Former Indiana lawmaker pleads guilty to role in casino conspiracy

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Former State Rep. Sean Eberhart agreed to plead guilty to a federal conspiracy fraud charge. (Photo from the Indiana House Republicans)

Sean Eberhart, a former state representative from Shelbyville, has pleaded guilty in connection with a conspiracy in which he agreed to advocate for legislation in exchange for a lucrative position at a casino.

Eberhart, 57, appeared at the U.S. federal courthouse in Indianapolis on Tuesday along with his attorney, Patrick Cotter. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brad Shepherd and Special Agent Matt Stall appeared for the prosecution.

His appearance comes weeks after a plea agreement was filed with federal prosecutors in which Eberhart agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 0 to 5 years in prison, three years of post-release supervision and a $250,000 fine.

Under the agreement, Eberhart will pay restitution of $60,000, although it’s unclear if he’ll serve time in prison. The U.S. attorney recommended a sentence no higher than the low end of advisory guidelines.

Prior to formally entering his guilty plea, Judge Matthew Brookman read Eberhart his rights to ensure he understood the charges against him.

A sentencing hearing will be scheduled at a later date.

The charge is based on evidence gathered from text messages to and from Eberhart, call records involving Eberhart, digital images of documents sent to and/or received from Eberhart and others, covert recordings of conversations with Eberhart, and audio and video recordings and other records of statements and actions in the Indiana Legislature, according to court documents.

Eberhart used his position as a lawmaker “to enrich himself by soliciting and accepting gifts, payments, and other things of value” from Spectacle Entertainment in exchange for “favorable official action, namely future employment at and compensation from Spectacle,” according to federal prosecutors.

Spectacle was a company created following the sale of Centaur Holdings LLC. Spectacle utilized the same office space that was previously used by Centaur, and many Centaur executives continued in substantially similar roles as executives of Spectacle, prosecutors said.

In late 2018 and early 2019, Spectacle sought to purchase the state licenses for two casinos that were located on the waterfront of Lake Michigan and to relocate those casinos to other areas beneficial to Spectacle. The purchases and relocations had to be approved through state legislation.

Federal prosecutors said Eberhart accepted the job offer, which included annual compensation of at least $350,000, from a Spectacle owner identified in court documents only as “Individual A.”

In exchange, Eberhart used his position to advocate and vote for passage of a state gambling bill “on terms favorable to Spectacle,” including reducing or eliminating the originally proposed $100 million transfer fee that Spectacle would have had to pay for acquiring licenses, court documents say. That fee was ultimately reduced to $20 million.

Eberhart is the third former state lawmaker to find themselves in court over their dealings with Spectacle or its predecessor, Centaur.

In September 2020, former state Sen. Brent Waltz and Centaur casino executive John Keeler, himself a former state representative, were named in a federal investigation involving a scheme that funneled corporate contributions from a casino to political candidates. The investigation involved former executives of Centaur Gaming, a company that previously owned and managed the state’s horse-track casinos in Anderson and Shelbyville.

The case prompted the Indiana Gaming Commission to force Keeler and another top Spectacle executive, Rod Ratcliff, to give up their ownership stakes in casino projects in Gary and Terre Haute.

Waltz later pleaded guilty to two felonies and was sentenced to 10 months in prison. Keeler, the former general counsel and co-owner of Indianapolis-based Centaur Gaming, was sentenced to two months in prison and fined $55,000.

Ratcliff has not been charged with a crime.

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6 thoughts on “Former Indiana lawmaker pleads guilty to role in casino conspiracy

  1. He should have to disgorge the entire amount of whatever he collected of his $350,000 salary at the casino. The casino should pay the $80 million they saved on the fee, and then x2 or x3 as exemplary damages. And, of course, Eberhart AND some of the casino executives should serve a few years in prison.

  2. This is what happens when you have a gerrymandered supermajority and there’s too few politically competitive districts – Open corruption and slaps on the wrist. They won’t stop until their districts are fairly drawn to make them competitive and actually threaten their seats.

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