Springfield Community Organizer, One-Time State Rep. Candidate Pleads Guilty to Arson, Criminal Damage Charges From 2021 State Fair Incident

By Benjamin Cox on April 7, 2023 at 8:36am

Keating (left) and Bunt (right) have both pleaded guilty to their role in a fire at the IL State Fairgrounds during the State Fair in 2021.

A Springfield community organizer and one-time State Representative candidate has pleaded guilty to arson and criminal damage charges. 

34 year old John H. Keating II was arrested by Illinois State Police  without incident on September 22nd, 2021 after an investigation into a fire at a clothing stand on the Illinois State Fairgrounds. 20 year old Zakary Bunt of Hot Springs, Arkansas was also indicted in the case and ultimately pleaded guilty in January 2022, receiving 3 years of probation and ordered to pay restitution.

According to Keating’s indictment, he was “legally responsible” for the fire at the stand that sold clothing and was owned by Gary McNeal. According to the State Journal-Register, Keating, who co-founded the group Education and Action Together in 2020, had a running feud with one of the workers of the stand, Daniel Richards.

An August 2020 altercation between the two in downtown Springfield led Richards to being charged with two counts of aggravated battery and two counts of battery. Richards was ultimately found guilty in a bench trial in March of a count of aggravated battery and battery. He is due to be sentenced on June 21st in Sangamon County Court.

Keating ultimately denied the arson and criminal damage to property charges in 2021 on his social media calling it a “witch hunt” and a “targeted prosecution.”

Keating finished third in the 96th District state representative race in 2020 behind Democrat incumbent Sue Scherer and Republican Charlie McGorray. Keating ran as a Green Party candidate.

Keating was present in several protests in Springfield after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. He also visited Jacksonville for Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020. He was also a counter protester of several Reopen Illinois rallies in Springfield during the pandemic.

On Tuesday, Keating pleaded guilty to both the arson and criminal damage to property charge, and was sentenced to 3 years probation and ordered to pay $11,000 in restitution plus court costs.