A once powerful state senator who resigned in the aftermath of a campaign finance scandal pleaded guilty Wednesday (March 11) to a federal mail fraud charge, his attorney said Wednesday.
Bill Stanley said his client, Paul Bookout of Jonesboro appeared in court in Little Rock to plead to the felony charge.
The case has centered for some time over allegations that Bookout, who once served as Arkansas State Senate president pro tempore, violated after state campaign finance law.
Bob Hester of Jonesboro filed the complaint in 2013 with the Arkansas Ethics Commission against Bookout, who also served in the state House before being elected state Senator in a special election after the death of his father, Jerry Bookout.
According to the Aug. 13, 2013 order, the commission voted 4-0 a month earlier that Bookout used $53,305.07 in campaign donations for personal use, did not keep sufficient records of expenses during the 2012 election and failed to itemize 93 expenditures, totaling $39,646.94.
During the campaign, Bookout received $80,950 in campaign donations and spent $63,269.07, the commission found.
“Of the $63,269.07 in total expenditures, only $9,964 was shown by the respondent to be proper campaign expenses. With respect to the balance of $53,305.07, the Respondent (Bookout) made personal use of campaign funds,” the report signed by chairman J. Barrington Minix said.
According to the report, $18,200 of the $53,305.07 was deposited into a bank account with Bookout’s personal funds.
The report also noted that:
- $5,043.74 was paid to Steamroller Blues, a business in Jonesboro, for women’s clothing and accessories from March through June 2012.
- $8,402.47 was paid to Sound Concepts, a business in Jonesboro, for home theater equipment and installation in October 2012.
- $1,305.93 was paid to RidgePointe Country Club in Jonesboro, for merchandise at the golf pro shop in April and July 2012.
Bookout, who was fined $4,000 and given a letter of reprimand by the ethics commission, resigned both his job as an official with St. Bernards Healthcare and as a state senator on Aug. 20, 2013.
Soon after, Second Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington recused himself from the case. The state Prosecutor Coordinator’s office then appointed longtime prosecutor Jack McQuary to handle the case.
Republican John Cooper won a special election earlier this year to fill Bookout’s unexpired term. Cooper will be up for reelection in 2016.
Stanley said his client is cooperating fully with investigators in the case.
In a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s office, prosecutors said Bookout waived indictment and pleaded guilty to “a felony information charging him with one count of mail fraud related to a scheme in which Bookout converted contributions for his 2010 and 2012 election campaigns to his personal use and profit.”
“In a betrayal of his oath of office and his duty to the citizens of Arkansas, Mr. Bookout violated the integrity of our government and disrespected those he served by selfishly and brazenly spending campaign funds for his personal use,” said David Shepard, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Little Rock FBI, “The FBI will continue to work together with the United States Attorney’s Office and the Arkansas State Police to ensure that all those who participate in political corruption will be held accountable for their actions.
“I appreciate the cooperation of the United States Attorney’s Office, the FBI, and the Arkansas State Police, who assisted in this case in order to effectively bring a resolution to both the State and Federal violations committed by Mr. Bookout,” said Special Prosecutor Jack McQuary. “State prosecutors will continue to work with our federal counterparts to bring justice to the citizens of the State of Arkansas with regard to public corruption.”
More information from the U.S. Attorney’s office included this timeline of events:
In 2006, Bookout was elected to the Arkansas State Senate, representing Arkansas Senate District 14. In 2011 and 2012, Bookout served as President Pro Tempore of the Arkansas State Senate. He resigned in August 2013.
According to the information filed today, Bookout deposited campaign contributions for his 2010 and 2012 elections into two bank accounts. Between May 2009 and December 2012, campaign donations totaling $126,500 were deposited into one of those accounts. Between March 2012 and July 2013, campaign donations totaling $62,750 were deposited into the second account. The information alleges that between May 2009 and July 2013, Bookout unlawfully made payments totaling $150,048.12 from those accounts for personal items and expenses, including clothing for Bookout and family members, a sound system installed in Bookout’s home, golf clubs, country club pro shop expenses, sporting goods, liquor, household furnishing, tanning sessions, manicures, and travel expenses unrelated to his re-election campaigns.
During his 2010 and 2012 re-election campaigns, Bookout was required to file monthly Campaign Contribution and Expenditure Reports (“CCE reports”) with the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office in Little Rock to evidence compliance with campaign finance disclosure laws and provide a public record of all contributions and expenditures related to his campaigns. According to the information, the monthly CCE reports prepared, signed, and filed by Bookout in 2010 and 2012 falsely claimed that the unlawful payments made from his campaign accounts were legitimate campaign related expenses.
Additionally, the information alleges that in filing false CCE reports, Bookout represented to the Secretary of State’s Office, the public, and his contributors that all of the claimed expenditures were lawful and related to his campaigns, when in fact they were not. The mail fraud count charged relates to Bookout’s mailing of a fraudulent CCE report to the Secretary of State’s Office on about December 28, 2012.
The statutory penalty for mail fraud is not more than twenty (20) years imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000.