Windstream Bribery Case in Oklahoma Raises Questions About Arkansas Laws

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Oct. 15, 2012 12:00 am  

James David Sisney

Back in 2007, some sales managers at Windstream Corp. had a fun but innocuous idea: They would invite 20 couples from among the Little Rock telecom's best clients to Atlanta for the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

On the invitation list: James David Sisney, superintendent of the Broken Arrow School District in Oklahoma, who accepted the invitation and brought his brother along.

At the end of August, more than five years after the "2007 Final Four Customer Appreciation Event," Sisney was charged by a state grand jury in Oklahoma with bribery and conspiracy against a school district.

But bribery is a crime that requires at least two parties, so Windstream was similarly charged with bribery and conspiracy. And a former executive for Windstream in Oklahoma, Eddie Bryson, is facing perjury charges in the same case.

So here's the question: If the school superintendent Windstream hosted at the Big Dance had been from Arkansas rather than Oklahoma, would the company similarly face criminal prosecution?

The answer: Maybe, maybe not.

"Arkansas has pretty watered-down laws on things like that," said Larry Jegley, prosecuting attorney for the 6th Judicial District, which includes Pulaski and Perry counties.

Jegley pointed to Arkansas statute 5-52-101, which does outlaw bribery - in fact, it's worded very similarly to Oklahoma's bribery statute, and carries harsher penalties - but it's called "abuse of public trust." It's a Class D felony and perpetrators could go to prison for up to six years and get fined up to $10,000.

John Threet, chief deputy prosecutor for the 4th Judicial District (Washington and Madison counties) also referred to 5-52-101. But Jegley said it's an uncommon charge.

"It hasn't been used much," he said.

The most recent case in his memory was that of Bill McCuen, the former Arkansas Secretary of State who in the mid-1990s pleaded guilty to two counts of abuse of public trust (among other charges), and received the maximum sentence for each.

Arkansas also has a statute, 21-8-801, specifically addressing state employees receiving gifts: It prohibits receiving gifts or compensation other than those provided by the job. But it's also not usually used in bribery cases.



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