Former state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson sentenced to 22 months

Staff Report

Karen Carter Peterson, a former longtime state senator, was sentenced Jan. 11 to 22 months in federal prison in connection with taking more than $140,000 from the state Democratic Party coffers and from her own campaign fund.

Peterson announced her resignation April 8, 2022, saying she needed to focus on her struggle with depression and gambling addiction.

In a file photo, state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, speaks on Jan. 20, 2021 after qualifying to run for Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District seat.

According to a U.S. Attorney's Office news release, U.S. District Judge Sarah S. Vance sentenced Peterson, 53, to the nearly two-year sentence after Peterson previously pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud.

Additionally, Vance sentenced Peterson to serve a three-year supervised release, 600 hours of unpaid community service, restitution in the amount of $53,106.93, a fine of $115,000, with $94,250 due immediately, and a mandatory special assessment fee of $100.

Peterson was ordered to report to authorities to begin the prison sentence March 6.

According to court documents, Peterson served as a state senator in Louisiana's 5th District from about 2010 until April 8 last year, and as the chair of the state's Democratic Party from about 2012 to 2020.

As a senator, she maintained a campaign organization to solicit and raise campaign funds from individuals and corporate donors. The funds were solicited based upon false representations that the funds would be used to facilitate Peterson's reelection to the state senate, but in the course of soliciting donations, Peterson also failed to disclose to potential donors that she had already used prior contributions for her personal benefit, according to the release.

In a file photo, Louisiana state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, chair of the state Democratic Party, talks to reporters after meeting with President Obama at the White House on Sept. 30, 2015.

Peterson diverted and caused her friends and associates to divert campaign funds for her personal use for nearly seven years, the release continued.

She reportedly wrote checks from the campaign account to at least four of her friends and associates and directed them to cash the checks at financial institutions in the New Orleans area and then give her the proceeds.

Peterson used the funds for personal expenses unrelated to her campaign or the holding of public office, including to pay gambling-related expenses, according to the release.

She reportedly filed false and misleading campaign finance reports that mischaracterized expenditures as being legitimate purposes related to her campaign or the holding of office.

In total, Peterson employed the scheme on numerous occasions to divert and convert to her personal use some $94,250 between Nov. 25, 2013, and March 5, 2020.

Additionally, in her role as chair for the state political party, she reportedly exploited her position to choose entities operated by her associates, purportedly to provide campaign-related services to the party, and to determine the amount that the party would pay each of the companies. In total, about $53,106.93 in funds were received from the party through the scheme from around Oct. 7, 2019, to April 4, 2020.

"People have the right to expect that their elected leaders will uphold the trust placed in them," a U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesperson stated in the release. “Former State Senator Peterson illegally used campaign funds and state political party funds for her personal use during the majority of her tenure as a state senator. She broke the law, deceived contributors, and violated her duty to the voters and the political party with which she was affiliated on dozens of occasions. Such crimes feed public frustration, cynicism, and civic disengagement. This case is proof that our office is committed to holding corrupt public officials accountable.”

“The FBI is committed to aggressively pursuing those who violate the trust placed in them by the public and holding them accountable for their actions. Today’s sentencing sends a clear message that individuals like former Louisiana State Senator Karen Carter Peterson, who stole money to enrich herself, will be held responsible,” stated Douglas A. Williams, Jr., FBI New Orleans Special Agent in Charge.