Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is creating a Public Integrity Division composed of two staff members who will investigate corruption by elected officials, public employees and local officials, she announced Wednesday (June 27).
The division will work with the FBI, U.S. attorneys, and the Arkansas State Police as part of the ArkTrust Public Corruption Task Force, which investigates corruption charges. The task force was created in 2013 after Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner was convicted of federal bribery and extortion.
The new division will be part of her office’s Special Investigations Department, which was created by legislation in 2009 and is her office’s investigating unit regarding cyber crimes against children and also metal theft. Rutledge said her office will dedicate attorneys to assist local prosecutors on public corruption issues. Her office will set up a hotline number as well as pages on its website where citizens and state employees can report wrongdoing.
The two staff members will occupy slots in the office that were already budgeted and will earn maximum salaries of $58,000. She said she hopes to fill the positions in the next couple of months but has not identified any candidates.
A spate of FBI-led public corruption cases have resulted in convictions and guilty pleas by five former legislators whose crimes were associated with the state’s General Improvement Fund. The GIF allowed legislators to directly or indirectly provide money to grantees. Those legislators were guilty of personally profiting from the fund. However, Rutledge said public corruption is a longstanding issue in Arkansas. She was in law school in 1999 during the corruption case involving Sen. Nick Wilson, D-Pocahontas, and others, she said.
“This is not directed at or in response to elected officials being found guilty in corruption trials or pleading guilty,” she said. “This is in response to sadly what we have seen over decades.”
A sixth legislator, Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, was accused of receiving improper payments by convicted lobbyist Rusty Cranford in a plea agreement. Hutchinson has not been charged with a crime. He has resigned from his law firm but not from the Legislature. Diane Upchurch, FBI special agent in charge in Little Rock, said at the press conference that she could not comment on whether her office is investigating Hutchinson or if more indictments will be coming in the GIF investigation.
Rutledge said she did not know if her investigators would be involved in the GIF investigation. They could work on ongoing ArkTrust Public Corruption Task Force investigations, she said.
In response to a reporter’s question, Rutledge said she would not propose a legislative package in the next legislative session, which she also has not done in the past. She said she would work with legislators to review proposed bills.
“Too often, when we have lawsuits or challenges or AG opinion requests, it’s because unfortunately we weren’t asked the questions and weren’t able to weigh in on it early enough,” she said.