Former Sen. Hutchinson scheduled for ‘change of plea’ hearing Tuesday in federal court

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 736 views 

Former Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock (photo courtesy of KUAR)

Former Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, is scheduled for a change of plea hearing on Tuesday (June 25) before U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker nearly nine months after he was indicted by a federal grand jury in a wide-ranging public corruption scheme.

The hearing in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas will be held at the Richard Sheppard Arnold U.S. Courthouse at noon in downtown Little Rock. According to the one-page court filing, the former Arkansas senator will appear before Baker to change his earlier not guilty plea, although the court offered no details or reasons for Hutchinson’s change of heart.

In September 2018, Hutchinson pleaded not guilty on all 12 counts of allegedly devising a scheme to steal thousands of dollars in campaign contributions and then falsifying state campaign finance reports and tax filings as part of the scheme. In the original 15-page indictment, federal prosecutors alleged the Hutchinson spent thousands of dollars proffered from campaign funds on everything from cruises and travel expenses to St. Louis Cardinal baseball games to utility bills and Netflix fees.

Hutchinson is the son of former U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark., and the nephew of Gov. Asa Hutchinson. He had been a state senator since 2011 and first came to the State Capitol as a state representative in 2000. The former senator and Little Rock attorney resigned from the Arkansas General Assembly after the federal indictment charged him with eight counts of wire fraud and four counts of filing false tax returns.

Hutchinson’s plea hearing does not involve a second indictment filed against him earlier this year by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. In that 85-page federal grand jury indictment first unsealed on April 11, Hutchinson and husband-and-wife executive team for Preferred Family Healthcare (PFH) of Springfield, Mo., were charged with 32 new counts of public corruption in a closely-tied scheme that involved embezzlement, bribes and illegal campaign contributions to elected officials in Arkansas and Missouri.

In that case, federal prosecutors said Hutchinson “knowingly and unlawfully conspired, confederated, and agreed together” with Bontiea Goss and Tommy Ray Goss to devise a scheme that began in 2015 to defraud PFH, the same Springfield, Mo.-based nonprofit is at the center of the wide-ranging federal corruption probe in several jurisdictions that has already entrapped several former Arkansas lawmakers and PFH executives.

Last summer, PFH also filed a civil lawsuit in a federal circuit court of Independence County seeking to recover nearly $385,000 from the Arkansas senator and Little Rock law firm Steel, Wright, Hutchinson and Gray related to alleged negligent legal representation of the Missouri nonprofit. However, PFH’s case against Hutchinson and the little Rock law firm was dismissed with prejudice in March by U.S. District Chief Judge Brian Miller for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

Although most federal cases involve instances where the defendant has accepted and signed a please agreement prior to appearing in court, Hutchinson’s attorney, Tim Dudley of Little Rock, did not immediately respond to request for comments concerning Tuesday’s plea hearing before Judge Baker.

Following pre-trial hearings earlier this month, the former Arkansas legislator had petitioned the court to dismiss all charges against him before his scheduled trial in Judge Baker’s courtroom next month.