The sixth Arkansas current or former legislator to face criminal charges is Jeremy Hutchinson and according to sources, there are more to come. Senator Hutchinson is facing 12 felony charges.
It is time to elect HONEST legislators. Too many legislators in office now are using their position to line their own pockets, not represent their constituents. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette ran this story on September 1, 2018
Information for this article was contributed by John Mortiz and Michael R. Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Arkansas Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson resigned Friday, effective immediately, after a federal grand jury indicted the veteran lawmaker on 12 counts of wire and tax fraud, accusing him of misspending campaign donations and underreporting his income on federal tax forms.Hutchinson tendered his resignation to his uncle, Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Jeremy Hutchinson had served eight years in the state House of Representatives and was in his eighth year as state senator.
In a statement released by his attorneys, the Little Rock Republican said it has been his “greatest honor” to serve his district, which includes parts of Saline and Pulaski counties.
“Nobody would want to find themselves in my present position, but I intend to defend myself and offer truthful evidence to a jury as soon as possible,” Hutchinson said. “I do not agree with decisions that have led us to this place, but I am powerless to control those decisions.”
Hutchinson, 44, is the sixth current or former Arkansas lawmaker since last year to face federal charges. Five ex-lawmakers have pleaded guilty to charges or been convicted in public corruption investigations spanning Arkansas and Missouri.
Hutchinson had been previously linked in court documents, though not by name, to a bribery probe involving a Missouri-based nonprofit health care provider and Arkansas lobbyist Rusty Cranford. Cranford pleaded guilty to paying bribes to Hutchinson, or “Senator A,” according to court documents. Friday’s charges do not address those accusations.
Hutchinson, a lawyer by profession, faces eight felony counts of wire fraud and four counts of filing false tax returns. He is scheduled to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia Harris at 10 a.m. Sept. 18, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
“This indictment by the grand jury represents serious charges, and we look forward to preparing our case and presenting it to a jury of 12 people who we trust to do justice in this matter,” said U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland of the Eastern District of Arkansas.
The wire-fraud counts, which each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, involve accusations about how Hutchinson handled $9,790 in campaign contributions between 2013 and 2015, according to the indictment. That sum is part of accusations, but not formal charges, that the senator improperly used more than $200,000 in campaign money.
The tax-fraud charges, carrying a maximum penalty of three years in prison, involve accusations that he under-reported on his tax returns the income he received for 2011 through 2014, including fees “purportedly for providing legal or consulting services.”
Hutchinson was also accused in the indictment of violating Arkansas campaign-finance laws. The accusations, for which he has not been formally charged, include under-reporting contributions, withdrawing tens of thousands of dollars in cash from his election accounts and spending campaign money on vacations, groceries, tuition and Netflix.
Hutchinson’s attorneys, Tim Dudley and Stephen Larson, said in a joint statement that Hutchinson “cooperated fully” with the government for more than five years.
“In light of that history, we all find it both frustrating and disappointing for him to be forced to face the inaccurate factual allegations contained in the indictment,” the statement says.
The statement accuses investigators of conducting a search of Hutchinson’s computer without a warrant and destroying “an image of his hard drive which possessed key exculpatory evidence.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement that Jeremy Hutchinson is presumed innocent, but “the reality is that the charges alone undermine public confidence in our system of government.”
“For that reason, Jeremy understands he needs to resign from the Senate, and I support that decision,” the governor said. “He will need to devote his resources and energy in answering these allegations.”
State Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who announced in June that she’d created a new public integrity unit, did not say Friday whether her office was investigating the indictment’s broader campaign-finance accusations in connection with state laws.
Rutledge’s office was not mentioned in a U.S. Department of Justice news release about the indictment. The FBI and the IRS’ criminal investigation division conducted the probe, the release says.
“Senator Hutchinson’s decision to resign was the only responsible course of action following his indictment,” Rutledge said in a statement. “Public officials cannot check their ethics at the door, and when criminal charges are filed against a member of the State Senate, it understandably erodes the public’s confidence in government.”
State campaign-finance violations alleged in the indictment include the under-reporting on required disclosure reports of nearly $1 of every $5 Hutchinson received in contributions from 2010-2017.
Specific accusations of mishandling campaign money include $41,000 in direct spending from his campaign account for personal food, groceries, gasoline, gym membership fees, tuition and Netflix. He also made utility payments for a personal residence and spent money at jewelry, clothing and other retail stores, the indictment says.
Separately, Hutchinson is accused of withdrawing $78,000 in cash from his campaign accounts, wiring $41,000 to a personal account, cashing five checks totaling $6,400 that were meant as campaign contributions and directly depositing $42,000 of campaign contributions into his personal accounts.
Arkansas’ campaign-finance law, Ark. Code 7-6-203, bars candidates from using campaign funds as personal income, or for a spouse or child’s income. The code says any candidate using “campaign funds to fulfill any … expense that would exist regardless of the candidate’s campaign shall be deemed to have taken campaign funds as personal income.”
Hutchinson accepted $366,220 in campaign contributions from 2010-2017, but reported receiving $294,421 on his disclosure reports in that span, the indictment says.
Regarding the tax-fraud charges, the indictment isn’t clear how much in total income Hutchinson is accused of failing to report on his returns.
Five businesses — unidentified Law Firm A, Charity A, Company A, Company B and Company C — paid Hutchinson a total of $898,000 between 2011 and 2014, the indictment shows.
Hutchinson’s U.S. income tax returns for those years reported a total of $643,732 for “gross receipts” that normally include legal fees and consulting services, according to tax accounting experts. Hutchinson’s tax forms reported his total income for the four years as $378,900, the indictment shows.
Hutchinson became the latest current or former Arkansas legislator accused of crimes by the federal government.
Five former Arkansas lawmakers have pleaded guilty to or been convicted of federal charges since last year. They are: former Rep. Eddie Cooper, D-Melbourne; former Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith; former Rep. Micah Neal, R-Springdale; former Rep. Hank Wilkins, D-Pine Bluff; and former Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale.
Earlier this year, Hutchinson’s name surfaced in connection to a federal investigation, though he has not been charged in that case.
Cranford, the former lobbyist, pleaded guilty in June to paying and orchestrating the payment of bribes to “Senator A” in exchange for favorable legislative action. Dudley has acknowledged that Hutchinson is the unnamed senator, but has called the allegation “unfounded and unproved.”
Hutchinson received $500,000 from 2012 to 2017 from Cranford, Preferred Family Healthcare, Cranford lobbying firms and other Cranford clients, the government alleged. Dudley has described the payments as fees for legal work.
After Friday’s indictment, Hutchinson’s attorneys provided supportive statements from his father and a former U.S. attorney.
Hutchinson’s father, former U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson, said in a statement he believes his son will be “exonerated.” Tim Hutchinson served 10 years in Congress, four as a representative and six as a senator.
“I have full faith in my son’s innocence of the allegations as set out in today’s indictment and believe that when the facts are fairly presented he will be exonerated,” Tim Hutchinson said.
Jeremy Hutchinson will accept contributions toward his legal defense fund, said Bud Cummins, a former U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Arkansas who will serve as the fund’s trustee.