All charges against Fort Dodge businessman Steve Daniel were dismissed Thursday, ending a legal ordeal that began two years ago when he was accused of making an illegal campaign contribution to former Iowa Gov. Chet Culver.
"This result says we've been telling the truth all the way from beginning to end," Daniel said Thursday evening.
Lawrence Scalise, the special prosecutor, had charged Daniel with making a campaign contribution in the name of another and willful failure to disclose a campaign contribution.
Scalise dropped those charges during a hastily convened hearing Thursday afternoon in Polk County District Court in Des Moines. Daniel and his co-defendants were scheduled to go on trial Monday.
One of those co-defendants was Webster County Entertainment, the organization Daniel led in the quest to bring a casino to Fort Dodge. A charge against that entity of making a campaign contribution in the name of another was dismissed Thursday.
Webster County Entertainment was also initially charged with willful failure to disclose a campaign contribution. During Thursday's hearing, that charge was amended to the simple misdemeanor offense of accessory after the fact.
Monty Fisher, the Fort Dodge attorney representing Daniel and Webster County Entertainment, said an Alford plea was entered to that charge. He said an Alford plea occurs when a defendant does not admit guilt but consents to the court entering a guilty plea because the defendant feels it is in their best interest to avoid going to trial.
Fisher said the Alford plea was entered because of the possibility that a jury could find that Webster County Entertainment should have filed a contribution disclosure report even though Daniel had personally filed such a report already.
After accepting the Alford plea, Polk County Associate District Court Judge William Price imposed a $100 fine on the organization.
A second co-defendant, Davenport attorney Curtis Beason, faced charges of making a campaign contribution in the name of another and obstruction. Fisher, who did not represent Beason, said those charges were resolved when Beason entered an Alford plea Thursday to the simple misdemeanor of interference with official acts and received a deferred judgment. Fisher said that deferred judgment placed Beason on probation.
Beason, who specializes in gaming law, was advising backers of the proposed Diamond Jo Fort Dodge casino.
Fisher said Thursday evening that all litigation surrounding the cases of Daniel, Webster County Entertainment and Beason is now over. He added that there were no convictions regarding any illegal campaign contributions.
Attempts to reach Scalise Thursday evening were unsuccessful.
The case filed by Scalise essentially accused Daniel and Webster County Entertainment of funneling campaign cash to the former governor's 2010 re-election campaign on behalf of Peninsula Gaming, the Dubuque company that would have operated the proposed Fort Dodge casino.
Daniel said Thursday evening that he believed "from the very beginning" that he had done nothing wrong.
"I had a lot of confidence in Monty," he said. "I had a lot of confidence that I was telling the truth.
"I was not going to accept anything that said I willfully and knowingly did anything wrong," he said.
"It feels good to be done with it," he added.
The campaign donation at the heart of the case was made in 2009.
Scalise accused Daniel of making a $25,000 contribution to the Culver campaign shortly after Peninsula Gaming made a payment of the same amount to Webster County Entertainment.
Fisher and Daniel always maintained that the donation totalled $11,000 and came from Daniel's own money. They also repeatedly said that the donation was reported in an accurate and timely way.
Scalise filed charges in October 2010.
Daniel, Webster County Entertainment and Beason weren't the only ones charged in the case. Peninsula Gaming, Peninsula Chief Executive Officer Brent Stevens, and Jonathan Swain, the chief operating officer of Peninsula, were also charged with making a campaign contribution in the name of another and willful failure to disclose a campaign contribution.
Scalise dropped the charges against Peninsula Gaming, Stevens and Swain on May 13, 2011. Peninsula Gaming then began paying the costs of prosecuting the remaining defendants in an arrangement that was repeatedly attacked by defense attorneys.
Then, in December 2011, Price dismissed the charge of making a campaign contribution in the name of another which had been filed against Beason.
After being postponed from its original February start date because Scalise was ill, the trial was finally set to begin Monday. In preparation for the trial, attorneys spent last week taking sworn statements, called depositions, from Peninsula Gaming executives. Fisher said he believed those depositions marked the turning point in the case because all of the executives' statements exonerated Daniel and Webster County Entertainment.
"Everybody that we talked to in those depositions agreed with the fact that we did nothing wrong," Daniel said. "That's because the truth is the truth."
Talks between all the attorneys involved led to Thursday's hearing.
"At the end of this the state, we feel, really stepped up and made it easy for us to resolve this," Daniel said. "We wanted it over. They wanted it over."