For­mer Arkansas law­maker charged in scheme to bribe judge

El Dorado News-Times - - Obituaries -

LIT­TLE ROCK (AP) — A for­mer Arkansas law­maker has been charged with conspiracy in an al­leged bribery scheme with an ex-judge who admitted to low­er­ing a jury's award in a neg­li­gence law­suit in ex­change for cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions. A fed­eral in­dict­ment un­sealed Fri­day shows for­mer state Sen. Gil­bert Baker was also charged with bribery and wire fraud in con­nec­tion to the scheme in­volv­ing for­mer Judge Michael Mag­gio. Mag­gio admitted in 2015 to ac­cept­ing cam­paign do­na­tions from a nurs­ing home com­pany owner, then re­duc­ing a judg­ment against that com­pany from $5.2 mil­lion to $1 mil­lion. The in­dict­ment al­leges Baker con­spired with Mag­gio to di­rect the owner's con­tri­bu­tions to the judge. The con­tri­bu­tions were fun­neled to Mag­gio through eight po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees that Baker had an at­tor­ney set up. Baker is a for­mer Arkansas Repub­li­can Party chair­man who un­suc­cess­fully ran for the GOP nom­i­na­tion for a U.S. Se­nate seat in 2010. Baker's at­tor­neys said he never asked Mag­gio, the nurs­ing home com­pany owner or any­one else to do any­thing im­proper or il­le­gal, and that no one asked him to do any­thing im­proper or il­le­gal. "All cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions in 2013 were han­dled law­fully and were trans­par­ently re­ported in pub­lic records," at­tor­neys Richard Watts and Bud Cum­mins said in a state­ment. "After over five years of in­ves­ti­ga­tion Mr. Baker is con­fi­dent that the truth will fi­nally be made known." Mag­gio ac­cepted the con­tri­bu­tions dur­ing a bid for the state Court of Ap­peals that he aban­doned three months be­fore the elec­tion. Baker, who was a fundraiser for Mag­gio's bid, told the judge over the sum­mer that the nurs­ing home owner "was watch­ing the civil law­suit and would ap­pre­ci­ate Mag­gio mak­ing a fa­vor­able de­ci­sion," ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment. The in­dict­ment names the owner only as "In­di­vid­ual A," though he's pre­vi­ously been iden­ti­fied as Michael Mor­ton. Mor­ton has not been charged in the case and a spokesman de­nied he sought any­thing in ex­change for his con­tri­bu­tions. "Mr. Mor­ton main­tains that while he made cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions to nu­mer­ous can­di­dates for the 2014 elec­tion, he never asked for any­thing in re­turn from any can­di­date," Matt DeCam­ple, a spokesman for Mor­ton, said in a state­ment. "He never dis­cussed re­duc­ing a jury ver­dict in any case with any­body. Mor­ton dis­cussed this at length with the U.S. At­tor­ney's Of­fice in 2014 and it re­mains the truth to­day." The in­dict­ment is the lat­est in on­go­ing fed­eral cor­rup­tion cases that have in­volved Arkansas law­mak­ers and lob­by­ists and have com­pelled leg­isla­tive lead­ers to call clean­ing up the Capi­tol's rep­u­ta­tion as one of their top priorities this ses­sion. The probes prompted the Se­nate to over­haul its ethics rules last year. Ear­lier Fri­day, leg­isla­tive lead­ers and the gov­er­nor told re­porters they ex­pected changes to the state's ethics laws in­clud­ing an in­crease in fines for some vi­o­la­tions. "It's cul­mi­nated now, and it has to stop," in­com­ing Se­nate Pres­i­dent Jim Hen­dren said.

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