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Ex-Fiesta Bowl executive charged on illegal campaign donations

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The former chief operating officer of the college football Fiesta Bowl organization has been indicted for illegal campaign contributions and filing false tax returns, the U.S. Justice Department said on Wednesday.

Natalie Wisneski, 47, has been charged on nine counts including charges for making campaign contributions in the names of others. Some contributions went to Arizona's two U.S. senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl, both Republicans.

The indictment accused her of soliciting campaign contributions from Fiesta Bowl employees for various federal, state and local candidates and arranging to reimburse them with money from the organization.

Wisneski was also charged with filing false tax returns for the Fiesta Bowl, which denied that the group had any lobbying expenses or political expenditures.

It was not immediately clear if she had hired an attorney. She is to appear in court on the charges on November 30 in Phoenix.

The Fiesta Bowl football game is played annually in Arizona and was founded as a non-profit organization in 1971 by state community leaders. The game is part of the college post-season playoffs.

When allegations surfaced about illegal campaign contributions last year, the Fiesta Bowl organization appointed a special committee to investigate. The panel in March released its findings of nearly $47,000 in improper donations and an effort to cover up the scheme.

The organization fired the president and chief executive John Junker in March and the Bowl Championship Series, which oversees the various post-season college football games, sanctioned the Fiesta Bowl organization $1 million in May.

The Justice Department said the investigation is continuing and that the Fiesta Bowl organization was cooperating.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky and James Vicini in Washington, editing by Jackie Frank)