Former downtown arena chief seeks venue change in theft trial

John Butler
Central Illinois Arena Management President John Butler during his initial court appearance. He’s seeking a change of venue because he believes he can not get a fair trial in McLean County. (Pool photo)


By Howard Packowitz

BLOOMINGTON – The president and CEO of Central Illinois Arena Management, which used to run the former U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Downtown Bloomington, believes he can not get a fair trial in McLean County on charges he stole taxpayer money.

John Butler filed a change of venue motion claiming the case has been sensationalized in “unprecedented detail” in print, TV, radio, and social media. The motion said nearly every potential juror has been exposed to information, much of it “speculative” and “untrue” about Butler. He’s charged with 44 criminal counts including theft, wire fraud, and sales tax evasion.

The venue, known now as Grossinger Motors Arena, has been the subject of governmental and public controversy since the early 2000’s, according to the motion.

Butler claims a lawsuit filed by conservative blogger Diane Benjamin added to the media’s portrayal of the management firm’s “supposed incompetency and possible criminality” even though it “performed as well as most comparable arenas.”

The motion states former Bloomington City Manager David Hales told WJBC that Butler and the other defendants were part of a complex, ongoing, and thorough attempt to commit fraud, with Hales comparing Butler to Bernie Madoff.

Butler’s defense team commissioned a survey of 200 potential jurors. Almost 73 percent are familiar with the case, 21.5 percent say Butler is probably guilty.

McLean County Judge William Yoder will consider the venue change and other motions on August 31 and October 24.

Howard Packowitz can be reached at [email protected]


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