DISCLAIMER: ALL PERSONS ARE PRESUMED INNOCENT UNTIL PROVED GUILTY

NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — Former Louisiana Senator Karen Carter Peterson appeared in court for the first time on Monday after being charged in connection to a nearly seven-year defrauding scheme. After only about an hour in the courtroom, Peterson, 52, pleaded guilty to a single charge of wire fraud.

In July, WGNO received Federal Court documents that showed how the former senator reportedly defrauded contributors to the Karen Carter Peterson Campaign Fund. The documents revealed that the crimes happened between 2010 and 2022 while Peterson was serving as both the State Senator for Louisiana’s Fifth District and Chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party.

The Dept. of Justice later reported that Peterson would write checks drawn from the KCPCF to friends and associates, have them cash the checks at area banks, then have the money returned to her. On some occasions, the DOJ says that the person cashing the check would be allowed to keep some of the funds.

Peterson is accused of using the money for gambling-related issues instead of for political campaigning, which was what was reported on her tax forms. Between November 2013 and March 2020, nearly $100,000 was diverted from the fund.

Additionally, the DOJ accuses Peterson of exploiting her position as Chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party by falsely reporting that the party paid certain companies for campaign services when the companies, in return, provided no such services. Peterson then reportedly told the companies to return a portion of the money to her personally, resulting in more than $50,000 stolen from October 2019 to April 2020.

Following the release of the financial documents, Peterson announced her resignation from the Louisiana State Senate in April after serving for 23 years. With her resignation, Peterson confessed she was struggling with personal matters throughout her career involving depression and a gambling addiction. It was decided in court that she would not be allowed inside a casino or anywhere gambling takes place.

During Monday’s arraignment, Judge Sara S. Vance deferred Peterson’s guilty plea. If convicted, Peterson could face a maximum of 20 years in prison and pay a fine of up to $250,000. Peterson’s sentencing date is scheduled for December 7 at 10:30 a.m.