Former Louisiana Democratic Party leader Karen Carter Peterson, who resigned from the state Senate last year year citing depression and a gambling addiction — and later pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud — was sentenced on Wednesday to 22 months in prison.
Peterson, who served in the Louisiana Legislature for 22 years, admitted in August to taking more than $140,000 in funds from her reelection campaign and from the state Democratic Party. The ex-lawmaker spent a “substantial amount” of that money on casino gambling, according to court documents.
Peterson, who made restitution, was tearful and apologetic in court. “I want to tell everyone who contributed to my campaign and the Democratic Party, I am sorry,” she said to WWL-TV.
In court filings and in Tuesday’s arguments, defense attorneys had argued for probation rather than time in prison. They cited Peterson’s long record of public service, her Christian faith, her first-offender status and a long struggle with gambling addiction that caused what they called “diminished mental capacity.”
She would be unlikely to be able to continue the individual therapy she needs in prison, her attorneys argued.
Prosecutors said prison time was appropriate. “Peterson’s addiction does not excuse her actions,” they said in one court brief.
They added that it was “imperative that the court acknowledge the severity of Peterson’s betrayal of the public trust and exploitation of the awesome power she wielded as a candidate for public office and leader of a major political party to seek personal pecuniary gain.”
The pre-sentence report prepared by probation officers called for a sentence of 41 to 51 months, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported.
Peterson, 53, chaired the state party from 2013 to 2020. She was first elected to the state House in 1999 and to the state Senate in 2010 — representing a portion of uptown New Orleans. She resigned from the state Senate in April, 2022.
She twice ran unsuccessful races for Congress, most recently in 2021 when she lost a U.S. House election to another New Orleans Democrat, Troy Carter.
Republished with permission from The Associated Press