Eberhart to be sentenced Feb. 14 in corruption case

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

A federal judge has set a sentencing date for a former state lawmaker representing part of Bartholomew County who pleaded guilty to a corruption charge last week.

Judge Matthew P. Bookman set a Feb. 14 sentencing date for former Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, according to filings in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis.

The former lawmaker, who represented Indiana House District 57 from 2006 to November 2022, pleaded guilty last week to a federal corruption charge related to the relocation of two waterfront casinos. The district included the eastern half of Bartholomew County until the district was redrawn following the U.S. Census.

Eberhart pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, which carries a sentence of up to five years in prison and $250,000 fine, according to filings Thursday in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis. Eberhart has agreed to pay $60,000 in restitution.

The charges stem from efforts by Spectacle Entertainment to purchase two casinos on Lake Michigan in Gary and their state licenses and relocate them to inland locations in downtown Gary and Terre Haute, according to federal court filings.

Purchases and relocations of casinos in Indiana must be approved through the passage of a bill by both chambers of the state legislature and signed by the governor.

In 2019, a bill was introduced in the House Committee on Public Policy and later the House floor that would allow Spectacle to purchase the casinos and relocate them.

Eberhart was a member of the House Committee on Public Policy at the time, which had jurisdiction over matters concerning casinos and gaming in Indiana.

Around that time, an owner of Spectacle, identified in court records as “Individual A,” offered Eberhart future employment at Spectacle with an annual salary of $350,000 in exchange for advocating and voting to pass the bill on terms that were favorable to Spectacle.

Those terms included, among other things, reducing the originally proposed $100 million transfer fee that Spectacle would be required to pay to acquire the licenses of the two casinos and favorable tax incentives, court records state. The transfer fee was ultimately reduced to $20 million.

In March 2019, Eberhart advocated for removing the $100 million transfer fee from the bill during a House Committee on Public Policy hearing.

According to coverage by The (Munster) Times in March 2019, Eberhart “questioned the need to attach a $100 million fee” to relocation of the casinos.

“To me that’s a tough one to swallow,” Eberhart is quoted as saying. “That’s an extreme amount of money. If we had a private company, whether that’s a manufacturer or some other private company, come to us and say, ‘Hey, we want to invest $300 million on the Borman in Gary and want to invest $150 million in Terre Haute,’ we’d get out our checkbooks as the state of Indiana. We would be writing them a check. We would be giving them incentives. We would be begging them to make that investment.”

In April 2019, Eberhart communicated with an unidentified individual regarding the status of the bill and efforts to “make it write for (Individual A).” That same month, Eberhart advocated for a 20% tax rate that would save Spectacle tens of millions of dollars.

Court filings include alleged text messages from Eberhart to an unidentified individual in which the former lawmaker states, “We’ve got work to do and 2 casinos to open.”