Rep. Sean Eberhart pled guilty to a felony conspiracy charge Thursday. (Photo from the Indiana House Republicans)
Former Shelbyville Rep. Sean Eberhart has signed paperwork to plead guilty to a federal felony charge related to his conduct as a lawmaker, specifically related to Spectacle Entertainment’s bid to relocate two casinos from Lake Michigan to “other areas beneficial to Spectacle.”
In a Friday morning release, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of Indiana said he had conspired “with others to solicit and receive the promise of future, lucrative employment with a gaming company in exchange for his support of legislation beneficial to the gaming company.”
An unidentified owner at Spectacle offered Eberhart, a Republican, future employment at Spectacle with a salary of $350,000 in exchange for his support of the legislation allowing the company to build casinos in Terre Haute and Gary — which he accepted. The transfer fee for such a move included in the legislation was reduced from $100 million to $20 million and included beneficial tax incentives for Spectacle.
A plea agreement in the case was filed Thursday evening.
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.
Story continues below PDF.Eberhart Plea
The parties didn’t agree to a sentence in the documents but the government signaled it would recommend a sentence on the lower range based on information presently known.
Restitution in the case is $60,000 — the legislative salary for Eberhart — alongside a $100 fee for a mandatory special assessment.
Evidence of Eberhart’s involvement, according to the document, includes: texts, recorded calls, scans of documents, “covert recordings of conversations” and video from legislative proceedings.
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.
No others have publicly been charged but a conspiracy case could include other defendants. The relevant legislation came through the Public Policy committee — of which Eberhart was a member.
Eberhart left the General Assembly last year after 16 years in the legislature where he played a key role in casino legislation benefiting the racino in Shelbyville, now called Horseshoe Indianapolis.
A rough road for Terre Haute casino
The legislation advanced by Eberhart and his colleagues passed, allowing Spectacle to move forward on casinos in Terre Haute and Gary — though progress in western Indiana has been difficult.
The Indiana Gaming Commission initiated its own probe into Spectacle in January 2020 shortly after it broke ground on a $300 million casino in Gary. Two former executives — co-founder and CEO Rod Ratcliff and Vice President John Keeler — were both forced out of the company during the investigative fallout.
The gaming commission fined Spectacle $10,000 each day it delayed to split from Ratcliff for a total of $53,000 after learning he failed to disclose the transfer of company shares and for not disclosing a horse racing wagering account in his name with employee deposits of $900,000, as detailed by Casino.org.
Keeler was sentenced to two months for his role in a “straw donor” scheme with former lawmaker Sen. Brent Waltz.
In 2019, Spectacle partnered with Hard Rock International in an application to the gaming commission for the Vigo County casino but a federal investigation into Ratcliff’s former company, Centaur Gaming, and its involvement in Waltz’s failed Congressional campaign derailed its progress.
As detailed by the Terre Haute Tribune Star, local businessman Greg Gibson co-founded Spectacle in 2018 with Ratcliff but following the federal charges Gibson pivoted to Lucy Luck Gaming and made another attempt in 2021 — which the gaming commission rejected due to its inability to secure fully vetted financing.
The latest casino plan, the Terre Haute Casino Resort, is overseen by Churchill Downs and slated to open in March 2024.
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