Former Rep. Sean Eberhart pleads guilty to felony charge

By: - November 28, 2023 12:45 pm

Former Rep. Sean Eberhart speaks during a committee meeting in the legislature. (Photo provided by Brandon Smith, Indiana Public Broadcasting.)

Former Shelbyville Rep. Sean Eberhart pleaded guilty to a felony charge Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Matthew P. Brookman, admitting his role in a gambling corruption case.

The plea to conspiracy to commit honest services fraud can include accepting bribes or kickbacks related to one’s public service and includes a maximum punishment of five years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release.

Though federal prosecutors indicated that Eberhart didn’t act alone, no others have yet been named or charged. No sentencing hearing has been scheduled and he remains free.

The charges stretch back to his lawmaker days, when Eberhart accepted a lucrative job opportunity with a major gaming company in exchange for his legislative support of a bill to relocate two casinos from Lake Michigan to “other areas beneficial to Spectacle (Entertainment),” according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

An unidentified owner at Spectacle offered Eberhart a job at the company with a salary of “at least” $350,000 and an equity stake. Eberhart was a member of the House Public Policy Committee, which heard the bill, until his retirement last year. Due to lawmaker intervention, transfer fees for moving the casinos were reduced from $100 million to $20 million and included beneficial tax incentives  — a win for Spectacle, which wanted to move the casinos to Terre Haute and Gary.

Former Shelbyville Rep. Eberhart agrees to plead guilty to felony charge

Spectacle ultimately lost the license due to finance issues.

Restitution in the case is $60,000 — the legislative salary for Eberhart — alongside a $100 fee for a mandatory special assessment.

In the courtroom at the Indianapolis Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse., U.S. Attorney Brad Shepard read several text exchanges between Eberhart and unnamed co-conspirators from early 2019 in which Eberhart said he wanted “to make it right” for the unidentified Spectacle owner.

According to an informational document outlining the state’s evidence, Eberhart pushed language to eliminate the $100 million transfer fee entirely and pushed for a 20% tax rate “that would save Spectacle tens of millions of dollars.”

The Senate and House ultimately disagreed on portions of the bill, sending it to a conference committee that threatened to tank the bill. Eberhart, via text with an unnamed person, discussed a female lawmaker holding up the bill.

That unnamed person said the unidentified Spectacle owner “is losing his mind.” Eberhart responds, “Tell him stay calm. We are going to let the bull simmer tonight.”

He also said he talked to the female lawmaker “3 different times. Told her I couldn’t believe she would let the bill die because of hold harmless language.”

“Just told (unidentified Spectacle owner) to hold tight,” he concluded.

In another exchange about the unnamed person’s hangover, Eberhart said “We got work to do and 2 casinos to open… Meeting with (unidentified Spectacle owner) later this week.”

With an offense level of 21 — slightly reduced due to his “acceptance of responsibility” — Eberhart could serve between 37 and 46 months, according to the 2016 sentencing guidelines.

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Whitney Downard
Whitney Downard

A native of upstate New York, Whitney previously covered statehouse politics for CNHI’s nine Indiana papers, focusing on long-term healthcare facilities and local government. Prior to her foray into Indiana politics, she worked as a general assignment reporter for The Meridian Star in Meridian, Mississippi. Whitney is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University (#GoBonnies!), a community theater enthusiast and cat mom.

Indiana Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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