Former Sen. Hutchinson pleads guilty to bribery in Missouri federal court

by Wesley Brown (wesbrocomm@gmail.com) 476 views 

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

As expected, former Arkansas state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson of Little Rock pleaded guilty Monday (July 8) for his role in a multimillion-dollar public corruption scheme that involved embezzlement, bribes and illegal campaign contributions to elected public officials in Arkansas and Missouri.

Hutchinson’s plea to one count of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery brings to an end the highly-watched saga involving the former Arkansas senator that began 10 months ago at the State Capitol. The plea deal before U.S. Magistrate Judge David P. Rush for the Western District of Missouri also comes nearly two weeks after the 45-year old former state senator admitted guilt to earlier charges of committing bribery and filing false tax returns as part of a multi-district federal corruption probe.

In this case, Hutchinson is subject to a sentence of up to five years in federal prison without parole and a fine of up to $250,000. Together with plea deals from consolidated indictments from the Eastern and Western Districts of Arkansas laid out before U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker at a June 25 hearing in Little Rock, Hutchinson faces up to 13 years in federal prison under federal sentencing guidelines and fines of up to $600,000, as well as paying restitution and additional court 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.

In accepting the federal charges from the three federal districts in Missouri and Arkansas, Hutchinson will not have to face a long list of other serious charges in a trial that was originally scheduled in Baker’s courtroom later this month.

In an 85-page federal grand jury indictment first unsealed on April 11 in Missouri, federal investigators said Hutchinson “knowingly and unlawfully conspired, confederated, and agreed together” with Bontiea and Tommy Ray Goss to devise a scheme that began in 2015 to defraud PFH. The Gosses were the husband and wife who served respectively as PFH’s former chief operations and chief financial officers.

In today’s plea agreement, Hutchinson admitted he was hired by Ms. Goss as outside counsel for PFH in exchange for payments and legal work. For his part, Hutchinson performed official acts on behalf of the Springfield, Missouri-based healthcare charity, including holding up agency budgets and drafting and voting on legislation.

As payment, Hutchinson received a monthly retainer from May 2014 until 2017, which added up to more than $350,000. The Missouri nonprofit also paid for hotel rooms and Major League Baseball tickets for Hutchinson and allowed him the use of the charity’s luxury and recreational real estate.

Hutchinson also admitted publicly that he understood he was paid by the Missouri nonprofit and its affiliates primarily because of his position as an elected public official and that he worked to further the interests of the non-profit while in the Arkansas State Legislature. The ex-senator also admitted that Ms. Goss, along with former Arkansas lobbyist Milton “Rusty” Cranford and Robin Raveendran, both former PFH executives, directed him to move the charity’s political agenda forward in the Arkansas Senate, and that he performed some legal work for the charity to conceal his corrupt arrangement with the charity’s executives.

Ms. Goss has been charged in the same superseding indictment to which Hutchinson pleaded guilty today. Last June, Cranford pleaded guilty in federal court to bribing Arkansas elected officials in the same multi-million dollar scheme, and then along with other PFH executives, embezzled millions of dollars from the Missouri charity.

A year ago today, the state Department of Human Services suspended PFH from the state’s Medicaid program after Raveendran of Little Rock was arrested on two counts of Medicaid fraud, one Class A felony and one Class B felony. Raveendran pleaded guilty before Judge Rush a month ago to his role in a conspiracy to bribe Hutchinson to influence public policy for the benefit of the charity and its executives.

Under federal statutes, Raveendran is also subject to a sentence of up to five years in federal prison without parole. He and Cranford have not been sentenced yet. A sentencing hearing for Hutchinson will be scheduled in Little Rock after the completion of a pre-sentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office. At the late June hearing, Judge Baker said she hopes to take up Hutchinson’s sentencing in 90 days or so.

The multi-district investigation was conducted by the IRS-Criminal Investigation, the FBI, and the Offices of the Inspectors General from the Departments of Justice, Labor, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

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