In A Flash

Former Louisiana Democrats chair, state senator gets prison time for wire fraud

By: - January 11, 2023 2:11 pm
Louisiana state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson gives a concession speech after losing a runoff to represent Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District to state Sen. Troy Carter in 2021.

Louisiana state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson gives a concession speech after losing a runoff to represent Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District to state Sen. Troy Carter in 2021. (Photo by JC Canicosa / Louisiana Illuminator)

A federal judge in New Orleans has sentenced former state senator Karen Carter Peterson to 22 months in prison Wednesday for admitting she used money from her campaign and the state Democratic Party to support a gambling addiction. 

Peterson, 53, is scheduled to report to prison March 6.

“I am humiliated and remorseful for my actions,” Peterson wrote to U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance in a September letter seeking leniency. “I have spent my entire adult life in public service, trying to help people and make a difference. It pains me greatly knowing I have betrayed that trust and undermined people’s confidence in our system of governance and the legal profession. I built a long and storied reputation for integrity and honesty and sadly let my constituents and the profession down.”

Not long after Peterson resigned abruptly from the Louisiana Senate last April, news of a federal wire fraud investigation surfaced that tied state Democratic Party funds to a New Orleans consulting firm. Peterson led the party from 2012 to 2020, stepping down as its chair after she acknowledged that she had defied a self-imposed ban on entering casinos.

She received a misdemeanor summons for going to a Baton Rouge casino after having placed her name on a Louisiana State Police list that excluded her from gambling venues.

Peterson was accused of pilfering $147,000 from her campaign and party coffers through a series of payments to close political allies. Federal sentencing guidelines called for Vance, a judicial appointee of President Bill Clinton, to put Peterson in prison for 41 to 51 months.

The Louisiana Democratic Party previously confirmed Peterson had paid back the $53,000 taken from its accounts.

Peterson served 22 years total in both chambers of the Louisiana Legislature and faced term limits before she stepped down early last year. She had been the only outspoken opponent of abortion restrictions in the Senate, making her voice notably absent when lawmakers approved stricter measures that took effect once the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

State Rep. Royce Duplessis won a special election in November to replace Peterson in the New Orleans district.  

Peterson is not the first state lawmaker to face consequences for a gambling addiction. 

In 2017, state Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard, an independent from Thibodaux, admitted he had used $37,000 from his campaign to pay off betting debts and submitted falsified finance reports to cover it up. He reached a settlement with the Louisiana Board of Ethics that involved him repaying the money.

Richard, who reached his term limit in the legislature in 2020, had said medication he took for Parkinson’s disease led to his compulsive behavior.


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Greg LaRose
Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune |, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg's other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.