Arkansas State Senator Jeremy Hutchinson was implicated in a bribery plea last week in a Federal Court in Springfield, Missouri.
Hutchinson, the son of former US Senator Tim Hutchinson and nephew of sitting Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, would be just one of several Arkansas legislators implicated by by disgraced lobbyist Milton “Rusty” Cranford. In May, former Senator Hank Wilkins pleaded guilty to accepting bribes totalling $80,000 from Cranford and disguising the payments as contributions to his Pine Bluff, Arkansas church.
Take Jeremy Hutchinson out to the ballgame
Jeremy Hutchinson was not mentioned by name in the Federal hearing on June 7th, but Cranford did confess to passing bribes to Wilkins, Senator Jon Woods, and an unnamed “Senator A.”
According to the filed statement, Senator A filed the Senate Bills 62 and 655 during the 2015 session. According to legislative records, Hutchinson sponsored both bills.
Cranford claims to have arranged payments to Senator A from his client, the Missouri-based Preferred Family Healthcare (PFH). These included over $500,000 in bribes, and tickets to the 2013 World Series.
While the identity of Senator A remains officially undeclared, Hutchinson’s lawyer Tim Dudley does not contest that is his client is the person referred to in the plea. But Mr Dudley does strongly resist the bribery accusations.
“Their basic premise is Jeremy Hutchinson was hired by PFH…to do legal work and was paid a retainer,” Dudley argued. “And he did the work. And we can show that he earned his money.”
While Hutchinson may claim that he was merely being compensated for above-board services rendered, Cranford’s confession tells a different story. According to prosecutors, the bought-and-paid-for legislators “steered Arkansas General Improvement Fund (GIF) money to Preferred Family Healthcare and other Cranford clients; held up agency budgets; requested legislative audits; and sponsored, filed and voted for legislative bills that favored the charity and Cranford clients.”
“If Senator A is indicted, he should resign”
The revelations put Hutchinson’s uncle, Governor Asa Hutchinson, in a very precarious position. The first-term Republican is in the middle of seeking a second term, and is on the ballot in November after winning the Republican primary on May 22nd. Although Arkansas is a reliably red state, being accused of favoring a nephew entangled in a Federal bribery case would be an unwanted distraction.
Unlike Jeremy Hutchinson’s lawyer, however, Asa Hutchinson is not yet ready to assume his nephew is in fact “Senator A.” But whoever Senator A turns out to be, the Governor is happy to throw him under the bus.
“Without any doubt,” Governor Hutchinson told journalists at a previously scheduled briefing, “the allegations that are contained in the indictment and the factual statement are profoundly serious and undermine the system of legislative process that the public relies upon, it undermines the confidence that the public has in their government.
“If state Senator A is indicted,” he continued, “then he or she should resign from office.”
Using the cas of former Senator Hank Wilkins as a guide, an indictment for Senator A by Federal authorities could appear soon. Wilkins was first named in the same Federal Court in March during an earlier hearing for Cranford’s case. Six weeks later, and Wilkins was in a Federal courtroom himself, entering his own plea.