Former Arkansas lawmaker pleads guilty in corruption cases

Local In AR

FILE – In this Aug. 18, 2015 file photo, state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Benton, speaks at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark. The former Arkansas lawmaker who is Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s nephew has pleaded guilty to accepting bribes and filing a false tax return Tuesday, June 25, 2019, as part of an agreement with federal prosecutors in a sprawling corruption probe. Federal prosecutors also said in an agreement read in court, that Hutchinson planned to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy in a separate federal case in Missouri where he’s been charged with accepting bribes from a nonprofit. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston, File)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A former Arkansas lawmaker who is Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s nephew pleaded guilty Tuesday to accepting bribes and filing a false tax return, part of an agreement with federal prosecutors in a sprawling corruption probe.

Former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, who is the son of former U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson, also agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy in a separate federal case in Missouri where he’s been charged with accepting bribes to help Springfield-based Preferred Family Healthcare Inc.

As part of his guilty plea to filing a false tax return for 2011, Hutchinson admitted that he took more than $10,000 in campaign funds for his personal use and didn’t report $20,000-per-month payments he received from one law firm and other sources of income he knowingly concealed from his taxes.

Prosecutors said they would seek to dismiss the other charges in the case, where he’s accused of spending thousands in campaign funds on personal items such as trips and groceries, once he’s sentenced. Hutchinson had previously pleaded not guilty in that case.

The maximum sentence for the tax fraud charge is up to three years in prison and up to a $100,000 fine, and the maximum for the bribery charge is up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

Hutchinson also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery and admitted to accepting more than $150,000 from the co-owner of orthodontic clinics in exchange for efforts to change a dental practices law. Hutchinson had been charged in that case on Monday shortly after change-of-plea hearings had been set in the Arkansas and Missouri cases. The co-owner of the orthodontic clinics was not named in the plea agreement.

Hutchinson is expected to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy in federal court in Missouri on July 8 in a separate case where he and two former executives of Preferred Family Healthcare Inc. are accused of taking part in a multi-million dollar public corruption scheme that involved elected officials in Arkansas and Missouri. According to the agreement, prosecutors will seek to have the remaining charges against Hutchinson in that case dismissed after sentencing.

In that case, Hutchinson is accused of accepting thousands of dollars, including through cash, checks and attorney’s fees, in exchange for legislative action benefiting the nonprofit, its executives, lobbyist Rusty Cranford and Cranford’s clients. Cranford admitted last year to bribing lawmakers as part of the scheme.

Hutchinson, 45, said little during the roughly 45-minute hearing before U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker. He declined to comment as he left the courtroom after the hearing.

“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. As my nephew, I hurt for him and his children. My prayers will continue for Jeremy, and I am hopeful this chapter of Arkansas political history will soon come to a close.”

Hutchinson, the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is among several Arkansas lawmakers and lobbyists who have been ensnared in federal corruption probes since early 2017.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on  Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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