Friday, October 23, 2020

Ex-Arkansas senator pleads guilty to tax fraud, bribery in corruption probe

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A former Arkansas state lawmaker who is the nephew of Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson pleaded guilty Tuesday to accepting bribes from lobbyists and filing a false tax return as part of a deal with federal prosecutors to dismiss other corruption charges against him.

Former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson admitted in Little Rock federal court to taking more than $150,000 from the co-owner of orthodontic clinics in exchange for efforts to change a state dental practice law. He also admitted to using more than $10,000 in campaign contributions to pay for Netflix fees, jewelry, gym memberships and utility bills.

Federal prosecutors alleged Hutchinson failed to report $20,000 in monthly payments from a law firm and concealed other sources of income on his 2011 tax returns.

“The investigation into the rampant pay to play corruption scheme present in our state capitol is ongoing,” U.S. Duane Kees said in a statement following the afternoon hearing. “This plea represents a serious watershed in exposing this use of sham retainers and consulting arrangements to influence the passage of law.”

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Hutchinson, 45, also agreed to plead guilty to a conspiracy charge in a federal case in Missouri where he is accused of accepting bribes from executives of Springfield-based Preferred Family Health Inc. in exchange for favorable legislative action. The behavioral health care provider serves some Arkansas Medicaid patients.

The ex-GOP lawmaker is expected to enter his guilty plea in the Missouri case July 8.

Hutchinson — who served 16 years in the Arkansas House and Senate — resigned last year following his indictment in a corruption probe that ensnarled several Arkansas lawmakers and lobbyists. He declined to speak to reporters Tuesday.

“Jeremy has been engaged as a part-time legislator for many years, and I am deeply saddened with this breach of the public trust,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement. “As a public official, I know the damage this does to public confidence and trust in our elected officials. We should all double our efforts to do the right thing in public office and to restore the public trust.”

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Hutchinson faces up to eight years in prison and up to $350,000 in fines for the bribery and tax fraud charges.

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