Former Ouachita County Judge sentenced for bribery scheme

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 67 views 

James Michael Hesterly, 50, of Camden, Ark., was sentenced on Thursday (Dec. 18) to 33 months in prison and one year of supervised release on one count of Bribery Concerning a Program Receiving Federal Funds.

Hesterly and Harry Clemons Jr., 39 of Bearden, Ark., were indicted for a scheme to award a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster-relief contract to Clemons by rigging the bidding process in return for a contribution to Hesterly’s 2010 reelection campaign for Ouachita County Judge. Hesterly had been the county judge of Ouachita County Arkansas for the past 10 years. Harry Clemons is the owner and operator of Clemons Construction. A federal grand jury handed down the indictments in Fort Smith on Jan. 17, 2013.

U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey presided over the sentencing hearing in The United States District Court in El Dorado.

“With today’s sentence a strong message has been sent regarding our office’s continuing commitment to aggressively pursue individuals who violate the public’s trust through their own greed and complete abdication of the duties they were sworn to uphold.  This type of conduct by a public official offends taxpayers and citizens as well as all of the other public officials who are truly dedicated to their service,” Conner Eldridge, United States Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, said in a statement.

According to documents filed in court, beginning in March 2010, Hesterly proposed awarding Clemons a FEMA funded contract to clean up storm debris in Ouachita County without competitive bidding in exchange for a payment to Hesterly for his reelection campaign. The debris was the product of two tornados that struck the county in October 2009. In furtherance of this conspiracy, Clemons arranged for two other bidders to submit intentionally inflated bids to Hesterly through fax. Clemons then met with Hesterly at his office and submitted a bid on behalf of himself and another company for the contract in the amount of $120,730, a total amount below the inflated bids.

Hesterly accepted Clemons’s bid, and, on April 8, 2010, applied for federal funds from FEMA to help Ouachita County pay for the contract. Hesterly represented to FEMA that Clemons was the lowest bidder among the three bids that he had received. After FEMA approved and obligated the request, Hesterly requested that the contract price be increased by $4,000 representing that the increase was necessary to cover increased costs to Clemons for disposing of the debris. FEMA also approved that request, but the $4,000 was ultimately paid to Hesterly by Clemons as bribe money solicited by Hesterly for awarding the contract to Clemons.

In order to promote open competition, federal regulations require that the contract be awarded through a sealed bidding process and in compliance with all applicable state law. Hesterly corrupted the bidding process to ensure that the contract would be awarded to Clemons and not through a legitimate competitive bidding process.

Hesterly pleaded guilty to the offense on June 11, 2014.

Clemons was sentenced Nov. 21, 2014 to two years of probation with a condition of home confinement with electronic monitoring for the first four months, a $2,500 fine, and ordered to pay $4,000 restitution jointly and severally with Hesterly.

This case was investigated by the FBI. United States Attorney Conner Eldridge and Assistant United States Attorney Kenneth Elser represented the United States.

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