Windstream Bribery Case in Oklahoma Raises Questions About Arkansas Laws

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

James David Sisney

"There are so many exceptions," said Lori Kumpuris, deputy prosecutor coordinator at the Arkansas Prosecutor Coordinator's Office. Food, for example, is excluded by the law. At worst, a violation of 21-8-801 earns a written warning with a $2,000 fine, and that only after a second offense.

The dearth of charges filed under the state's abuse of public office statute doesn't mean no abuses happen, but they are more likely to be prosecuted as federal crimes than as state crimes. Hudson Hallum, a Democrat from Marion, recently resigned from the Arkansas House of Representatives after pleading guilty to a federal charge that included allegations that he helped bribe absentee voters in order to get elected.

Last year the owner of an Illinois company pleaded guilty to federal charges of bribing school officials in Louisiana and Arkansas in order to win contracts, but the specific school officials were not identified in court.

In perhaps the most infamous case, from more than a decade ago, Tyson Foods spokesman Archie Schaffer III was convicted in federal court of attempting to influence Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy with expensive gifts. Schaffer was eventually pardoned by President Bill Clinton, and the U.S. Court of Appeals vacated his felony conviction.

The closest thing to a state bribery charge currently pending in the state is the case against former University of Central Arkansas President Allen Meadors.

Institutional food service provider Aramark offered $700,000 to renovate the house provided to Meadors on the UCA campus in Conway provided Aramark's contract with the school was renewed without competitive bids. Meadors accepted the offer but later resigned from the university when the deal became public.

Cody Hiland, prosecuting attorney for the 20th Judicial District (Faulkner County) charged Meadors, but not with abuse of public trust, although he initially considered that statute.

"We ended up charging Meadors with a misdemeanor and tampering with public records," Hiland said. "It had nothing to do with an exchange of money."

In cases like this, Hiland said, often the charges are technical - they may not fully represent the issue at hand, but they're made to make sure the perpetrator is pinned with something.

"Honestly, those kind of issues, when you have a bad guy, you find a technical violation, you string them up and get them out of office or off the streets," he said.

And that may be what happened in Oklahoma: Superintendent Sisney has been in trouble involving the Broken Arrow district for years (see sidebar), and Windstream may be ensnared in a broad net laid for him.

According to the indictments against Windstream and Sisney, the Broken Arrow School Board had an express policy "absolutely prohibiting acceptance by School District personnel of gratuities from the School District's vendors and serving providers." But it also has a state statute (see sidebar) that prohibits giving any public official or employee anything of value to influence any decision or action.



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