Former lawmaker changing plea in corruption cases
LITTLE ROCK — A former Arkansas lawmaker who is also the governor’s nephew was expected Monday to change his plea in two federal corruption cases as he faced a new charge of accepting bribes in exchange for efforts to change a state dental law.
Change of plea hearings were scheduled for two cases involving former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, who has pleaded not guilty to charges he spent thousands of campaign dollars on personal expenses and that he accepted bribes in exchange for helping a health nonprofit. A hearing is scheduled Tuesday in Little Rock in the campaign spending case, and July 8 in the bribery case in Missouri.
Hutchinson’s attorney and spokespeople for federal prosecutors handling the cases against the exlawmaker declined comment.
Federal prosecutors in western Arkansas on Monday charged Hutchinson with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, accusing the ex-lawmaker of accepting more than $157,000 from the coowner of orthodontic clinics throughout Arkansas in exchange for efforts to change a dental practices law. According to court records, Hutchinson said he wishes to plead guilty and agreed to have the case transferred to the Eastern District of Arkansas, which is handling the case over his campaign spending. Hutchinson waived indictment by a grand jury.
Prosecutors in court documents said the bribes were concealed as legal fees paid to Hutchinson’s law firm. The owner of the clinics was not identified.
Hutchinson pleaded not guilty in September in the campaign spending case and had been seeking to have the charges against him dismissed. Hutchinson was charged with eight counts of wire fraud and four counts of filing false tax returns.
Federal prosecutors allege that from 2010 through 2017, Hutchinson used campaign money to pay for personal expenses that also included Netflix fees, jewelry, a gym membership and his utility bills. They say he tried to hide by falsifying campaign finance reports and tax filings. Hutchinson’s attorneys have argued that the investigation began with an illegal search of his laptop and that evidence on the laptop that would exonerate him was destroyed.
He was charged in a separate case in April with accepting bribes in exchange for helping a Missouri nonprofit. A former executive with the nonprofit, Preferred Family Healthcare, admitted June 12 to taking part in a conspiracy to bribe Hutchinson.
Hutchinson is the son of former U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson and the nephew of Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Hutchinson is among several former Arkansas lawmakers who have been ensnared in corruption investigations since early 2017.