PEORIA — Two members of the Peoria Rivermen ownership group are among those who have been arrested on a raft of official misconduct charges in the 14-month investigation into the former management group of U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington.
John Butler, 58, of Bloomington and Bart Rogers, 47, of Morton were arrested along with three others in the case, Illinois State Police said in a news release Monday. Butler and Rogers operated Central Illinois Arena Management, which formerly managed the coliseum.
They and three others were indicted Sept. 20 by a McLean County grand jury investigating the matter. Also charged in the case were arena management group members Jay Laesch, Paul Grazar and Kelly Klein. Butler is charged with theft of government funds, money laundering, tax evasion, tax fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit tax evasion. Rogers was charged with theft of government funds.
Both also serve as minority owners of the Peoria Rivermen, alongside new majority owner Bill Yuill.
"It's a legal situation outside the team's operations, involving our minority owners," Yuill said. "But the Rivermen and (Yuill's holding company) Consolidated Sports Holdings are not involved in it at all. Our team operations will not be impacted. As far as we're concerned, both John Butler and Bart Rogers are innocent until proven otherwise, and we are with them."
The charges were sealed until Monday when all five were arrested and brought to the McLean County Jail where they posted bond. Their arraignment is set for Friday. That hearing should be fairly short and procedural with the parties entering pleas. A trial date likely will be set for a few months out, which likely will be pushed back given the volume of the evidence attorneys will have to sift through.
Rogers and Butler were the driving forces behind ensuring a pro hockey team remained in Peoria after the St. Louis Blues pulled the Rivermen out of the AHL five years ago. Rogers has served as the chief operating officer of the Rivermen and remains the face of the team's business operations.
The SPHL franchise conducted business as normal on Monday, and team officials said the franchise will not be affected by the events in Bloomington. Team front office members were working on ticket sales and assisting in painting the lines on the ice in Carver Arena as training camp approached.
The Peoria Civic Center Authority people, meanwhile, were aware of the allegations.
"The Peoria Civic Center is aware of the situation and will continue to monitor any developments. We are not able to comment on an ongoing investigation," said Megan Pedigo, a spokeswoman for the Peoria Civic Center.
Rogers declined to comment and referred all questions to Bloomington attorney Stephanie Wong.
"There are 13 charges against Bart Rogers and they are duplicitous," Wong said. "And my understanding of it is that none of these things involve the Peoria Rivermen team. If there is any involvement by Bart — and that's a big if — his involvement is minimal at best, compared to the other defendants' charges. These are allegations only."
Butler posted $30,000, or 10 percent of $300,000, to get out of the county jail. Rogers' bond was $100,000. Both are facing up to 30 years in prison if convicted, though it's highly unlikely they would serve the maximum term.
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