There is an epidemic of public corruption in Arkansas. It is hard to keep up with all the new stories of bribery, fraud, and corruption. Here is a partial list of Arkansans who recently were found guilty, admitted guilt, or are subject to prosecution.
- Former Representative Micah Neal (R) pled guilty to taking kickbacks for directing the award of grants.[i]
- Former Senator Jon Woods (R) will be going to trial on similar charges in April.[ii] Micah Neal is to testify against him. Others charged in the scheme are Ecclesia College President Oren Paris III and consultant Randell G. Shelton.
- Senator Jake Files (R) resigned this year after he pled guilty to bank and wire fraud and money laundering.[iii] His actions included taking state grant money for himself.
- Former State Senator and lobbyist Eddie Cooper (D) pled guilty with others in a scheme to embezzle more than $4 million from Preferred Family Healthcare.[iv]
- Jefferson County Judge and former Senator, Hank Wilkins (D) recently admitted to taking $100,000 in bribes. Wilkins resigned as county judge of Jefferson County. [v] Bribes to Wilkins during his legislative service are alleged to have come from lobbyist Rusty Cranford.
- Lobbyist Rusty Cranford has been charged with a multi-state bribery scheme on behalf of his heath care company. He has been mentioned regarding the Arkansas grant money bribery scheme. He is also accused of attempting to hire a hit man to kill a witness in New Jersey.[vi]
- Former State Representative Steve Jones (D), who became a state employee of the Department of Human Services, was also found guilty of taking bribes from Ted Suhl.[vii] Also convicted in the scheme was Phillip Carter, a former West Memphis City Councilman and Crittenden County juvenile probation office
- Ted Suhl who operated a behavioral health company was convicted of fraud and bribing Steve Jones.[viii]
- Former Judge Mike Maggio was convicted of taking bribes to lower an award against an Arkansas nursing home.
- State employees and supposed providers of meals to poor children – And, then there have been at least thirteen people sentenced in a multi-million-dollar fraud case involving money distributed by the state Department of Human Services which was supposed to pay for programs to provide meals for poor children. At least $13 million in fraud has been uncovered.[ix]
The federal investigations into Arkansas corruption are ongoing. The sad fact is we may see more names added to the list.
Major ethics reform for public officials and lobbyists were adopted by the people in 1988. Then following a number of public corruption cases in the 1990’s the Arkansas legislature responded with more restrictions and disclosure requirements intended to shine light on the actions of public officials and lobbyists. Unfortunately, loopholes were built into some of the restrictions. Plus, for years the legislature has been busy chipping away at ethics requirements, creating loopholes, and protecting their cozy relations with lobbyists. (It is interesting to note that some of the legislation that weakened ethics rules was sponsored by former Senator Jon Woods who is listed above.)
Even before the recent flood of corruption cases, the alarm bells should have been going off because of continual public corruption cases. For example, in 2015, President Pro Tempore of the Senate Paul Bookout (D) pled guilty to wire fraud in converting campaign funds to personal use [x] and Treasurer of State Martha Shoffner (D) was convicted of taking bribes.[xi]
Governor Asa Hutchinson likes to remind people he used to be a U.S. Attorney. With his background as a federal prosecutor and there being so much corruption in Arkansas, where is the Governor’s package of legislative reforms to curb corruption? He doesn’t have one.
Both the Governor and the legislature love to create task forces to study issues. So where are their task forces or legislative committees analyzing Arkansas’ public corruption cases and seeking measures to curb corruption? Neither the Governor nor the legislature have any. With the federal investigations into corruption continuing perhaps it would be difficult for politicians to dwell on the crimes of friends and associates.
Two Republican State Senators stepped up and tried to pass ethics reforms in 2017, but the Governor didn’t lift a finger to help the Senators and the Arkansas legislature turned its back on the reform effort and failed to pass either measure.
Conduit For Action supported both 2017 reform bills.
- Senator Bryan King tried to bring some sunshine to the business dealings between Medicaid providers and public officials by requiring the Medicaid providers to disclose business dealings with public officials.[xii] Many of the corruption cases listed above deal with Medicaid money.
- Senator Linda Collins Smith tried to close loopholes allowing legislators who are attorneys or consultants to represent a client before the legislature.[xiii]
While Little Rock burns with corruption cases, where is the leadership needed to curb public corruption?
…. As for the two Senators who filed the reform bills in 2017, they are being challenged by opponents recruited by the Governor.
NOTE: Senator Bryan King and Senator Linda Collins-Smith have been the target of the Governor’s wrath for some time because they are principled conservatives who oppose his government growth and his quest for new taxes. But isn’t it interesting that the two Senators who filed the ethics reform bills are the only incumbent Senators with opponents in the Republican primary. Their opponents from the House of Representatives were encouraged by Governor Hutchinson, and we wonder if they will find state government employment should they lose to the current Senators.
CORRUPTION RULES IN ARKANSAS.
THE GOVERNOR AND MUCH OF THE LEGISLATURE HAVE LET YOU DOWN.
THE QUESTION IS: What are YOU going to do about it?
Are you going to reelect politicians who do nothing about public corruption committed by their friends and associates?
Are you just going to stay silent while politicians who brag on being “pragmatic” and laugh at principled conservatives get reelected?
Are you okay with politicians using “carefully crafted language” instead of speaking the plain truth?