismissal—as sought by the defense—because they intend to re-indict on those charges in the next few weeks, addressing statute-of-limitations issues in the original indictments.
New McLean County State’s Attorney Don Knapp was in the courtroom but did not participate in Friday’s hearing. His predecessor, now-Judge Jason Chambers, brought the charges against Butler in 2017. Chambers’ former top assistant, Adam Ghrist, has also left the state’s attorney’s office for a federal post.
Butler is due back in court for a hearing Oct. 2.
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