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Former Indiana lawmaker pleads guilty to casino corruption charge

ISABELLA VOLMERT
November 28, 2023

INDIANPOLIS (AP) -- A former Indiana lawmaker pleaded guilty Tuesday to supporting a bill favoring a casino in exchange for promises of lucrative employment.

Sean Eberhart, 57, was charged with conspiracy to commit honest services fraud. He had agreed to plead guilty earlier this month. The offense is punishable by a maximum sentence of five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.

Judge Matthew P. Brookman of the Southern District Court of Indiana said sentencing will follow at an unspecified date. He said prosecutors and Eberhart's attorneys have not agreed on a recommended sentence but did settle on $60,000 in restitution -- Eberhart's salary as an elected official. Brookman said a $100 fee will be due at the time of sentencing.

Eberhart answered the judge's questions throughout the hearing with "yes" or "no" answers. He declined to take questions from members of the news media as he left the courthouse.

The former Republican state representative represented central Indiana's House District 57 for 16 years before leaving office in November 2022.

In late 2018, a company called Spectacle Entertainment sought to purchase two casinos located on Lake Michigan in Gary, Indiana, and relocate them to Gary and Vigo County in western Indiana, according to court documents.

The Legislature, whose House Committee on Public Policy oversees casinos and gaming in Indiana, passed a bill approving the move in 2019.

According to prosecutors, Eberhart, a member of the committee, used his position both to successfully advocate for the relocation and to obtain other favorable terms for the company, including tax incentives. In exchange, they said, Eberhart accepted the promise of future employment at Spectacle, which included annual compensation of at least $350,000.

Eberhart sent text messages regarding his efforts to secure legislation in favor of the company, according to prosecutors, who said he promised to "make it right for" the founder of Spectacle, identified only in court documents as "Individual A."

Other evidence obtained by investigators included digital images of documents, "covert recordings of conversations with Eberhart," and "records of statements and actions in the Indiana legislature," according to court documents.

The embattled casino company has been the subject of several federal investigations in recent years.

In 2022, longtime casino executive John Keeler was sentenced, along with former Indiana state Sen. Brent Waltz, for their role in a scheme to illegally funnel gambling money into the lawmaker's unsuccessful 2016 bid for congress.

Keeler, who was a Republican legislator for 16 years in the 1980s and 1990s, was sentenced to two months in federal prison and fined $55,000. The Indiana Gaming Commission forced Spectacle officials to give up their ownership stakes in Gary and Terre Haute casino projects following Keeler and Waltz's indictments in 2020.

Waltz, a Republican from Greenwood, was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison for helping route about $40,000 in illegal contributions to his campaign and making false statements to the FBI.

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