Arkansas senator Jeremy Hutchinson indicted in scheme, resigns

Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson is a Little Rock Republican chairing the task force.
Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson is a Little Rock Republican chairing the task force.

Arkansas Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson resigned Friday, hours after he was an accused in an indictment of stealing campaign contributions and using them for personal expenses.

Hutchinson, a Republican who was first elected as a state representative in 2000 and then as a state senator in 2011, is facing eight counts of wire fraud, totaling $9,790 from January 2013 to January 2015, and four counts of filing false tax returns. A Sept. 18 court appearance is set.

According to the indictment, the legislator spent campaign funds on personal expenses, including a Caribbean cruise, a vacation to New Orleans, gym membership and Netflix fees, between 2010 and 2017.

“Jeremy Hutchinson allegedly diverted contributions from his Arkansas State Senate campaigns to pay for an array of personal expenses,” Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski said in a news release. “The charges in this case demonstrate the commitment of the Department and our law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute those involved in alleged campaign-related misconduct.”

Hutchinson's attorney, Tim Dudley, said in his statement that the indictment contains "inaccurate factual allegations" but that Hutchinson still plans to step down.

“His resignation is not an admission of wrongdoing nor should he be forced to resign because of an allegation," Dudley said. "He is doing so simply to allow the people’s business in the State Capitol to go forward without unnecessary distraction.”

Hutchinson, in the statement, said he "worked very hard to serve all of my constituents."

"Nobody would want to find themselves in my present position, but I intend to defend myself and offer truthful evidence to a jury as soon as possible," he said. "I do not agree with decisions that have led us to this place, but I am powerless to control those decisions. However, I continue to believe in our system of justice and will trust that it will produce a fair and just result in this case.”

According to the release, the wire fraud counts are "related to falsified state campaign finance reports and soliciting campaign donors with fraudulent intent." Authorities said the false tax returns were filed from 2011 to 2014.

Arkansas Rep. Michael John Gray, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas, said Hutchinson "should immediately resign" from office.

“We have got to get past just the rhetoric of trying to get a win on the scoreboard,” Gray told a Democrat-Gazette reporter. “We’ve got to start running people who care about their districts.”

Hutchinson is the nephew of Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. In a statement, the governor said: "This is a very sad day for everyone when a family member is charged."

“As a political leader, I know the United States Attorney always reminds the public that these charges are only allegations and he is presumed innocent, but the reality is that the charges alone undermine public confidence in our system of government, " Asa Hutchinson said, adding that he supports the decision by the state lawmaker to resign.

"He will need to devote his resources and energy in answering these allegations,” the governor said.

Jeremy Hutchinson was previously linked to an ongoing federal corruption investigation through court documents.

Former lobbyist Milton R. "Rusty" Cranford, of Bentonville, pleaded guilty in June to bribing two former state Senators and another lawmaker identified in the paperwork only as "Senator A." But other information in the court papers, including that the unnamed lawmaker filed Senate Bill 62 of 2015 and Senate Bill 655, identified "Senator A" as Hutchinson.

Read Saturday's Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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